Underground Railroad

Underground Railroad
This article was published in
"The City of Kenosha and Kenosha County Wisconsin: A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement" by Frank H. Lyman Vol. 1, The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., Chicago, 1916, p. 378-379.

The Underground Railroad was by common consent the designation given to a body of men practically unorganized though acting in harmony, whose aim and mission was to assist fugitive slaves to Canada and to freedom.

The activities of these humanitarians commonly called abolitionists began, chronologically in the early part of the nineteenth century, and geographically north of the Mason and Dixon line.

Most of the runaway slaves who were "routed" through Southport or Kenosha first crossed the Ohio River from Kentucky into Illinois or Indiana on a "night run."

Kenosha and other Lake Michigan ports were sought as "junction points" by the fugitive becasue here could be secured passage as a stowaway in the hold of a sail vessel laden with wheat from our warehouses, consigned to Buffalo.

During the period between arrival of the scaping slave and his departure for Canada he was concealed in the attic or barn of some agent of the "system" and then, carefully guarded under cover of darkness, he was given bon voyage and assigned to his apartment aboard.

The "stations" of the Undergrond Railroad in Kenosha that are known to the writer were Deacon Joseph V. Quarles' barn, now 431 Chicago Street; the attic of Rev. R. H. Deming's home, now 426 Park Avenue; the barn of Deacon W. H. Smith, now 109 Congress Street; and the cramped space over the music room in the home of John Bullen, Jr., that stood from the early '40 to the middle '50s on the present site of the offices of the Allen Tannery. (See Mr. Lathrop Bullen's letter in this volume.)

It is difficult to obtain recorded data on this interesting subject because those who, impelled by the law of humanity, aided the fugitive bondman to obtain freedom by that very act violated the explicit terms of the Fugitive Slave Law.

My schoolmate, Ed Smith, son of Deacon W. H. Smith above mentioned, has told that on several occasions during boyhood, he had taken food prepared by his mother, to negroes concealed in the barn awaiting transportation by grain vessel to Canada.

On some occasions when it was too cold to partake of hospitality comfortably in the barn the fugitive was with great caution taken into the kitchen.

The crews of the grain vessels were as a matter of course in full sympathy with the undertaking.

When reaching Lake Huron the craft was steered eastward into Georgian Bay where the fugitive was put ashore in a yawl boat at Collingwood or some other convenient point in Canada.

Sometimes to avoid the long detour the negro was, at some risk, landed at Windsor opposite Detroit.

Those who wish to read up on this subject are advised that a very interesting and exhaustive work by Professor Siebert (The Macmillan Company) may be found in our public library.

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