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Cincinnati's Underground Railroad

Cincinnati's Underground Railroad

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Cincinnati's Underground Railroad

207 pages
47 minutes
Mar 10, 2014


Cincinnati played a large part in creatng a refuge for escaped salaves and in the Underground Railroad movement.

Nearly a century after the American Revolution, the waters of the Ohio River provided a real and complex barrier for the United States to navigate. While this waterway was a symbol of freedom and equality for thousands of enslaved black Americans who had escaped from the horrible institution of enslavement, the Ohio River was also used to transport thousands of slaves down the river to the Deep South. Due to Cincinnati's location on the banks of the river, the city's economy was tied to the slave society in the South. However, a special cadre of individuals became very active in the quest for freedom undertaken by African American fugitives on their journeys to the North. Thanks to spearheading by this group of Cincinnatian trailblazers, the "Queen City" became a primary destination on the Underground Railroad, the first multiethnic, multiracial, multiclass human-rights movement in the history of the United States.

Mar 10, 2014

À propos de l'auteur

Richard C. Cooper, manager of content development and interpretation at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and Dr. Eric R. Jackson, associate professor of history and director of the black studies program at Northern Kentucky University, have compiled historical images from archives, libraries, and personal collections to illustrate the people, places, and events of the history of Cincinnati's Underground Railroad.

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Cincinnati's Underground Railroad - Richard Cooper



The waters of the Ohio River provided a real and complex barrier for the young nation for nearly a century after the American Revolution ended. On one hand, this waterway symbolized, in general, freedom for thousands of enslaved African Americans who had absconded from their horrible life as a worker on a plantation. On the other hand, the Ohio River was used to transport thousands of enslaved persons of color down the river to the deep South and into a life that was dominated by the Cotton Belt market. In essence, the Ohio River (or as some people called it, the River Jordan) signified both freedom and slavery simultaneously. The paradox that played out along the Ohio also helped to foster a number of cities and towns that became linked to the origin, development, and legacy of the Underground Railroad. One such city was Cincinnati, known by some as Porkopolis or the Queen City. During the antebellum period, because of its location on the Ohio River, as well as the growth of a strong local African American community, the city became a major destination for thousands of individuals who sought to gain their freedom through the use of the Underground Railroad.

This book seeks to document and illustrate this story from a variety of perspectives by examining specific individuals, neighborhoods, organizations, and businesses. For example, on a peaceful evening in 1842, John P. Parker quietly boarded a ship that was docked in the harbor of New Orleans. Scared but determined, Parker knew that his days as an enslaved African American were numbered. Several hours later, the vessel set sail up the Mississippi River with Parker safely hidden on board. Along the way, young John admired the scenery as if he was a passenger on an ocean cruise. This latest attempt to gain his freedom brought Parker to New Albany, Indiana, Cincinnati, and eventually Ripley, Ohio. Once in Ripley, Parker, along with Rev. John Rankin, began to assist thousands of other black Americans on their journey to freedom.

Several years earlier, in 1838, Frederick Douglass (formerly known as Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey) took flight from his Baltimore, Maryland, plantation. After much planning, young Douglass began his journey to freedom when he acquired a set of free papers from an African American sailor he had known for several months. Using forged free papers, Douglass eventually was able to board a train headed to Philadelphia. As the train began to move down the tracks, a sense of excitement fell upon him. However, this feeling quickly disappeared when he became involved in an unexpected conversation with a free African American passenger. Douglass began to think that his time as a fugitive was about to end. However, after a close call with the approaching ticket-taker that could have revealed his identity, Douglass safely continued north to Philadelphia, New York City, and eventually Boston.

About a decade later, Ellen and William Craft devised a secret but dangerous plan to escape from enslavement in Georgia. On a bright morning, Ellen awoke and began to dress in clothes that made her look like a white slave owner. Several minutes later, William, her husband, appeared as Ellen’s African American slave. The two of them quickly packed some items and left their plantation. Although neither Ellen nor William could not read or write, their plan worked almost perfectly.

Several months later, in September 1844, Lewis Hayden and his family escaped from slavery in Lexington, Kentucky. However, Delia Webster and Calvin Fairbanks, the young white couple who aided them, in some ways came to be far better known then Hayden. During a five year period, Webster and Fairbanks helped hundreds of African Americans escape bondage throughout the Bluegrass state. However, their fame worked against them when the two were arrested in 1844 on their way to Lexington to help free more enslaved African Americans. Webster was sentenced to two years in prison, while Fairbanks was sentenced to five to fifteen years in the state penitentiary. He severed his time until Kentucky governor John Crittendon pardoned him on August 28, 1849.

The journeys, comments, and activities of Parker, Douglass, the Crafts, Delia Webster, Calvin Fairbanks, and thousands of others illustrate that the path to freedom was hard, complex, long, mysterious, terrifying, and dangerous, but it was still worth the sacrifice for those who were willing to try anything to obtain freedom. This quest became more difficult with the end of the American Revolution, the ratification of the US Constitution, and the implementation of the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850. Despite these laws and decrees, thousands of people, African Americans and Caucasians, rich and poor, Christians and non-Christians, came together to help black American fugitives gain their freedom. Thanks to Congressional actions and National Park Service initiatives of the 1990s, as well as the opening of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in 2004, this history remains alive in the minds of many Americans.

The most popular vision of the Underground Railroad, however, is of a handful of fugitive African Americans being assisted in their escape by one or more well-meaning and progressive whites, particularly Quakers. Indeed, such episodes did occur quite often. However, an abundance of historical evidence does exist showing that thousands of free African Americans assisted their black American brothers and sisters escape enslavement and gain freedom. Our book on Cincinnati’s Underground Railroad will demonstrate how the history and legacy of this powerful subject, which many scholars have called the first multicultural, multi-class, human rights movement in the history of the United States, and perhaps the world, can help to inspire a cadre of freedom fighters and social justice trailblazers today.

The history and legacy of the Underground Railroad and the history and legacy of Cincinnati are a natural fit. This region symbolized the contradictions, struggle, and perseverance of a select group of people, from various classes, cultures, ethnicities, and races, who formed a seemingly unbreakable relationship, as well

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