December 1, 2001

When Captain Gilbert Knapp looked to settle down somewhere on the Great Lakes he already knew the territory quite well. As captain of the Benjamin Rush, the first U. S. Revenue Service cutter to sail the western lakes, he'd visited the mouth of Wisconsin's Root River on Lake Michigan before and liked what he'd seen. It was just about the right distance from the recently incorporated Chicago and, except for a few French visitors back in the late 1600s and early 1700s, had never been settled. In 1834 he (along with two other investors) obtained the land, erected a log cabin and modestly called the place Port Gilbert. A tavern was erected the following year and the settlement soon acquired a store, a shoemaker, a blacksmith shop and other accoutrements of civilization. It also acquired a new name, from the French for 'root' - Racine.

Railroad tracks reached Racine in 1855, but another railroad had already been passing through for the past five years. One carrying human cargo. Southeastern Wisconsin would appear to be an unlikely route to freedom; Canada is a relatively long distance away. But ever since the Fugitive Slave law had been passed back in 1850, a network had sprung up through the region and a fairly sophisticated route had been devised. Slaves escaping from Arkansas and Missouri would flee north past Chicago, hole up in Racine or Milwaukee, be shipped across Lake Michigan and the lower peninsula, and exit the country across the St. Clair River from Port Huron to Sarnia, Ontario. Many would settle in the region, joining others arriving from below Lake Erie and from the Niagara Peninsula.

One passenger on the so-called underground railroad was a former slave named Joshua Glover. He'd escaped from his master, B. S. Garland of St. Louis, and made his way north, reaching Racine in 1853 or early 1854. Slavehunters rarely sought their human prey in this semi-wilderness area and Glover felt secure enough to settle here and get a job in a local mill. On March 10th he was in his shanty playing cards. Suddenly the door was thrown open and Garland and two U. S. Marshals barged inside along with a wintry rush of cold air. Glover jumped up, but before he could defend himself one of the marshals knocked him to the floor with a club and the other knelt and put a gun to the slave's head. They got handcuffs on their victim, half-dragged him out the door and tossed him in the back of a waiting wagon. One of them rode the twenty-some miles to Milwaukee with his foot on Glover's neck and the fugitive was lodged in the county jail.

A large, incensed group from Racine was not far behind, having braved the icy waters to travel by boat. While they were milling angrily around the jail they were joined by a Milwaukee group, headed up by Sherman M. Booth, abolitionist editor of the Milwaukee Free Democrat. It was later reported that Booth had climbed up on a horse and ridden up and down the streets shouting, "Freemen, to the rescue." But he would always deny doing such a melodramatic Paul Revere turn. He did gather a crowd and seek out a Federal judge. When the man refused to give up Glover, the mob grabbed a large timber and attacked the jailhouse door. Breaking through, they freed the slave from his cell and spirited him into hiding at Waukesha, about forty miles to the west. In spite of efforts to find him, he was soon on his way to Canada and freedom. But Booth's adventures were just beginning.

For Classical 91.5 and 90-point-3, this is David Minor



For a fictional tale of the Underground Railroad you might want to check out Miriam Grace Monfredo's mystery novel North Star Conspiracy. Set against the background of a mid-1800s flight for freedom in upstate New York on the UGRR is an challenging mystery. You can check out this and others in Miriam's period mystery series at her home page



By now most people know that the phrase Underground Railroad does not refer to The Paris Metro, the London "tube" or the IRT. An internet search will turn up many detailed sites related to the subject. Perhas the best general introduction to the subject is the National Geographic site. Go to the site, clicko n the "enter" below the swinging lantern and view this graphic-rich site. You'll find something there for all of the family. Use the navigation menu on the upper right side and you can journey along with on site as a virtual "conductor". There's a map of the various routes, a timeline of slavery in the U. S., several pictures for kids, teachers' activity suggestions, and a portait gallery. The site's store page has gift ideas related to the subject and the Civil War, and you can send a virtual postcard portraying Harriet Tubman and her "passengers". There's a page of related sources and links as well. So, wait for the dark of the moon, walk silently, and follow the drinking gourd.




© 2001 David Minor / Eagles Byte