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Freedom Flights, Escapes & Underground Railroad

map of underground routes to Canada
map of underground routes to Canada

Freedom Flights, Escapes & Underground Railroad

A 1,000 mile border divided the Free Midwest from the Slave South.

The Midwest before the Civil War was the “Gateway to Freedom” for thousands of enslaved  African Americans.  

The 1,000+ mile  border between the free Midwest states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa, and the slaveholding states of Kentucky, Virginia and Missouri, was the means of escape for tens of thousands of enslaved African Americans.

Black Underground Railroad “conductors,” free black settlements, and Native American tribes offered assistance to escaped freedom seekers.  Other African Americans found freedom completely on their own, navigating the Midwest’s forests and rivers, making it as far as Canada.

Famous Midwest freedom seekers include Josiah Henson, who inspired the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin; Thornton Blackburn; and William Wells Brown, who after his escape, spent years working on the steamboats of Lake Erie, smuggling individuals from the Midwest to Canada.  

Famous Midwest African American Undergrond Railroad Conductors included John Parker, who helped over 400 African Americans escape to freedom; Peter Fossett, a former slave from Thomas Jefferson’s plantation, Monticello; and George de Baptise, a one-time White House servant, leader of the Indiana and Detroit Underground Railroads, and organizer of the 1st Michigan Colored Volunteers army unit during the Civil War.

Margaret Garner’s escape was perhaps the most tragic and infamous in American history.  Garner escaped across the frozen Ohio River from Kentucky with her children. Cornered by slave catchers in Cincinnati, Garner killed her daughter rather than allow her to be returned to slavery.  Her story was immortalized in Beloved, the novel by Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison and made into a feature film by Oprah Winfrey.

John P. Parker House
Play Video about John P. Parker House

More About The Early Black Midwest