Ohio History Journal

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Subterranean Hideaways of the

Underground Railroad in Ohio: An

Architectural, Archaeological and

Historical Critique of Local Traditions




During the decade that preceded the Civil War the underground railroad be-

came increasingly active in Ohio and elsewhere in the north.1 Although

"underground" originally may have had much the same figurative connotation

that it has today in expressions such as "underground newspaper," it was al-

most inevitable that the term come to suggest in popular imagination not so

much anti-establishment concepts and practices as activity that took place in

tunnels and subterranean places of concealment. Oral traditions about the un-

derground railroad frequently allude to places of concealment allegedly con-

structed by abolitionists for the use of fleeing slaves who were making their

way toward Canada. From the time of Wilbur H. Siebert, whose pioneering

research involved heavy reliance upon such information,2 to the present time,

popularizers and no few historians of the underground railroad have tended to

accept personal reminiscences about specially-constructed secret chambers and

escape tunnels largely at face value.

Examples of this reliance on anecdotes recorded years later, some supplied

by participants and others by persons who relied on hearsay, are abundant.

Among Siebert's extensive compilations one finds the statement that Joseph

Morris of Marion County installed partitions in both the attic and the cellar

of his home in order to provide "secret chambers for his swarthy guests."

Siebert goes on to say, largely on the basis of statements he found in a local

newspaper article, that





Byron D. Fruehling is a graduate student at the University of Akron. Robert H. Smith is Fox

Professor and Chair of the Program in Archaeology at The College of Wooster. The authors

wish to thank Larry Gara for reading an early draft of this paper and making helpful

suggestions, as well as Dennis Monbarren, Denise Monbarren, and Ethel M. Parker of Wooster

for their assistance in tracking down certain items of information.


1. For general orientation and a recent, concise bibliography, see Charles L. Blockson, The

Underground Railroad (New York, 1987).

2. Siebert's most important, and still influential, work is The Underground Railroad from

Slavery to Freedom (New York, 1898).