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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Underground Railroad Moved Efficiently, Silently Through County

Dallas Bogan on 22 July 2004
Dallas Bogan, Warren County, Ohio and Beyond (Bowie Maryland:Heritage Press, 1979) page 6
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

When this writer was a kid, he thought the Underground Railroad was a place where trains ran underground. As we all know, this was not the case. The railroad had passengers, stations, conductors and routes in which it followed. It was a system in which the Negro slaves were transported through the free states to Canada. The terms of the Ordinance of 1787 stated that slavery was forbidden in the Old Northwest Territory. This territory eventually became Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, the portion lying east of the Mississippi River.
Not all the slaves moved north; many stayed in the areas in which they were harbored. The County of Warren was amongst other counties, which were a refuge for the Negro families. The first two Negroes in Warren County of which there is written record were fugitives.
Francis Baily in 1796, described a Negro his party encountered on their way up the Little Miami to Waynesville. Hideously painted, a Negro appeared in the woods coming from the North and told the party of Englishmen that he was escaping from an Indian village; and "him we looked upon with the eyes of pity and of occupation, and did give him where with to continue his journey to Columbia."
The next Negro of record was a run-away slave from Kentucky. William Smalley in Washington Township found him very ill.
Several pioneer families in this County brought Negro servants with them. Many other pioneers came here at a sacrifice of money and long established homes in the South to get away from the conditions that were growing worse year by year.
Professor Wilbur Seibert, author of the book, "The Mysteries of Ohio's Underground," estimates there were about five thousand Ohioans that participated in the Underground Railroad, and that more than one hundred thousand slaves found refuge in Canada.
Southern soldiers returning from the War of 1812 from the Canadian territory spoke of the life and freedom of the Northwest Territory. Overhearing this, the slaves created an avenue in which to escape. ("Managers" was the term given to the abolitionists who mostly planned the escapes.)
The names of those who signed on as "conductors" from Warren County regarding the Underground Railroad were: Abram and David Allen, Jacob Bateman, Henry T. Butterworth, Job Carr, R.G. Corwin, Joseph Evans, and Angelina Farr.
Thomas Hopkins, Isaac and Job Mullin, Valentine and Jane Nicholson, Edward, John and Samuel Potts, Achilles Pugh, Jonas D. Thomas, Fred and Jesse Wilson, and Jonathan Wright.
Jonathan Wright, a Quaker from Springboro, was in favor of "minding his own business" and not interfering with any matter that was accepted under the law, even though he felt it was wrong.
Wright was a saddle maker from Maryland and had Negro servants. He did not believe in interfering in the business of slave owners. If the law held slavery valid, he did not believe in aiding the escape of slaves, as did many other Warren Countians.
Wright had a Negro named Frederick who hid his run-away brethren about the farm when they needed hiding.
He was anxiously waiting for Wright to turn away from the farm one night, for he had hidden a colored man there. Wright lingered and said: "Frederick, thee surely knows where the food is kept. Go out and get some." He did not let on that he knew Frederick was waiting for him to go so that he could get food for a run-away slave.
In Springboro in the 1850's, the Negroes organized and supported their own school.
Job Mullins, a Quaker from Springboro stated in his eighty-ninth year that he thought the most active days in the "Underground Railway" through Warren County were between 1816-1830.
With the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, and the slave owners open passage into the slave free states, the bitterness of the two cultures became apparent.
Springboro, Waynesville and Harveysburg's Quaker communities were daring in their efforts in helping the escaping Negroes.
The road to Springboro (St. Rt. 741) was an artery in which the fugitives were transported. Marble Hall, at Otterbein Village, was rumored to be a stopover for the railroad; also, the Green Tree Inn and the Red Lion Tavern, since torn down, were suspicioned to have been stops.
The early pioneers of Lebanon had little money. The Quakers brought the early wealth of the County from the slave States.
The Quaker settlements seemed to settle the more remote areas where they could set up their own places of worship. Waynesville, Springboro and Harveysburg were suitable for the trend of the time.
Jesse Wilson, a Lebanon Negro (now deceased), noted that his parents and grandparents worked for the Thomas Corwin family, and related stories of run-away slaves being hidden in the Phineas Ross house attic in pre-Civil War days.
Jesse told of his life in Lebanon. He said his grandparents came from Kentucky with their owner, Daniel Bedinger. He stated:
"Father was sold several times, and I recall his telling of the slave market, and of how the slave-trader would go along the road displaying his wares - Negroes in chains, to planters who would draw rein, stop, question the trader as to a likely buy in Negroes.
"The Thomas Corwin house was an underground station before the Civil War, so I've heard my mother tell. A hiding place was made for them up in the attic.
"My brother graduated from the old Normal School; he went nights to make his recitations. Professor Holbrook was nice - encouraged colored folk all he could. Our old Colored Public School was over back of French's Creamer. A cyclone blew our school in once and it was rebuilt. There just wasn't any system to our colored school; we had large classes and didn't get to recite every day. A bright colored child could go over to the white school; there we would get as much study and recitation in a day, as in a year at colored school."
In a letter from R.G. Corwin of Lebanon, written in September 1895, he recalls in his childhood seeing fugitives at Ichabod Corwin's (his father) house. R.G. seems to have continued his father's efforts in this work up into the 1850's.
The home of Francis Dunlevy has been known traditionally over time as an Underground Station.
Butterworth Station, near Foster, was the most southerly stop in Warren County, the station being operated by Henry Thomas Butterworth. Slaves were sheltered at the station in long sand filled bins in the sweet potato sheds. (Mr. Butterworth married Nancy, the sister of Thomas Wales and Jane Wales Nicholson of Harveysburg, who were also station operators.)
The route from Foster led to Oakland in Clinton County, with a branch leading from Mason to Springboro, via Lebanon. (There was possibly a direct line from Cincinnati to Springboro, with a branch off to Dayton from Springboro, also a branch line from Mason to Xenia.)
Achilles Pugh, a Quaker from Waynesville, was active for many years in Cincinnati in the abolition cause.
Waynesville's location was high atop the hill overlooking the Little Miami River. This strategic point was one of much benefit, the attic turrets affording a panoramic view of the area.
Local residents tell of a tunnel system from the river to the hideaways. The Miami House, built in 1826, which stood where the former Sonny's Drive-in was located, on the corner of Main and North, was said to have had concealed hideaways. This house was constructed to include a secret stairway and compartment reached by a trap door that opened to the secret compartment.
The basement included an entrance to a tunnel that ran from an opening on the Little Miami River to the house. The tunnel extended across the street and down the west side of Main, and at some point up the hill, to the Haines residence.
In 1939, the W.P.A. installed a sewer system and initially destroyed the tunnel.
Mrs. Howard Stanley (now deceased), former resident of the Miami House, said in an interview in 1976, that part of a tunnel was visible in the basement when she lived there. She told of finding a hidden room about eight by ten feet from a secret stairway leading down about 12 to 15 steps from the attic. There, she said, she saw old hats, boots, straw and remains of ham bones.
The twenty-two room home of Noah Haines, which sits high on Third Street, is said to have a tunnel system that ran from a well at the rear and exited out the front portion of the home.
Other Waynesville area residences which possibly harbored the slaves were: the Evans Home at Main and Chapman; the "Diamond Hill" home of pioneer Abijah O'Neall on the Clarksvillle Road; and the Halfway House built in 1812 by John Satterthwaite at Third and Franklin.
There are possibly thousands of stories that traveled with the Underground Railroad. The individuals that had the foresight to record some of these happenings have allowed us to visit for a short time the past and preserve it for the future.

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This page created 22 July 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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