The Underground Railroad Really Existed
The Oberlin-Wellington Rescue
The Underground Railroad really existed. Between 1830 and 1860 about 50,000 slaves escaped. The Underground Railroad was especially active in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Oberlin was Station 99 in this secret escape system.
Oberlin received attention nation-wide in 1858 and 1859 for its part in the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue. John Price had been living in Oberlin for almost two years after escaping from slavery. A U.S. Marshall with the slave catchers had captured John Price and taken him by buggy to Wellington to wait for the train to Columbus. The news of the capture spread rapidly in Oberlin and a crowd of hundreds, black and white, started on the road to Wellington. They were determined to keep John Price from being taken back to slavery.
When they saw the crowd, the U.S. Marshall and the slave catchers took John Price up to a small room on the third floor of the hotel and locked the door. Some men from Oberlin went into the hotel, rushed John Price down the stairs, and carried him in a buggy back to Oberlin. For several days he was hidden in the home of the college president, President Fairchild, and then was taken to Canada where he could be free.
The people who were most important in the rescue of John Price broke the Fugitive Slave Law, the federal law that said an escaped slave had to be returned to his owner. They had broken a law that they believed was wrong and they were willing to risk punishment. Thirty-seven of them were charged. Twenty-one were sent to Cleveland for trial and kept in jail for up to 84 days.
While in jail, the prisoners were visited by many people, including the 400 children from the Church Sabbath (Sunday) School who came to see their superintendent. The men in jail even published a newspaper called "The Rescuer". Charles Langston, one of the black rescuers who had been arrested, gave a strong speech to the judge about the evilness of slavery and the need for freedom for all men and women. The prisoners knew that by staying in jail and letting the whole country hear about the evils of slavery, they could help the abolitionist cause. Click on photo to enlarge.
When the men were released, they returned to Oberlin on the train. A huge crowd had gathered at the station on Main Street. As the former prisoners got off the train, guns were shot off, music was played and everyone cheered wildly. Then they all marched through the streets to the Church where all the rescuers made speeches about what had happened as part of the celebration.
Their belief in freedom for all people had gotten them arrested. But they were rewarded when on New Year's Day, 1863, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States signed a new law, the Emancipation Proclamation.
The Underground Railroad would no longer be needed. All Oberlinians could live free together.
(Notes from OBERLIN COMMUNITY HISTORY  and O.H.IO. Historical files compiled by Mary Anne Cunningham for O.H.I.O docent training)