One Week Itinerary: The Underground Railroad

The first known mention of a network to help escaped slaves was in 1831, when an enslaved man named Tice Davids fled from his owner in Kentucky by swimming across the Ohio River. Unable to find him, his owner bitterly complained that Davids “must have gone off on an underground railroad.” 

Historians believe that abolitionists in the town of Ripley, Ohio, helped him escape. One Ohio man who had helped countless people escape to freedom said that the comment from the angry owner helped them name a movement that lasted until the Civil War: the Underground Railroad. 

There were countless routes of the Underground Railroad, including some to the Northeast through New England and others south through Texas or Florida. But the northerly routes through the Midwest—through states like Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa—were some of the most important. And many stops along the way have been restored and are open to the public. 

DAYS 1 AND 2: MARYLAND 

The Harriet Tubman Byway is a 125-mile trail running from Cambridge to Goldsboro, taking you past sites where the influential abolitionist led enslaved people to freedom. Stops along the way include hidden waterways, safe houses, churches, and other places that served as way stations along the Underground Railroad. 

Start your day at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center, which is home to permanent exhibits on Tubman, the Underground Railroad. and those who escaped slavery. 

Some of the major sites along the trail include the Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center, the Tuckahoe Neck Meeting House and the Jacob and Hannah Leverton House. The driving tour takes about three to four hours. 

DAYS 3 AND 4: OHIO 

It’s quite a long haul to the town of Ripley, Ohio (eight hours from Maryland), where Davids is believed to have escaped, but it’s worth the trip, especially if you overnight halfway. You can visit the John P. Parker House. Parker, a former enslaved person who managed to buy his freedom from his owner, helped countless people escape from the “borderlands” in Kentucky. Parker founded an iron foundry in Ripley, and was one of the few African Americans to be granted a patent in the 19th century. 

Also in Ripley is the John Rankin House, which belonged to a prominent minister believed to be one of the most active “conductors” on the Underground Railroad. The beautifully restored house, on a bluff overlooking the Ohio River, is a National Historic Landmark. 

In the town of Ashtabula is the home of Colonel William Hubbard and his wife, Katharine. Near Lake Erie, it was often the last stop for enslaved people before crossing into Canada. It’s now the Hubbard House Underground Railroad Museum. 

DAY 5: INDIANA 

Across the state line in Indiana, the home of Levi and Catharine Coffin was known as the “Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad.” More than 1,000 freedom seekers found a safe haven at this Federal-style house dating from 1839. It’s now known as the Levi Coffin House Interpretive Center. DAYS 6 AND 7: ILLINOIS To the west is Oakland, Illinois, where you’ll find the Dr. Hiram Rutherford House. 

A friend of Abraham Lincoln, the famous abolitionist helped an enslaved man named Anthony Bryant escape with his wife and children. He was sued by the slave owner, who happened to be defended by Lincoln. Lincoln lost the case, later saying, “I do hate the institution of slavery, but all citizens deserve a fair case.” 

Other landmarks in Illinois include Jacksonville’s Beecher Hall, the first building to be built at Illinois College. The college was a center of the abolitionist movement, and many professors and students helped people who were escaping to the north. 

In Princeton is the Owen Lovejoy House, owned by a Congregationalist minister who had seen his brother, an abolitionist newspaper publisher, killed by a pro-slavery mob. Lovejoy was later elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he was known for his speeches decrying slavery.

DAYS 6 AND 7: ILLINOIS 

To the west is Oakland, Illinois, where you’ll find the Dr. Hiram Rutherford House. A friend of Abraham Lincoln, the famous abolitionist helped an enslaved man named Anthony Bryant escape with his wife and children. He was sued by the slave owner, who happened to be defended by Lincoln. Lincoln lost the case, later say- ing, “I do hate the institution of slavery, but all citizens deserve a fair case.” 

Other landmarks in Illinois include Jacksonville’s Beecher Hall, the first building to be built at Illinois College. The college was a center of the abolitionist movement, and many professors and students helped people who were escaping to the north. 

In Princeton is the Owen Lovejoy House, owned by a Congregationalist minister who had seen his brother, an abolitionist newspaper publisher, killed by a pro-slavery mob. Lovejoy was later elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he was known for his speeches decrying slavery.

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