African Americans, escaping from slavery, weren’t the only ones following the unmarked routes, known as the Underground Railroad (UGRR). Slave owners and the often brutal men they hired to return their human property were also aware of the towns and people sheltering those trying to escape. This situation set up confrontations between good and evil.
So it was with the central Indiana town of Westfield, settled by abolitionist Quakers. When Singleton Vaughn and his group of slave hunters captured the Rhodes family who had settled near here after fleeing a farm in Missouri, Westfield residents rescued the family. Indiana Ghost Walks and Tours offers a Haunted Underground Railroad Walking Tour around historic downtown Westfield.
In the mid 1800s, Madison, a historic river port perched high above the Ohio River, was one of the largest cities in Indiana. It also had the largest number of free African Americans. Many resided just five blocks from the river, in the neighborhood of Georgetown, the perfect spot for the UGRR to thrive.
Ten miles northwest of Madison is historic Eleutherian College, located in the tiny hamlet of Lancaster. It was the first stop north of Madison on the UGRR. The property also contains the Lyman Hoyt House, owned by a conductor on the UGRR.
The 1859 Decatur County Courthouse (in Historic Tower Tree Square in Greenburg) is best known as the Indiana courthouse with a tree growing out of the top floor. More historically significant, though: the State of Indiana vs. Luther Donnell was argued here. Donnell was sued for helping a slave and her four children escape.
Don’t miss the tiny but charming town of Vernon, on the National Historical Register. Though the row houses on Highways 7 and 3 are privately owned, they are worth a look, since freedom seekers hid in the cellars while journeying on the UGRR.
Also (though there’s no substantiation), the flowers engraved on the Jennings County Court House in Vernon were said to signal that the town was friendly to those traveling on the Underground Railroad.
Levi and Catherine Coffin, from southeastern Indiana, believed so fervently in the anti-slavery movement that they helped an estimated 2,000 slaves escape. Their home — a two-story, eight-room red brick house built in 1839 located in Fountain City near Richmond — is a National Historic Landmark. The History Channel named it one of the top 25 historic sites.
Many towns on the Underground Railroad were also along the path of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and his Raiders who crossed the Ohio River and plundered their way through southeast Indiana.
Indiana’s Cave Trail … Visiting Indiana’s historic mills
Milling Around: Visiting Indiana’s Historic Mills … Tripping into the past
Morgan’s Raiders: A Civil War Road Trip … A self-directed, 185-mile driving tour