Proposal and Methods

Research Question
Gone, gone, --sold and gone
To the rice-swamps dank and lone,
From Virginia's hills and waters, --
Woe is me, my stolen daughters!"
(Whittier in Hamilton, pg. 105)

Families torn apart, humans sold on auction blocks, using humans for animal labor. These tragedies along with the words of the Quaker poet John Whiittier are just the beginning when trying to explain the motivation for abolitionists helping to free slaves.


The Underground Railroad was a path to safety and freedom for thousands of slaves before the Civil War. Escaping from the chains, confinement and abuse of slavery was no easy task and it took the cooperation of many people to make escape possible. The anti-slavery movement created this path to guide and protect escaped slaves on their way to Canada, the freedom land. Many slaves traveled through Ohio on their journey and were assisted by Ohio residents. My research paper will answer the question: What role did Washington County, Ohio, play in the success of the Underground Railroad?


Limitations and Delimitations

While there were many states, slaves and abolitionists involved in the Underground Railroad, certain restrictions must be placed on the research. The research in this paper will only cover four stations and their conductors from Washington County, Ohio. The paper will take you on a trip through this county from a slaves point of view. Although the history and origin of slavery will not be covered in this paper, the feelings and thoughts of the slaves on their journeys will be depicted.

Fugitive slaves, or runaway slaves, were fleeing a life of hardship and confinement for a life of hardship and freedom. Although their life was not going to be easier and they would risk their life trying to escape, the thought of freedom was enough. The Underground Railroad was the path that slaves took while escaping. It consisted of stations or "depots" (houses), " conductors" (those who lived in the homes), "tracks" ( the actual trail they took) and even " station masters" and "presidents" who led the efforts in their area. The railroad analogy was used to describe many aspects of this anti-slavery activity. The code helped those involved in freeing the slaves communicate with each other without others understanding.

Sources and Methods

The research in this paper will come from three basic sources. The first source is over the internet. Using the key words Underground, Railroad and Ohio, articles and books will be found. The library will be the second source. Again the key words, Underground, Railroad and Ohio will be used to find and books and newspapers containing valuable information. A local specialist by the name of Mr. Henry Burke will be the third source for this paper. He will provide newspaper articles and stories that he discovered during his research. Interviews with him will also provide valuable insights into the knowledge he has gained throughout his research.

Format of the Paper

The paper will begin with a Review of the Research. This section will summarize all the information gathered for this paper. Here the background will be given and the foundation laid for the rest of the report. Next will be the Application of the Research. This is where all the information gathered will be analyzed. It will contain the interpretation of what the information means to the author. After this will be the summary. This will be a narrative written to help make the information more real to the reader. The conclusion will follow the summary. Here the paper will be drawn to a close and finished. The addenda will follow the conclusion. All of the relevant newspaper articles, reward posters and pictures found throughout the research will be located at the close of the paper.

Review of the Research

Introduction to the Review of the Research

The review of the research will introduce you to the Underground Railroad and where Washington County fits in. It will then give background information on four stations in the Underground Railroad in Washington County. This section will also tell about the conductors of these stations.

Brief History of the Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad originated as an organized effort to fight slavery. Abolitionists had made many proposals for the peaceful abolition of slavery, but no compromise could be made. Antislavery groups then decided they could fight back by hurting the slave owners economically. The groups could accomplish this by helping slaves escape from their plantations. The effort was very fragmented at first, but before long the people helping slaves escape became more aware of each other and began forming a secret organization (Cosner, pg.26). This activity was happening as early as 1803, but it wasn't until after 1830 when the first railroads were in use that the Underground Railroad terminology originated. The Quakers were the first religious group to make an organized effort to help slaves escape. Then it spread to virtually all free blacks, Quakers and churches in the North (Hamilton, pg.17).

Where Washington County Fit In

During the 1800's slavery was abolished in the Northern states. Above the Ohio River, slavery was not allowed. Below the river was a whole different story. One could have as many slaves as he or she could afford. The Ohio River acted as a border between freedom and slavery. This made the counties, like Washington County, which bordered the river very important in the success of the Underground Railroad. Washington County received many slaves into their care from across the river. They sent these slaves further North and to Canada.

Important People

In Washington County four important conductors in the Underground Railroad were Josephus, David Putnam Jr., Thomas Ridgeway and Jewett Palmer.

Josephus was a slave in Virginia. He lived on the Box's Plantation in Williamstown. Josephus worked for over 20 years helping runaways cross the Ohio River (Burke, 18 Nov. 96). He delivered about 3-5 slaves a month from Parkersburg, Virginia, to the mouth of Duck Creek in Ohio. Using his canoe, he rowed slaves to the island obstructing the path, dragged the canoe across, and delivered his crew to the other side. Since Josephus was a slave, very little is known of his past and many questions surround his involvement in freeing slaves (Burke, pg.26).

