Saturday, May 17, 2014

Oberlin's UGRR History

Oberlin, Ohio, founded in 1833, openly defied the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that required cooperation with bounty hunters and slaveholders who were hunting down fugitive slaves. Although many fugitive slaves felt they had to go to Canada to be safe from recapture, others felt safe in Oberlin and lived the rest of their lives here. The abolitionist faction in town was so strong and effective, no escaped slaves were ever successfully caught in Oberlin and returned to slavery. 

Oberlin College is intricately embedded in the town. Instead of being cloistered to the side with its own set of quads and buildings, the college buildings are sprinkled around the town, centered on the town square. Students and faculty at the college were active in the anti-slavery movement. Oberlin College began admitting African-American students in 1835, and began admitting women students in 1841. The first black woman to receive a college degree in the United States, Mary Jane Patterson (below), received her BA from Oberlin College in 1862. 

I beat the rain this morning, getting out early to walk most of the "African-American Heritage Tour: Driving Guide to Oberlin." Yes, I could have ridden my bike and done the whole thing, but I'm trying to give my body a break from cycling today. After doing the self-guided tour and as the rain started up again, I took my bike to a bike shop to have new brake pads installed (when riding through the torrential rain a couple of days ago, I could tell I was burning through the pads) while I took a tour with a guide from the Oberlin Heritage Center. 

The Oberlin Anti-Slavery Society met In First Church (below), built in 1842. This church is also where the funeral was held for Lee Howard Dobbins, the four-year-old fugitive slave buried in Oberlin. (Dobbins' mother died in slavery. He was escaping to Canada with his adoptive mother when he became gravely ill with tuberculosis. With Dobbins' father, the slave owner, chasing them, the adoptive mother fled with several other children, leaving Dobbins with a family in Oberlin. When he died several days later, 1,000 people attended the memorial service.) The church was also the site of a memorial service for participants in John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry. 

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Park has three monuments. I thought this one for MLK was interesting because of how his likeness is created out of brick. 

In September 1858, John Price, a 17-year-old former slave who had been living free in Oberlin for two years, was captured by federal marshals and whisked away to Wellington (on route to his former master). Abolitionists from Oberlin and Wellington rushed to the scene to get Price released. When the marshals would not relent, Price was rescued surreptitiously by residents, hidden in the Oberlin home of James Fairchild (who later became president of Oberlin College), and later fled to Canada. The monument below commemorates the 20 Oberlin residents who were jailed for rescuing John Price. "Oberlin Wellington Rescue--In the spring of 1859, twenty Oberlinians went to jail for the crime of rescuing John Price from slavery. With their comrades in the abolition cause, they kindled hopes of freedom for us all."

The third monument in the MLK park memorializes three Oberlin men who died with John Brown during or as a result of his raid at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in October 1859. (John Brown, a white abolitionist, hoped that slaves would rise up and revolt in great numbers after he and his volunteer group seized a U.S. armory. Word did not spread to the slaves as Brown had hoped, so no revolt occurred. Brown's group was defeated by Robert E. Lee and U.S. Marines.) Each side of the monument (below) honors a different man but, the stone has eroded so much, the engravings are difficult to read. 

The three Oberlin men who died at Harpers Ferry were: Shields Green, an escaped slave from South Carolina, who was hanged after the incident; Lewis Sheridan Leary (below), a 24-year-old free black harness maker, who was killed trying to escape capture by crossing the Shenandoah River; 

and John Anthony Copeland (below), a 25-year-old free black carpenter, who was hanged after the incident. Before he was hanged, Copeland said, "If I am dying for freedom, I could not die for a better cause, I had rather die than be a slave!" Leary and Copeland had both previously participated in the Oberlin Wellington Slave Rescue. 

Below is the former home of Wilson Bruce Evans, a cabinetmaker, undertaker, abolitionist, and prominent black leader in antebellum years. He took part in the Oberlin Wellington Slave Rescue (he is fifth from the left on the rescuers monument), and he served one year in the army during the Civil War. He was a brother-in-law to Lewis Sheridan Leary. 

The home below was built in 1847 and once was home to Chauncey Wack, who served as a witness against the rescuers who saved John Price during the Oberlin Wellington Slave Rescue. 

James Monroe, an instructor of rhetoric, political science, and international law at Oberlin College and Congressman, once lived in the home below. He was an ardent abolitionist. At the request of John Copeland's mother, Monroe tried to retrieve Copeland's body for burial in Oberlin after the Harpers Ferry raid; he was unsuccessful. 

The Jewett House, below, was built in 1884, and was home to Frank Fanning Jewett, chemistry professor at Oberlin College, and his wife Frances Gulick Jewett, author of many health books. Charles Martin Hall, a student of Jewett's, developed the process for manufacturing aluminum. (A good portion of the fortune that Hall earned as founder of ALCOA was left to Oberlin College.)

The inside of the Jewett House is well-preserved and is furnished with period pieces. Check out the woodwork...

and hinges...

and stained glass. 

The kitchen had modern appliances for its time, including stove, ovens, and washing machine. 

Below are the guide, Ann; and Ric and Nora, fellow tour riders. 

In the back left corner is an ice box. An "iron" is in the right foreground (I can't remember its official name); it was heated up and used to press sheets and other linens. 

This bicycle has wooden wheels. It also has a wooden chain guard; I could use one of those to keep chain grease off my legs!

The clothes below were a woman's bathing outfit. 

The schoolhouse below, built in 1836, was only used for about ten years because the town quickly outgrew it. The motto of Oberlin College is "Learning and Labor." The whole town placed high value on education for all.

Below is the Underground Railroad Monument located outside of Talcott Hall on campus. It was originally built as a study on the horizon. It was purchased by the college as a monument to the Underground Railroad. (Before I began this trip, I was asked by someone if I was going to bicycle the whole way underground. I guess I could use this photo to show that we emerged into the daylight in Oberlin!)

[photo credit: Barb Ward]

Miscellaneous photos from around Oberlin:

I like the name of this church: Peace Community Church. 

I like the architecture of the next two buildings. 

Ric and Nora playin' the piano!

[photo credit: Barb Ward]

I just love springtime in full bloom! When it is overcast, colors can appear more vibrant:


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