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The Underground Railroad in Indiana

In 1793, the Fugitive Slave Law was passed. With the passage of the law, slave owners were allowed to reclaim their runaway slaves who had fled to the north. However, the law was never truly enforced, and as a result, few people are familiar with the law. In 1850, the Fugitive Slave law was amended to make it illegal for someone to harbor a runaway slave and it was mandatory for a citizen to assist in the capture of a runaway slave. The State was required to enforce the law of 1793 Fugitive Slave Law as well as the admended law.

With the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law, escaping from slavery was made much more difficult for slaves. Before the passage of the law, when a slaves was in free territory, and was considered "free for life", unless they were kidnapped and sold back into slavery. Before the Civil War, free African Americans were commonly kidnappend and sold into slavery. Traditionally, Indiana held a anti-slavery views on the position on slavery.

Quakers had a enormous impact on the views towards slavery in Indiana, as well as the effect that slave labor affected the poor. Quakers viewed slavery as a shameful institution that effected the life of the slave owner as well as the unrighteous treatment of African Americans as human beings.

However, non-Quakers who resided in Indiana felt that abolition was impractical. Many residents who moved to the Indiana Territory were originally from the south, and not the east, as one many assume. Even though Indiana held anti-slavery views, the population still had many ties to the south and to slave culture. With these times, Indiana's future was unknown during the turmoil of the Civil War, and was a state that could have supported the Union or Confederate sides of the conflict.Indiana was split on the decision that slaves should remain free versus the view that union should stay together and that slavery was a successufl institution that should not be dissolved. Hoosiers who sided with the belief aided slaves who were traveling on the Underground Railroad.

The Underground Railroad was a network of homes and safe houses where runaway slaves could stop on the way to freedom in Candad during the Civil War. Indiana was home to many abolitionists, many of whom were Quakers, who offered their homes as 'stations' on the Underground Railroad. Stations were considered secret stopping points on the Underground Railroad route to Canada and continue to be active into the 1870s to help slaves move north to freedom. The mission of the Underground Railroad gaves slaves an opportunity to rest at night while traveling to freedom in Canada.

By 1835, Indiana and Ohio contained popular routes for slaves to escape on the Underground Railroad. Within Indiana, there were three major routes for the Underground Railroad, and served as a major stopping point for slaves traveling to freedom. Runaway slaves faced many risks in trying to escaped to freedom. They had the potential to be recaptured, and they would most like be sold, severly disciplined, or even killed as an example to other slaves on the plantation. Citizens aiding theses recaptured slaves often faced undetermined future with the law.

The Underground Railroad in Wabash Valley

The Wabash Rivers flows through the Wabash Valley, and provides swampy terrain in the area. This terrian proved beneficial to Quakers to aid in hiding of runaway slaves. Abolitiionist built cabins in this region that served to provide temporary housing for slaves traveling to freedom. The swampy water was an asset because when hound dogs were used to hunt down runaway slaves, they would lose their scent when they reached the water. In 1826, with the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation,in Fountain County, Indiana, it is estimated that an average of 100 fugitives were hiding in the swampy area of the Wabash Valley.

The Wabash Valley area was also home to Methodists. Methodists held opposing views on the issue of slavery at both the state and national level. DePauw University, a Methodist sponsored college in Greencastle, is unknown about its connection to the Underground Railroad because of the denomination's split views about the issue of slavery. On the other hand, DePaul's sister institution, Wabash College, in Crawfordsville, was strongly anti-slavery. Stellar's Cave is located beneath DePauw's campus. This cave is thought to have been a hiding space for fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad. However, there is little documentation in history to prove this fact and serves as a common theme while conducting research concerning the Underground Railroad. Much of what we think we know is mostly rumor that has been passed down over the years. Another example of little documentation and the Underground Railroad is the story of the Mill Dam, which is located in Northeast Vigo County.