On May 17, 1808, David Putnam Jr. was born to Elizabeth (Perkins) Putnam and David Putnam Sr. He grew up and spent his life in Marietta Ohio. His marriage to Hannah Munson in 1833 provided him with seven children. These children were raised "amidst his not so secret, activity with the Underground Railroad" (Burke, 18 Nov. 96). Along with his activity in the Underground Railroad, Mr. Putnam was also a merchant in Marietta. Before his death in 1892, Mr. Putnam was able to witness the collapse of slavocracy in the South following the end of the Civil War (Burke, 18 Nov. 96).


Jewett Palmer's life began in New Hampshire on May 18, 1797. He was raised on his father's farm where he received a basic education, but little formal education. Mr. Palmer left his home to fight in the War of 1812 but returned soon after his service was complete. The whole family began a move to Ohio in 1817 and after a winter delay arrived in Washington County, Ohio, the following year. It was here in 1823, that he met and married Rachel Cambell and began his activities in the Underground Railroad. Jewett Palmer also lived to see the emancipation of slaves before dying in 1873 (Burke, pg.7).


Nova Scotia was the original home of Thomas Ridgeway, who was born January 22, 1796. He was of English ancestry and received his education by attending night school after his full-time day job in the trade of copper (Burke, 22 Oct. 96). Thomas Ridgeway was a soldier in the British side in the War of 1812. In 1821, Ridgeway decided to try his luck in the sugar refineries and moved to New Orleans. Unfortunately, due to poor health, he was forced to return to his home in Halifax the same year. The following year, 1822, he returned to the states again. This time he headed into Washington County, Ohio, to work with Joseph Dyar, a distant relative who lived on the Muskingum River. About three years later he ended his partnership with Dyar and soon after married Joseph's sister, Esther Ann Dyar. They had five children before she died. He married two more times, losing both of these wives as well and ended up with ten children. Thomas Ridgeway lived to the age of 87 dying in 1883 (Burke, 18 Nov. 96).


Most Used Routes

During the 1800's the trail that a slave would take to freedom was as unpredictable as the weather. Varying the trail was a necessity to keep bounty hunters off their trail. Upon reaching Marietta there were numerous places to send slaves for the night. Two of these choices were the Rainbow and Palmer Stations. From there the slaves went to the Stafford Station in southwest Monroe County, Ohio. The passengers were able to cover about 15 miles a day on the terrain in Southeast Ohio so they didn't typically stay at more than one station in a county.

Important Places

There were numerous stops for the Underground Railroad in Washington County. They were spread all over to increase the odds of a fugitive making it to freedom. One site where fugitives could be received was at the mouth of Duck Creek by the Ohio River. Three popular stops in Washington County were the Marietta Station, Rainbow Station, and Palmer Station.

At the opening of Duck Creek into the Ohio River, fugitives were dropped off by Josephus. They had just crossed the Ohio River by canoe and were now on free soil, but this didn't mean they were safe. They had to continue to Canada where they could no longer be captured.

The Marietta Station was operated by David Putnam. It occupied the area above the Harmar Cemetery on the west side of the Muskingum River in Marietta, Ohio. This was also the home of Mr. Putnam and his family. According to letters written from the time, slaves only stayed at this station in extreme emergencies (Burke, 22 Oct. 96).

The home of Thomas Ridgeway was referred to the Rainbow Station. It was located across from Fern Cliff in Devola along the Muskingum River. Slaves were housed at this station and given a place to rest. This station lay between Marietta, Ohio and Waterford, Ohio (Burke, 22 Oct. 96).

Northeast of Marietta in Fearing Township the Palmer Station could be found. Mr. Jewett Palmer was the conductor of this station and his fugitives took shelter in a secluded cave not to far from his house. The cave can still be seen today (Burke, 22 Oct. 96).

Publications From the Time

The escape of a plantation owner's field help led to some not-to-happy slave owners. Depending on the sex, size and ability of the slave, a sizable reward would be posted for the return of their field help. In Washington County there were new cases daily for the bounty hunters. A few examples can be found in the addenda.

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).

Important People

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 came from.

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 Nov. 96).

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. 96).

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 arose.

Important Places

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 awaited.

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.


As fugitive slaves neared the Ohio River there was a sense of apprehension. They were so close yet they knew that any second all of their dreams could be snatched away by the bite of a dog or the sting of a whip hot on their trail. Fugitives had put everything on the line by attempting this escape and the only thing that they had to believe in was the rumor that there would be help along the way.

As they neared the site where they were to meet their first "friend", they shook with anticipation. Would they get there quickly enough, would someone be waiting, where would they go from there? Then, they spotted the site. Thick vegetation along the river, the muffled hoot of an owl. Yes, this was the spot and there was a friend there to help. Excitement filled their limbs with new energy.

Quickly they climb into the boat and now they are learning through whispers that their friend is Josephus, a slave himself, and that they are going to be to the other side before morning. As the boat drifts further and further into the water, the sound of their pursuers grows fainter and fainter. It's safe now to rest for a few minutes.

