Application of the Research
Now that you have been introduced to the foundation of the research, the Application
of the Research will go deeper into the information and explain how the important
people and places were able to directly affect the lives of hundreds of fugitives.
This section gives an interpretation of what all the information gathered means to us today.
Brief History of the Underground Railroad
Slavery caused extreme controversy within the United States and eventually led to
a Civil War. There were many peaceful efforts to stop slavery, but when these were
unsuccessful some people decided to fight slavery other ways. One tactic that was
discovered was indirectly hitting the pockets of slave owners. This could be accomplished by
helping their field help escape and leaving them to either pay ransom or find new
help. This tactic began as an individual effort, but the people helping slaves escape
soon discovered each other and united. In 1775 that the first abolitionist society was
formed, creating a more powerful organization of people (Cosner, pg. 23). This idea
of a support system with more organization laid the foundation for the beginning
of what is known today as the "Underground Railroad." Although the efforts were seen happening
as early as 1803, the Underground Railroad terminology most likely began after 1830
when the first trains were being used.
One story about how the secret organization was named begins all the way back in 1831.
A slave from Kentucky escaped one night and headed for Ohio. He came to the river
and had no choice but to swim across. His master was close behind in pursuit and
crossed the river as well, only he had a small boat. The owner chased the bobbing head
of his slave all the way across the river and to the other side. He even saw his
slave wade ashore, but the next time he looked, the slave had vanished. The owner
docked and began asking everyone he met if they had seen a black man. He searched for hours,
but no one could help him. He returned home telling disbelieving friends that his
slave, "...must have gone off on an underground road." (Cosner, pg.26).
Where Washington County Fit In
As a result of the Ohio River acting as a border between slavery and freedom, the
counties bordering the river on the Ohio side became very important in rescuing runaways.
The stations in Washington County, Ohio had a major role in guiding runaways to safety. Slaves were hungry and exhausted from their journey and the conductors had to
get them as far away from the river as possible before allowing them to rest. Slaves
typically only made one stop in Washington County before being moved further North
and closer to safety in Canada (Burke, 22 Oct. 96).
During the 1800's, there were many conductors of the Underground Railroad in Washington
County, Ohio. Each was important to the success of the system. The use of many people
was required to keep one step ahead of bounty hunters and slave owners. Four examples of conductors are Josephus, David Putnam Jr., Jewett Palmer and Thomas Ridgeway.
These people represent the variety of backgrounds and situations that conductors
One of the abolitionists assisting in carrying slaves across the river was Josephus.
He was able to carry 3-5 slaves a month across the river even though he himself chose
to stay as a slave on the Box Plantation. Because he was a slave, very little is
known of Josephus' past and childhood. There are many questions around his activity in
the he Underground Railroad and why he chose not to find freedom for himself. One
would guess that he must have had a decent owner since he decided not to seek freedom.
In order to have the time to help slaves cross the river, Josephus must have had a significant
amount of freedom on his plantation. Another question around his involvement in freeing
slaves was where he got his canoe. One possibility is that he made it. He may have received it as a gift (Burke, 22 Oct. 96).
Josephus delivered his crew into the hands of Mr. David Putnam Junior. The involvement
of Mr. Putnam in the Underground Railroad goes all the way back to childhood. He
grew up becoming personally acquainted with many slaves from his home town in Wood
County, Virginia. As a child he listened to his friends share their fears of being "sold
down the river" to more abusive plantations in the Deep South. Mr. Putnam began his
battle against slavery as a teenager. He grew from fighting with fists in his early
stages to fighting with brains and escape plans as an adult. Not only was Mr. Putnam
respected by fellow abolitionists, but he accumulated many supporters who were more
than willing to come to his defense when necessary (Burke, 18 Nov. 96).
Mr. Putnam would guide runaways in many directions from his station. One option was
handing them over to the care of Jewett Palmer. Mr. Palmer first witnessed the agony
of slavery at around the age of 21 during the family move to Ohio. He saw the attempted escape of many slaves and perhaps this, along with the morals passed on from his
parents, persuaded his to become an active participant in the Underground Railroad.
