Monday, February 5, 2018

"Major Steps To Freedom" -- Southern Ohio and the Underground Railroad


Our state has a rich history of connections to the Underground Railroad. Ohio had an extensive network of trails used by anti-slavery activists, free Blacks and churches to help fugitive slaves flee from the South to Canada. Most historians argue that Ohio had the most active UGRR operations in the nation; some sources estimate that 40,000 slaves escaped to freedom through Ohio.

Although there were Underground Railroad networks throughout the country, even in the South, Ohio had around 3000 miles of routes used by escaping runaways. The reason for this is two-fold. First Ohio was bordered by 2 slave states: Virginia and Kentucky. That amounted to more than 400 miles of border between slave-state and free-state. Of all the states involved in these underground networks, Ohio was the closest state to Canada with only about 250 miles or less from anywhere along the Ohio River to Lake Erie and freedom.
In addition, Ohio also had a large Quaker population, especially in the east and southeast portions of the state. While the Pennsylvania Quakers were largely responsible for initiating the abolitionist movement, the Ohio Quakers seemed to be more directly involved in actually moving escaping slaves on their way north and freedom in particular those fleeing slaves coming from Virginia.

Entering Ohio from Kentucky at Portsmouth slaves very often were brought across the Ohio River by a River Boat Captain, who took them to an African American farmer. The farmer would take fugitives to the Pee Pee Settlement in Pike County (Eden Baptist Church). Pike County conductors moved them to Ross County usually through Bourneville to Frankfort and then west of Circleville.

Finally, the fugitives would be taken north to Franklin County. Sometimes, fugitives followed the trail from Portsmouth to Chillicothe, where they would be taken northward to Franklin County. Elm Grove in Pike County, near Piketon offered a safe haven for fugitives on the way to the P. P. Settlement in Pike County or to Chillicothe.

There is a great need to flesh out much more information about this important part of our Southern Ohio past. By offering this brief sketch of places in our area on the River-To-Lake Freedom Trail, I hope others will become interested in helping expand this knowledge about the Underground Railroad. I encourage others to use this information and to add more to this collection of local history.

With courage, determination, and ingenuity, those who worked in the network saved countless lives while risking their own. Now, we should work to improve our knowledge of our own Underground Railroad and to preserve it for future generations. In doing so, we honor those who were responsible for securing freedom for those souls held in human bondage.


Scioto County was dangerous for runaway slaves because of its proximity to slave-holding states. Runaways often had to continue their journey northward. Numerous slaves fled from Kentucky across the Ohio River to Wheelersburg or Portsmouth.

Oftentimes a riverboat captain, William McClain delivered his human cargo to J.J. Minor, an abolitionist, who would deliver them to the Lucas or Love families in Houston Hollow. There, they followed the Scioto River to Waverly and to the free black community called P.P. Settlement in Pebble Township.

Huston Hollow

Established in Scioto County, Ohio in 1830, Huston (Houston) Hollow was a predominantly African-American community. It was located six miles north of Portsmouth, Ohio. Huston Hollow remained small in size during its existence, averaging less than one hundred residents.

Among the community's more prominent residents were the Love and Lucas families. Members of both of these families actively assisted runaway slaves along the Underground Railroad.

Into Pike County

Pike County also remained a dangerous place for African American families. Free blacks living in the Scioto Valley Corridor were met with resistance, and even violence, from other residents. Many of the thirteen free black families living near the Ross County border in Pike County moved away when their homes, and even their schools, were burned. But one family, the Barnetts, refused to be driven out and became actively involved as Underground Railroad conductors.

Elm Grove

An Elm Grove abolitionist maintained a lonely Underground Railroad station where he provided safety for escaping enslaved persons. These fugitives were attempting to travel the unfriendly route from Huston Hollow in Scioto County to safe places in Ross where other conductors helped them on their way to Canada.

Sargents Station

Sargents Station, located between Piketon and Wakefield, was founded and named around 1800 specifically as a “station” for helping slaves. Strategically chosen at the center and narrows of the Lower Scioto Valley, astride both the land and river routes going north from Portsmouth, Sargent's Station was a principal stopover along the Scioto Trail, en route to Chillicothe and the Pee Pee Settlement in northwest Pike County.

The station was named after the three Sargent brothers who came from Maryland in the 1790s, to establish stations to help Negro slaves who had managed to get across the Ohio River. The term station came from the Stations of the Cross but now is termed the Underground Railroad.

The Sargent family had manumitted their slaves in Maryland in 1781 and moved to the Ohio frontier. The Sargent Home, which still stands, has extensive underground tunnels emanating from its cellar.

In Ohio, the Sargents hooked up with a prominent political clan of like convictions, the Barnes family. James Barnes served as owner and editor of the Scioto Gazette (now the Chillicothe Gazette), while helping to establish Underground Railroad connections in Ross County. His nephew, John Barnes, Jr., built a grand home just south of the Barnes estate. Both James and John fought fugitive slave laws as Ohio state legislators.

Three of John's male descendants would marry Sargent girls, uniting the families and creating a nexus of UGRR activity at the strategic center of southern Ohio. Together, the Barnes and Sargents founded the Sargents Methodist Episcopal Church. A spin-of that church was established as Bailey Chapel in Wakefield, the first and only Methodist parsonage in south-central Ohio. The parsonage served as a training center for liberationist preachers.