The nap is soon interrupted though as they near a small island. They must drag the canoe to the other side to continue their journey. By this time their limbs are feeling the strain of the day and it is all they can do to drag their own ragged bodies across the island. Josephus takes care of the canoe and after a draining hike they hit water again. This time it will carry them all the way to the mouth of Duck Creek, Josephus' favorite site for hiding his passengers.

He awakens them again and introduces them to their new friend David Putnam. After a quick conversation, they learn that the bounty hunters are hot on the trail and it will be necessary for the group to split up. Half will continue on to the Rainbow Station and the other half to the Palmer Station.

Directions are given and the first half of the group heads out on their own to the Palmer Station. David leads the others up the other way to follow the Muskingum River. To make conversation Mr. Putnam tells his passengers about his family and their home. He tells them how his home is rarely used because it is to easy for hunters to find being so close to the river. The passengers are exhausted by this point, but Mr. Putnam is encouraging and tells them that waiting just a few more miles up the river is a safe place to rest with clean clothes for everyone. This along with the sounds of the pursuers is enough to keep them going at a nice pace.

Just when they have all decided that they can't make one more step, David shows them their destination between the trees. They're almost there. Mr. Ridgeway rushes out to greet them and welcome these guests to his home. Finally a safe place to sleep. It looks as if the hunters have quit for the night and the passengers can rest until it becomes dark again. Mrs. Ridgeway shows them to a secret room in their home and they all fall to the ground sending up one last prayer of thanksgiving before falling into a restless, nervous slumber. The Ridgeways talk with Mr. Putnam and decide the best stop to send the passengers to from there would be further up the Muskingum to the Stafford Station to meet up with the rest of their group and continue to Canada.

Meanwhile the other half has been running with hunters close behind all night. The only thing keeping their exhausted bodies from collapsing is the adrenaline pumping through their veins. The howl of the dogs is fast approaching and they are uncertain about their destination. It should be soon, but the black sky is concealing all of the landmarks said to lead the way. It seems so hopeless and then they hear it, the familiar sound of the muffled owl. It can't be far now. Then they see him. A figure standing only about ten feet away. Is he friend or foe? A quick hand jester indicates friend and they follow him through the thick brush and into a secluded cave. Finally they have arrived. A safe haven to rest. They are quickly introduced to Mr. Palmer and informed that they have reached their destination for the night. Mr. Palmer begins to explain that he will stay on guard for them all night and his wife will bring some food and clean clothes in the morning, but the passengers have already passed into dream land and are flinching and kicking as they battle their imaginary captors.


Like any team, the Underground Railroad depended on all of its players to win. Each county had a different yet important role. What role did Washington County play in the success of the Underground Railroad? This county had a unique responsibility because it bordered the river separating freedom from slavery for slaves. It was the first free land that many fugitives walked on and even though they were not yet safe they had survived the journey to this point. The journey was half over for many slaves and it was the job of the conductors in this county to see that the fugitives had a sound beginning to the last half of their journey. If the conductors could get their passengers through the county skillfully the bounty hunters and plantation owners would loose the trail of the fugitive. This would make the rest of the journey much easier for the fugitives. Washington County had a very significant role in the Underground Railroad. They received many passengers from the neighboring state of Virginia. The county had good land to hide slaves in and because it wasn't very densely populated there were less people to help the bounty hunters locate their prey. The efforts of the abolitionists in this county combined with the power of unity that the Underground Railroad had were enough to deliver thousands of slaves to the freedom of Canada. With the help of Washington County, the Underground Railroad was proudly able to live up to this credo of the American Anti-Slavery Society.

If you come to us, and are hungry, we will feed you; if thirsty, we will give you drink, if naked, we will clothe you; if sick, we will minister to your necessities; if in prison, we will visit you; if you need a hiding-place from the face of pursuers, we will provide one that even bloodhounds will not scent out (Cosner, pg. 85).


Hamilton, Virginia. Many Thousand Gone . New York: Scholastic, Inc, 1993.

Blockson, Charles L. The Underground Railroad . New York: Prentice Hall, 1982.

Cosner, Sharon. The Underground Railroad . New York: Venture, 1991.

DuBois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk . New York: Penguin Books, 1989.

Burke, Henry R. Journeys on the Underground Railroad . Marietta, OH: The Underground Railroad Research Center, 1995.

Douglas, Fredrick. Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglas, An American Slave . New York: Penguin Classics, 1986.

"Underground Railroad." World Book Encyclopedia . 1992 ed.

"Underground Railroad." Encyclopedia Americana . 1972 ed.

Burke, Henry R. Personal Interview. 22 October 1996.

Burke, Henry R. E-mail to Author. 18 November 1996.


National View of the Underground Railroad

This map shows some of the routes used by fugitive slaves once they reached free states. Underground Railroad Routes in Ohio

This map shows routes used by fugitive slaves passing through Ohio. Map of Sites in Washington County

  1. Box Plantation: Home of Josephus


  2. Home of David Putnam Jr.


  3. Home of Jewett Palmer


  4. Home of Thomas Ridgeway Picture of Putnam House Reward Posters Newspaper Article Pictures of Slave Auctions