Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Underground Railroad in Eastern Wisconsin

Much detail is lost in the forms of history that usually play to a nationwide audience. I'm sure many people that have seen the map below would be surprised to know that it isn't quite accurate; in addition to the routes you see below, the Underground Railroad also ran through eastern Wisconsin - and not just through the Kenosha/Racine area as the map suggests, but up to Fond du Lac, Sheboygan County, Calumet County, and at least as far north as Green Bay.

Being the secret and illegal organization that it was, there are gaps in our knowledge of the Underground Railroad in eastern Wisconsin, but here's the data I've gathered:

***Fond du Lac: The Octogon House on Linden Street is now a tourist attraction. It features "fascinating underground tunnels" that were used to hide escaped slaves (it was featured on The History Channel).

***Sheboygan County:
Jonathan Walker's main claim to fame was that his hand was branded "SS" for "slave stealer" after he was caught sailing away from the coast of Florida with several escaped slaves on board. Years after that (in 1852), Walker and his family moved to Wisconsin and eventually to Sheboygan County. After Walker moved again, it was reported that there had been a trench on his property, covered with boards and "deep enough for a man to stand"(according to Dennis McCann's article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel March 22, 2000).

***Stockbridge/Chilton/Calumet County :

1) Lemuel Goodell, a white resident of Stockbridge, delivered escaped slaves from Calumet County to a church in Green Bay. Nevertheless, there were escaped slaves who felt they were safe enough in rural Calumet County and settled there. One built himself a small dwelling (J.N.Davidson referred to it as a "shanty"), and upon realizing that his former master had learned of his whereabouts, he fled to the town of Stockbridge. There he was befriended by Indians and whites who told the former master to leave the area. Unfortunately, another slave who later moved into the same dwelling was tracked down and returned to slavery (Davidson, 1897, 66). The last page of J.N. Davidson's (1893) Muh-He-Ka-Ne-Ok, includes this sentance, "Fugitives from slavery found shelter in their [the Stockbridge Mohicans'] settlement." This is built on in the addendum (page 58):
"The slaves whom the writer had in mind were brought by a Mr. Goodell to Green Bay and hidden there in the belfry of the church by Pastor and Mrs. Porter. That was probably in 1855."

2) Moses Stanton's father was black and his mother was a Narragansett. (He wasn't technically a Brothertown Indian, but associated with that tribe informally.) He was the founder of Chilton (now the seat of Calumet County) and also a participant in the Underground Railroad, as the newspaper article below attests. (It was written by Kara Patterson for the Oshkosh [WI] Northwestern where it appeared on February 23, 2005):

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