The Ohio Anti-Slavery Society was founded in April 1835 by several abolitionists including Asa Mahan. John Rankin, Charles Finney and Theodore Dwight Weld. Quakers also made up a large portion of the organizations initial membership. Modeled after the American Anti- Slavery Society, the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society sent lecturers around the state to encourage abolitionism. The organization also spread its message through print, using James Birney’s newspaper, The Philanthropist, as its organ. Despite significant opposition, Ohio Anti-Slavery Society membership numbered ten thousand by the end of 1836.
Despite being a free state and home to some of the nation’s most active abolitionists, Ohio had very oppressive and discriminatory laws that specifically targeted African Americans. The Ohio Black Codes made it illegal for blacks to vote, testify in court, receive an education, be employed in skilled jobs, or live in white neighborhoods. The codes also required blacks moving into the state to present their freedom papers. They were amended in 1807 to prohibit interracial marriage and black gun ownership.
The Ohio Historical Society has compiled an extensive list of resources that tell the history of the Underground Railroad throughout the state of Ohio. Featured on this page include links to the William H. Siebert UGRR Collection, information on the Paul Laurence Dunbar home, and information on the Rankin home.
Osborne Perry Anderson was born on July 27, 1830 in West Fallowfield, Chester County, Pennsylvania to free parents. He fled to Chatham, Ontario after the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. He served as secretary of John Brown’s Chatham Convention and was the only black attendee from Chatham to participate in the raid on Harpers Ferry. After surviving the raid, Anderson returned to Canada and published an account of what happened. He embarked on a speaking tour but the Civil War interrupted his travels. After the war he returned to Canada and, in 1872, resumed his speaking tour, but fell ill and passed away later that year.
Pathways to Freedom in the Americas is an online website that explores the escape of freedom-seekers south into Mexico and the dynamics of Afro-Mexican culture. The exhibition was inspired by the chance meeting of two women who became fast friends—Patricia Ann Talley, an African American from Michigan in the United States of America, and Candelaria Donají Mendéz Tello, an Afro-Mexican from Guerrero, México. Through their discussions, they learned about the parallel histories of their ancestors who were brought to the Americas against their will. The exhibition presents the mutually beneficial relationship between African Americans and Mexicans that is seldom discussed. Courtesy of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Task Force, Inc.
Several Northern states passed Personal Liberty Laws to combat legal loopholes made possible by the Constitution and the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850. The Constitution did not give any rights to enslaved people and the Fugitive Slave Acts maintained a fugitive’s legal status as a slave. Personal Liberty Laws varied by state but all made it more difficult for slave catchers to capture fugitives. Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maine, and Rhode Island passed laws that forbade law enforcement from helping slave catchers in any capacity. These laws upset southerners and were opposed by some Northern states, namely Ohio, where liberty laws were repealed.
The Philadelphia Riot of 1842 was the last race riot in a thirteen-year string of racial violence in the city. On August 1, Irish Immigrants attacked peaceful black marchers celebrating the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies. Over three days, several black neighborhoods were destroyed.
Born enslaved, Margaret Morgan left Maryland with her children and freeborn husband and moved to Pennsylvania in 1832. Her legal status was uncertain because her deceased master, John Ashmore, had allowed her to live as a free woman although her parents were slaves. Ashmore’s widow claimed Morgan as a fugitive and hired Edward Prigg and several other men to return her to Maryland. They captured Morgan and all four of her children. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania indicted Prigg on kidnapping charges, and he was convicted on May 22, 1839. He appealed his case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court.
Controlled by white officers, the Refugee Home Society was an organization that helped Canada-bound fugitives obtain land. Famous abolitionists Henry Bibb and George DeBaptiste served as its key black figureheads; DeBaptiste raised money between 1852 and 1855 so the Society could purchase 2,000 acres of land. Despite the vast acreage, the Society only managed to settle 150 men, women and children. Many accused DeBaptiste, Bibb and others of scheming to acquire land and money for themselves. Bibb’s death in 1854 helped end the Refugee Home Society; part of its failure may have been rooted in the way the community was organized.
After being hired out by his master Charles Suttle, Anthony Burns befriended a northerner who helped him escape slavery in Virginia for freedom in Boston, Massachusetts. Through a letter Burns sent his brother, Suttle discovered his whereabouts and traveled to Boston to claim him. Burns was arrested and held at Massachusetts Court House. Radical abolitionists gathered to rescue him but the attempt failed and Burns was sold to a North Carolina slave owner for $905. Congregants of Twelfth Baptist Church in Virginia, Burns’ old church home, and minister G.S. Stockwell of Amherst, Massachusetts raised $1,300 to purchase his freedom.