Snowden Sargent IV, who was born at Sargents Station, Ohio migrated to eastern Illinois in 1830, at the age of 19. He became a wealthy rancher, and the patron of a Whig attorney his same age, named Abraham Lincoln. At Snowden's arrangement, Lincoln visited Sargents Station in 1848, on his way to serve out his term in Congress. He stayed at the Barnes Home, hosted by Isaac Newton Barnes and Mary Sargent Barnes. This visit may explain why Lincoln took his first public stand against slavery immediately upon his arrival in Washington, authoring a bill to outlaw slavery in the District of Columbia.

Straight Creek

At Straight Creek near Bristol Village (Waverly), Christopher Brown, a former slave, conducted runaways to Chillicothe. Brown was born in Maryland in 1806. His father was Elias Brown, a free African American. Brown's mother was Honor Mundel, a former slave, who was freed by her owner upon his death. In 1813, the Brown family left Maryland and settled in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Here, Christopher Brown found employment as a servant to relatives of South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun. He also learned to read and write.

In 1820, Christopher Brown and his father traveled to Pigeon Roost in Jackson County, Ohio, where Elias Brown purchased some Congress Lands from the federal government. Elias Brown returned to Pennsylvania to retrieve the remaining family members, leaving Christopher Brown with his maternal grandfather, Robert Mundel, along Big Run Creek, in Jackson Township, in Pike County, Ohio.

The family was reunited in 1821. Christopher Brown remained with his family until 1828, when he sought employment. Brown first worked for Joseph Foster, caring for livestock and a corn crop. For the next decade, he found employment as a farm laborer and as a worker on various boats on the Ohio and Scioto Rivers.

In 1837, Brown purchased fifty acres of land along the Scioto River in Pike County. He married Nancy Jane Lucas in 1838, and the newlyweds farmed Brown's property for the next seventeen years. The Browns prospered, and in 1855, they sold their farm. That same year, Brown purchased more than one hundred acres along Straight Creek in Pike County.

Besides farming, Brown became active in the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1843, he was formally ordained as a minister and began to minister to a church in Pike County. Brown also served as conductor on the Underground Railroad, opening his home to fugitive slaves. Slave catchers routinely watched Brown and his family, hoping to prevent these African Americans from assisting runaway slaves. Despite being watched, Brown routinely succeeded in helping slaves escape.

Pee Pee Settlement

In truth, the name for this community came from Peter Patrick, a 19th century settler from Pennsylvania who eventually ended up in Piketon. A squatter, Patrick eventually returned to Virginia due to American Indian attacks.

But, before he left, to mark his territory, Patrick carved his initials (“P.P.”) in a beech tree at the confluence of Scioto River and a small creek. And, that creek became known as Pee Pee Creek. The name Pee Pee settlement, located along Pee Pee Creek in Pebble Township, also came from Peter Patrick’s initials.

By the 1820s, several African Americans had settled in the area and developed a free African-American community Most of the African American residents were former slaves from Virginia. Many of them earned a living as farmers, with some becoming sizable landowners. The community grew relatively quickly, with residents establishing a church in 1824. They constructed a school and government building soon thereafter. African American residents also actively assisted runaway slaves along the Underground Railroad.

The Barnett and Muntz families, at the Pee Pee settlement hid fugitives and then took them to the next safe place and a step closer to freedom. Oral history states that someone at the Eager Inn that was located on a post road connecting Adams and Ross Counties, received information when runaways were on their way to that vicinity. The information was then given to the Muntz or Barnett families who prepared to receive the fugitives.

The Barnetts came to Pike County from Virginia in the 1820's and 1830's. Several Barnett families were conductors on the Underground Railroad that operated through this part of Pike County.

Other Pike County citizens who were actively involved in assisting the runaway slaves to freedom were the conductors at the Carrs Run and East Jackson settlements.

The reader must keep in mind that Ohio was a state that did not allow slavery. Nevertheless, that did not mean that whites were open to granting African Americans equal rights. Free African Americans found that it was difficult to get fair treatment, and they often formed their own communities away from whites for protection. And, after passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, it became a crime to help slaves seek freedom, with harsh penalties for being caught.

Despite the growing opposition to slavery by some whites during the early 1800s, many white residents of Pike County objected to the African Americans' presence. Two white families, the Burkes and the Downings, which lived closest to the Pee Pee settlement, especially despised the African Americans. On several occasions, these whites led violent attacks against the Pee Pee Settlement. On at least one occasion, whites burnt the home of an African American resident, Minor Muntz. Muntz was a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Undaunted by the whites' actions, Muntz rebuilt his home.

Through all the resistance, the Pee Pee settlement remained a vibrant community until the early 1900s. By this time, the settlement lost its identity as a separate community for African Americans. With whites increasingly showing African Americans tolerance, many African Americans began to find acceptance in traditionally white communities. Difficult economic conditions also prompted many African Americans to move away.

Ross County

Four major Underground Railroad routes ran through Ross County into Chillicothe. Two routes followed the Scioto River, while the other two followed old State Route 23 on the east and State Route 104 on the west. These trails had been made by Native Americans and were well established by the time white settlers reached the Scioto Valley.

Quakers, Presbyterians, and African-Americans were active Underground Railroad conductors along these routes. The Quaker settlement near Chillicothe offered a safe haven to runaway slaves. In 1836, the Presbytery of Chillicothe issued a letter to its sister church in Mississippi outlining the reasons for the abolition of slavery and the assistance to runaway slaves. The Chancellor, Leach, Langston, and Redman families were all African-Americans who ran Underground Railroad stations in the town of Chillicothe

Sources Include the Following

“The Underground Railroad in Southern Ohio.”

“Pee Pee Settlement.” Ohio History Central.

“Christopher Brown.” Ohio History Central.

“The River-To-Lake Freedom Trail.”

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