The Underground Railroad in Wabash County
The Underground Railroad was perhaps the most dramatic protest action against slavery in United States history. It was a clandestine operation that began during the colonial period, later became part of organized abolitionist activity in the 19th century, and reached its peak in the period from 1830 to 1865. The Underground Railroad was not a real railroad but a secret network of people and of safe houses set up to help Blacks escape the slavery of several American states and move to free states, or freedom in Canada. The organization used railroad terms as codes to describe the actions of people who belonged to the network..terms such as "stations" and "conductors" and "passengers" or "cargo". The story of the Underground Railroad is one of individual sacrifice and heroism in the efforts of enslaved people to reach freedom from bondage. In Wabash County, due to the nature of Underground Railroad management, the name of each and every station that operated on the lines running through it cannot be determined with certainty, nor is it possible to identify all the people who gave assistance ensuring safety of fugitives moved from station to station on the Underground. An article under the heading of "The Underground Railroad" appeared in the Wabash Courier on October 28, 1881, over the signature "Anon", which said in part: "When the fugitives crossed the Ohio River, the leading Abolitionists would see that they were helped on their way to the first station on the underground line by night (for it was not safe to travel by day with such chattels, as blood hounds in human shape, were plenty in the border country north of said river).....To make it more safe would put on a good wagon sheet, then store the chattels back and fill up behind the driver with hay, or stretch up a quilt, and drive to one Peabody's north of Largo, thence to Morris Place's where North Manchester now is, thence to Thomas Mason's , Leesburg, Kosciusko County, I believe thence to Stephen Bogue's in Young's Prairie, Cass County, Michigan, and beyond that to Detroit where the poor panting slaves passed over into Canada. I know not all the stations on our line." Mr. Daniel Sayre was born in June, 1815 in New York and settled in Lagro, Indiana in 1832. In an era of great activity in the Underground movement he lived on what was later known as the Stratton farm" located about three miles north and a little east of Lagro, near Hopewell. Mr. Sayre was known to be active in assisting slaves to freedom. According to Mr. Sayre: "There were three stations on the Underground line in Wabash County...They were Fred Kindley's place near New Holland, A.A. Peabody at Lagro and the Maurice Place home at North Manchester." That he ran a station on the Underground is not definitely known, but it is known he could be depended upon for help when needed. We now come to Martin McFarland one of the most outstanding conductors and station keepers in the Wabash County area. McFarland was the proprietor of the town of New Holland in 1841. During the many years Martin McFarland spent in serving the Underground Railroad one can expect that rough and ready, even dangerous experiences put to a test his resourceful courage and humane characteristics as applied to his work.
In spite of efforts made by the Underground in behalf of runaway slaves passing through Wabash County some of them did not realize either freedom or Canada. In 1880, a Wabash newspaper published "An Historical Ring", which gives us something of what could and did happen right here in our own county to a captured slave:
"In the County Clerk's office is an ordinary iron ring used as a paper weight. It is made of three-quarter inch rod iron and is about three inches in diameter. Such a ring could be picked up in any blacksmith shop. It is the association clustered around the ring in question which gives us the facts for this article. Many years ago during the operation of the Underground Railroad, when the Abolitionists helped a poor black to Canada, our older citizens will remember the arrest of a Kentucky slave in this county as he was on his way to liberty. He was confined in jail and his master sent for. Arriving, he loaded the slave with chains, and the ring we are writing about was used to connect the shackles around the poor slave's feet and hands. These shackles, the Kentuckian said, had been used in returning over one hundred escaped slaves, worth in the aggregate over $150,000. You are probably anxious to know how the ring came into the possession of County Clerk Weesner. The master and captured slave started on the next boat down the canal. Some friendly Abolitionist on board assisted the slave to cut the chains and escape, when he was pursued and shot dead by his master. His body was found and buried in the western edge of the county, and the broken shackle and chains found on his body returned to the county jail where they were cut and used for various things until the big iron ring was all that was left. This was fastened to the floor and unruly prisoners often chained to it. When the old jail was demolished, the ring was saved and put to a better use than it was ever intended for. While looking at the old ring we could not help but think of all the awful stark and gloomy associations surrounding its use; or the many escapes to gloomy swamps; of the clank of the old ring and its chains as the poor slaves were loaded with them and driven back to thralldom and bondage. But the unpleasant memories are of the barbarous past, and it is gratifying to know that the days of iron rings and shackles coupled with human slavery are no more."
The above information came from the booklet: "Slavery- the Underground Railroad Movement and Some History, As Related to Wabash County, Indiana and the book "Wabash County History" both found in Genealogy in the Wabash Public Library.
Research has failed to reveal the exact date the Underground Railroad discontinued operation. Levi Coffin said when resigning his office as President of the Underground Railroad during a meeting held in Cincinnati in 1869, "Business on the Underground Railroad continued brisk up to the time of the breaking out of the war and for a year afterwards--before slaves were received and protected inside our military lines." On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation "freeing all slaves in those states of the south which were still at war against the Union." After this date necessity for secrecy as practiced by station keepers and conductors when aiding Negroes to escape bondage was no longer an issue and the end of the Civil War in 1865 ended secession and slavery completely.