Kelton House Museum and Garden, 586 East Town Street, Columbus, Ohio 43215, 614-464-2022; A Service of the Junior League of Columbus, Inc. Kelton House Museum and Garden: The front door with its 1852 American flag and wrought-iron balcony above the front door. Kelton House Museum and Garden: Close-up of the Historic Underground Railroad Site marker in the front yard of Kelton House. Kelton House Museum and Garden: Close-up of the Historic Underground Railroad Site marker in the front yard of Kelton House. Kelton House Museum and Garden: Close-up of the Historic Underground Railroad Site marker in the front yard of Kelton House.


Ohio’s Role in The Underground Railroad

Kelton House Museum and Garden: Close-up of the Historic Underground Railroad Site marker in the front yard of Kelton House.
Initial capital letter U in Duc De Berry typeface.
nderground Railroad . . .
Paths To Freedom
Slaves on Southern plantations passed information about methods of escape by word-of-mouth, in stories and through songs. No actual trains existed or ran underground, but guides on the Underground Railroad were called conductors and hiding places were called depots or stations. Guided north by the stars and sometimes singing traditional songs like “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” most runaways traveled by night on foot and took advantage of the natural protection of swamps, bayous, forests and waterways. Some escaped slaves were able to pass into the free population.


Initial capital letter O in Duc De Berry typeface.

hio’s Role
in The Underground Railroad

Ohio was crucial to the Underground Railroad saga. It has been estimated that 40,000 runaway slaves escaped to Canadian freedom through Ohio. A secret and successful network of over 700 safehouses and “depots” waited for those fugitives fortunate enough to make it to—and across—the Ohio River.

Although a “free state,” a designation indicating only that its residents could not own slaves, Ohio was a distinctly dangerous host to the escapees. Bounty hunters criss-crossed the state. Pro-slavery factions existed in many villages and cities. The Ohio Black Laws rewarded those who turned in or reported runaways. Lake Erie was a formidable obstacle to attaining Canadian freedom. Vigilante groups scoured the state, targeting all African-Americans. Law officers were aggressive, particularly following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.


Ohio’
s Black Laws
In 1804 the Ohio General Assembly enacted laws to regulate the lives of African-Americans in the state. The laws were passed to discourage the immigration of blacks to the state. Their application affected both runaways and free men. Blacks already living in Ohio had to register with a county clerk; blacks had to pay a fee to be registered. Whites were enjoined against employing blacks who had no proof of freedom. Whites were mandated to turn in any runaway slaves, and were prohibited from harboring or protecting them. Blacks were forbidden to be a part of any court case involving whites. They were denied public education. In 1807 the laws were expanded. The stringent additions made it virtually impossible for African-Americans to settle in or work in Ohio. Then, in 1850, the National Fugitive Slave Law was enacted, directing law officers to aggressively hunt for runaways in the states.


The Fugitive Slave Act
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 permitted the recapture and extradition of escaped slaves with the assistance of federal marshals. To combat the perceived success of the Underground Railroad, one of the provisions of the Compromise of 1850 levied fines and prison sentences on individuals who helped runaways. The spectacle of African-Americans re-enslaved on the slightest pretext brought the reality of slavery forcibly into northern life. Unscrupulous traders also kidnapped free African-Americans during this period and sold them south into slavery. The Fugitive Slave Law forced runaways to flee to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and even Europe.



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