Camp Anderson was one of three training camps in La Porte County, Indiana. It was used in 1861 and 1864 to train Indiana Union volunteers of the 34th, 127th, 128th, and 129th regiments.[7]

The Markle Family are the original owners of the Mill Dam and built the dam in the 1800s. Fredrick Markle served in the Civil War and passed away in 1865. The property passed through many hands before the mill portion burnt to the ground in 1938. In the late 1990s,it was discovered that a series of tunnels were running from the Mill, the Otter Creek River, and the main house. Thus, the Markle family and Mill Dam are now thought to have been part of the Underground Railroad but it is not a proven fact. The Wabash Valley has many people in its history that are credited for their assistance in the Underground Railroad.

Below is a photo of what is left of the Warkle Mill Dam in Northern Vigo County, Indiana.

Warkle Mill Dam

Because of the swampy waters of the Wabash River, those counties in the Wabash Valley counties located on the river that are on the river had more effect on the Underground Railroad than those located further away from the river. Politics also dominated the views towards slavery in Indiana. Some counties had littly sympathy for African Americans as well for the value for the Underground Railroad. Overall, the Wabash Valley region had a major impact on the Underground Railrad, with large amount of documentation for assisting slaves on the Underground Railroad. There are also several rumors and stories that give credit to certain locations and people. It's important to not to discount the rumors that in some cases are facts that just have not been proven yet.

Influential People of the Underground Railroad in the Wabash Valley:

Dr. Horace Cannon:

Dr. Horace Cannon was known for treating injured runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad in Parke County. Cannon also made a trip to the South to free over 40 slaves that were inherited by a friend in Parke County.

Robert Addison Coffin:

Robert Addison Coffin was an abolitionist in Parke County. Coffin was a cousin to the well-known abolitionist, Levi Coffin, located on the other side of the state.

Alfred and Rhoda Hadley:

Alfred and Rhoda Hadley were very active in the Underground Railroad in Parke County. They had many hiding places in their home. It is said that Rhoda would cook a meal for fugitive hunters to slow them down on their trail of the runaway slaves. The Hadley's station was in operation for 25 years.

Thomas Morris:

The Morris family was one of the most respected names in Parke County. The family was very influential. Thomas Morris was thought to have helped fugitive slaves and hid them. His home was called the "White House."

Influential People of the Underground Railroad in Indiana :

Levi and Catherine Coffin:

After moving to Fountain City, Indiana, Levi Coffin began farming and soon opened a general store. Coffin began helping slaves in the Underground Railroad in 1826. Everyone in the town was aware of his activities, but most were afraid to join him. Soon, Coffin and his wife, Catherine, convinced people in the town to join them. Coffin raised over $100,000 for the Western Freedman's Aid Society to provide aid to the free blacks.The Coffins helped over 2,000 slaves escape. Levi was referred to as the "President of the Underground Railroad." His home was thought to be the "Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad." Levi and Catherine Coffin were not directly involved in the Civil War; however, they had major influence on the home front by creating awareness of slavery in the south. Over time, the issue of slavery became one of the influencing factors regarding the war. Eventually, the Fifteenth Amendment made slavery illegal. The Fifteenth Amendment had a negative impact upon the southern economy because it eliminated cheap labor; however, it served as the first step in freeing African Americans from their centuries of servitude.

Jonathan Jennings

Governor Jonathan Jennings was Indiana's first governor. He was Indiana's first anti-slavery leader. Many of his beliefs and impacts had effect on most people, up through Indiana's involvement in the Civil War. He was against William H. Harrison's faction, before Indiana became a state. Harrison's faction was very non-democratic, pro-slavery and pro-elite. Jennings' faction opposed slaver, indentured servitude and elitism.


Goodall, H.C., comp. Underground Railroad : the invisible road to freedom through Indiana / as recorded by the Works Progress Administration Writers Project. 2000. Print.

People and Events of the Underground Railroad Underground Railroad Sites in Indiana

Lu, Marlene. Civil War: Walkin' the Wabash : An exploration of the underground railroad in west central Indiana. 2001. eBook.

[2] Lu, Marlene. Civil War: Walkin' the Wabash : An exploration of the underground railroad in west central Indiana. 2001. eBook.

[3] Goodall, H.C., comp. Underground Railroad : the invisible road to freedom through Indiana / as recorded by the Works Progress Administration Writers Project. 2000. Print.

[4] Indiana State University: History 425: Indiana History. By William Giffin