He and his wife lived on a farm in Fearing Township and it was here that Palmer earned
his reputation as a decent, upright man who was always lending a helping hand to those
less fortunate than himself. He was highly respected in his community and while called
"a man of wisdom" among the older generation he became known as "Uncle" Jewett by
the younger crowd. Jewett's opinion was taken very seriously in political matters and
he had a significant impact on the view of slavery in his community (Burke, 18
Another option for Mr. Putnam was to send his crew to Thomas Ridgeway. Thomas understood
what it was like to be an outsider. His rough life of moving back and forth to Nova
Scotia and around the United States introduced him to the hardships of our world
and the difficulty in being different. He saw the cruelty of slavery during his journeys
up the Kanawha River for his business and once he settled down he decided to help
these oppressed people the only way he knew how. He opened his home to them as a
place of rest during their long journey to the free land. Ridgeway was also no stranger
to pain. His survival of a shipwreck during the War of 1812 gave him new sympathy
for the pain these people were suffering. During his time working for the Underground
Railroad Ridgeway was credited with assisting over 50 fugitive slaves (Burke, 18 Nov.
Most Used Routes
It is very difficult to draw a path for the Underground Railroad to show people. When
someone asks what path a slave would have taken from a specific place, it is almost
impossible to answer. The success of the Underground Railroad depended on being unpredictable. The trail was different for each group of fugitives. This variety and unpredictability
enabled the organization to stay one step ahead of bounty hunters and slave owners.
Just when they thought they'd caught on to a path or pattern the conductors would have a new plan ready.
While in Washington County, a fugitive would probably only make one stop. Being able
to travel about 15 miles a day in Southeast Ohio's terrain enabled them to be in
and out of the county after only one stop. The only time fugitives stayed for more
than one night was if someone was sick, they had hunters too close, or another serious problem
Josephus picked up his passengers along the Virginia side of the Ohio River. After
leading them to his canoe, he rowed them into the river and away from places where
their scent could be detected by dogs. He led his passengers about half way across
where they had to stop and cross a small island. Josephus drug the canoe to the other side
where they again took to water. The trip usually ended at the mouth of Duck Creek
for Josephus and he returned to his plantation and the oppression of slavery that
The Marietta Station was the home of David Putnam Jr. Although the actual house didn't
hold many fugitives the occupants were known as the brains of the operation for the
area. David used this house as a place to plan escape routes and keep in contact
with his connections. He normally met the slaves along the river and then either personally
guided them or directed them to the next stop. It wasn't safe for the fugitives to
stay by the river to long, so his job was to make the transition go as smooth as
possible to get them as far as possible before daylight.
From the Marietta Station, slaves could go in many directions. A few miles down the
Muskingum River the Rainbow Station could be found. Here fugitives would find shelter
and a warm place to sleep in the Ridgeway home. Thomas met the slaves from the direction they were coming and guided them to the safety of his home. After a days rest
the passengers were then sent on their way to the Stafford Station.
Another route from Marietta led to the Palmer Station. Jewett Palmer met his passengers
and led them to the safety of a cave not far from his home. The Palmers then brought
out food and clean clothing. The cave offered a well disguised hideout for many fugitives. Since it was fairly common knowledge that Mr. Palmer was an abolitionist,
his home was one of the first places searched for slaves. His use of the cave threw
off the hunters enough that the slaves could be well on their way again before the
hunters even left the area.
Publications From the Time
The frequent escape of slaves led to many irate plantation owners. Many times these
owners were willing to pay a high price for the return of their unruly slaves. This
led to many people taking on bounty hunting as a full time job. They would check
the newspapers for the latest fugitive and ask around until they found someone who would
talk. They followed slaves trails anywhere from a matter of hours to weeks depending
on how well the slave was hidden and how big the reward was. This became a very high
paying job when slaves ran away in groups. If a bounty hunter could catch a group of four
he might be set financially for a period of months. The rewards for runaways were
amazing for the times. The advertisements reveal a lot about the time period this
happened in and the overall perception of blacks during the time. It was very disturbing
how slaves were described and the way they were treated like expensive cattle. Slaves
were truly thought of as property and not actual people with thoughts and feelings.
The advertisements from the time really give you a feel for this.