The “Conductors” - whites, freed blacks, fellow slaves and Native Americans - guided them to freedom from oppression.
Some of the slaves who made it to Ohio after arduous journeys from Kentucky, Tennessee and other slave states went on to Canada. Many settled in the Dayton area and other parts of the Ohio.
As part of our “Vintage Dayton” weekly newsletter focusing on Dayton history, we ask our readers for topics they would like to know more about. We’ve received a few requests for more information about Underground Railroad sites in the region, so we went digging further to find some of the most interested places to visit.
Here is a look at some significant Underground Railroad sites near Dayton:
1. Harriet Beecher Stowe House
2950 Gilbert Ave., Cincinnati
Famed author Harriet Beecher Stowe was inspired to write her groundbreaking book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” when she lived on the campus of Lane Seminary where her husband was a professor. Beecher Stowe’s stepmother, three half siblings and father, the president of the seminary, lived in what is now the Harriet Beecher Stowe House. Many of Lane’s students were conductors of the Underground Railroad or abolitionists.
The book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” reached an audience of millions as a novel and play, and became influential in the United States and in Great Britain, energizing anti-slavery forces in the northern part of America, while provoking widespread anger in the South. Stowe wrote 30 books, including novels, three travel memoirs, and collections of articles and letters. She was influential both for her writings and for her public stances and debates on social issues of the day. Click here for more info.
2. National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
50 East Freedom Way, Cincinnati
Situated near where many slaves crossed the Ohio River to freedom, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center has exhibits and programs that highlight the struggle for freedom.
Through permanent and traveling exhibits, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center shares the stories of freedom, from the era of the Underground Railroad to modern times
One of the most recognizable permanent exhibits is The Slave Pen, built in the early 1800′s, was recovered from a farm in Mason County, Kentucky, less than 60 miles from the Freedom Center.
The structure was used as a holding pen by Kentucky slave trader, Capt. John W. Anderson, to temporarily warehouse enslaved people who would be sold farther south. The slave pen plays an integral role in telling the greater story of the internal slave trade in the United States. Click here for more info.
3. John P. Parker House Museum
300 N. Front St., Ripley
John P. Parker became a slave at 8-years old and was moved to Virginia. Later in life he entered a contract to pay for his freedom. A widow Parker knew agreed to buy his freedom once she was paid back on the contract with interest.
In 1845 Parker earned his freedom and moved to Cincinnati, then settled in Ripley, Ohio where he founded the Phoenix Foundry. Parker was one of the first African-Americans to receive patents for his inventions at the foundry.
From his house on the shores of the Ohio River, Parker became an active member of the Underground Railroad in Ripley. Parker risked his life and freedom by sneaking into Kentucky to help hundreds escape slavery. He then took them to conductors like the Rankins. According to his autobiography, Click here for more info.
His house in Ripley has been designated a National Historic Landmark and restored. For a full photo gallery, click HERE.
4. Dr. John Rogers Home Site
307 Front St., New Richmond
Dr. John Rogers was one of the most vocal abolitionists of his time. He became the Clermont County Anti-Slavery Society’s first president in 1836 and helped blacks fleeing slavery in Kentucky.
In 1843, he and Rev. Amos Dresser of Lane Seminary wrote a strongly worded anti-slavery statement for the New Richmond Presbyterian Church and submitted it to the Cincinnati Presbytery. His house is one of the Clermont County Freedom Trail’s 33 abolitionist or Underground Railroad sites.
Dr. Rogers practiced medicine for over 60 years and is most noted for the delivery of Hiram Ulysses Grant in 1822. The child became better known as Ulysses S. Grant, victorious general of the Union Armies in the American Civil War and later the 18th President of the United States. Rogers died in 1882 thus able to see Grant win the war that liberated 4 million enslaved African Americans, the goal that Rogers dedicated most of his life to accomplish. Click here for more information.
5. Rankin House
6152 Rankin Road, Ripley
John Rankin, a Tennessee-born Presbyterian minister, was an outspoken abolitionist and important conductor on the Underground Railroad. Rankin was forced to leave the state after speaking out against slavery. He knew that his faith would not allow him to keep his views to himself, so he decided in 1817 to move his family to the town of Ripley, across the Ohio River in the free state of Ohio.
More than 2,000 are thought to have stayed at the home John and Jean Rankin shared with their 13 children in Ripley. From his house high on a hill, Rankin would use a lantern to signal slaves in Kentucky that it was safe to cross the Ohio River. His sons transported runaway slaves to other stops on the Underground Rail Road.
Though slavery was illegal in Ohio, slaves could still be apprehended due to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.
Prominent pre-Civil War abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore Weld, Henry Ward Beecher, and Harriet Beecher Stowe were influenced by Rankin’s writings and work in the anti-slavery movement. Click here for more info.