Sunday, May 11

The two-wheeled historian heads to Ohio

I will be donning a new hat soon as the finishing touches are coming to a close on a trip I've been thinking about a long time. I have wanted to follow routes along the underground railroad since I took a similar trip many years ago. A major spot on that first trip included a visit to Amherstburg, Ontario, home of the National American Black Historical Museum, where one can feel the history of the Underground Railroad, American slavery and Canada's humanitarian outreach. It is a town proud of its active role in providing shelter for runaway slaves. I've always wondered about the underground stations in the United States. As the proud holder of an undergraduate history degree, I knew there were many underground railroad sites. So, I came up with the idea of riding my 'cycle to some of those very places and like usual, the list I created is too long to complete in one ride season--given that I must work for a living! Oh, if only time and funds were unlimited, I could do this for sure. Okay, back to reality...

Instead, I've come up with an idea that could still create a historically rich and dynamic adventure. I cab restrict my trip(s) to locales where there was a concentration of underground railroad stations and cover as many of those as I can. Living in the Midwest is perfect for exploring this history. Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, played important roles in American history during slavery's reign. In each of those states, individuals and groups defied inane laws, stepped up the plate, and did the humane thing. They all provided safe havens for their darker brothers and sisters. These stations were cloaked in secrecy to protect abolitionists and others vehemently against slavery. Thus, these locations have not all be recorded. The numbers and sites are best estimates of the most well-known stations. Some of these places have been maintained, others have been destroyed or have fallen in disrepair and are not threatened for destruction. I believe this history, this American history, ought to remain and stand as a reminder of what should never have happened and what will never happen again. Yet still today, human trafficing and people being held in bondage exists....but I digress...

Of the Midwest states that provided shelter from human bondage, Ohio has a lot to be proud of. In fact, of all the states in the entire USA, Ohio has the most recorded underground railroad locations, at thirteen. This shouldn't come as a complete surprise given the major role of the Society of Friends, better known as "The Quakers," settlement in Ohio. According to one source, by 1800 approximately 800 Quaker families lived in Ohio. Fourteen years later, that number had doubled. The first anti-slavery newspaper in the United States, The Philanthropist, was published in Ohio by Charles Osborn of Mt. Pleasant. Soon after, Benjamin Lundy, known as the "father of abolitionism," published his, Genius of Universal Emancipation, also from the town of Mt. Pleasant. Quaker Meeting Houses, colleges (Oberlin, to mention one) and a host of reform efforts engendered by the Ohio Quakers, make Ohio a "must-visit" destination for my eventual return to Amherstburg, Ontario and appreciation for the collaboration of good people in much of North America.

Again, neither time nor funds will allow me to visit every Ohio site but I think I can make a dent in exploring its anti-slavery efforts. My first concentration of noteworthy underground railroad locations will center in and around the Cincinnati area, starting in Harveysburg, OH for a stop at Caesar State Park to check out the Bullskin Trace Trail, which was also track on the underground railroad. This area once belonged to the Shawnee Indians who gave it to a slave named Caesar whom they had captured in a raid and adopted. Caesar lived and hunted on this land. Springboro, OH is close by and then it's on to Pisgah, (and a side stop to Sharonville--how can my ego resist?). My pal, D. Brent Miller, has offered a stop at his place somewhere in this region and I hope to take him up on that and finally meet is better half. Perhaps, I can even talk him into riding to Ripley with me. Ripley is 50 miles from Cincinnati; it has the distinction of not one, but two major underground railroad locations, The John Rankin House, after a general in the War of 1812, and the Parker House, home of an African American abolitionist. The town currently has fewer than 2,000 citizens. Then it's northeast to Waverly and then to the Columbus area. While there, I hope to stop in on friends in Granville, OH. Three stops remain as I move east to Zanesville, up north a bit to Flushing, and then on to Mt. Pleasant. These were difficult choices but I'm happy with the towns that have made the cut.

I wish I could explore in depth this State's history in helping to end what historian, Kenneth Stampp called, "the peculiar institution." This is a fascinating part of American history about which far too many Americans don't know enough. Myself included.

While this trip is designed to enhance my own education, I hope to share it beyond this blog. Therefore, I shall be pursuing outlets for publishing an article on local history by me, the two-wheeled historian. While I have some publications in mind, if any of you have any ideas, send them my way. To be continued...


(The pictures--BMW F800ST--she will be home soon)

11 comments:

Claire said...

Can't wait to see you around these parts! Nice to chat briefly with you today!

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Sharon:

Have you thought of trying to trace the route of one particular slave through the system -- someone you have uncovered in research -- on your bike? I would think that would be a great story. Whether you can find a single person, or discover a route, I think it will be a significant piece.

Good luck with the F800.

Fondest regards,
Jack

D. Brent Miller said...

Looking forward to your visit. Don't forget the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. And, while you're out riding the area, I'd love to ride to Ripley.

Brent

Sojourner rides said...

Claire, I totally excited about this and looking forward to seeing you and the family!

Sojourner rides said...

Jack, there might be a slave narrative that provides clues to his/her route but it would be difficult given the cloak of secrecy around thsee stations. But, I've added this to my list of research tasks. It definitely would be a great research task to pursue, ride and write about. Thanks! I'll keep you posted.

Sojourner rides said...

Brent, Yes, the museum is a major stop for me, given it's importance but also given that I came near there once only to discover the place was closed! Looking forward to seeing you and yours! Yeah, Ripley!

Crusty said...

sounds like a great project Sharon. Wishing you all the best and safe travels -Crusty

Countersteer said...

that will be an interesting trip, looking forward to your road reports

Chris

Sojourner rides said...

Thanks, Crusty. I know you like history too. So, I'm looking forward to sharing.

Sojourner rides said...

Thanks, Chris, I'm looking forward to getting this underway.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.