Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Underground Railroad Slave Station: Josiah White's Log Cabin
Yesterday, I visited a 'station' - a safe house along the Underground Railroad in Southern Illinois. The Josiah White Log Cabin sits behind the Cheney Mansion, as undetected as one could imagine. If you're not looking for it, you'll drive right by.
Amazingly if you Google "Cheney Mansion" there is very little mention of its role in helping the slaves. Cheney was a politician and an active abolitionist. In fact, many abolitionists lived in Jerseyville, Illinois. When Harriet Tubman was helping slaves to freedom, she needed help, she needed a network of people who believed what she did that slavery was wrong. So she helped as many slaves as she could get to freedom. "The railroad truly was the feet of the escaping slaves or a silent trip hidden under the hay of a horse-drawn supply wagon of a "conductor." If you can, imagine walking from the deep South up to freedom, the north. Think about traveling only at night where it made it harder for slave trackers to catch them. Think about the conditions Harriet Tubman and her escapees had to survive under. Surely there was rain, cold, heat, and of course the wildlife that lived in those wooded areas. How about what they ate? No one had coats, only the bare clothing on their backs the night of the slaves escape. So it was important to have a conductor and stations in which to rest in order to get to the next stop on the Underground Railroad.
"The conductor was a person who assisted the slaves in getting from one station to the next. A "station" was a code word for the next safe stop on the railroad. And this railroad ran from the south to north into Canada (the promise land or freedom). Conductors suspected or caught helping fleeing slaves, risked being fined as much as $500, as well as threat to their life, limb and property. Alton's riverfront location was a vital hub in helping slaves create connections to freedom in the north. Free blacks and hired slaves who worked on riverboats were able to spread the word about the Underground Railroad to other slaves. Because St. Louis, down river from Alton, was one of the largest slave-holding areas north of New Orleans, historians believe many slaves escaped through Illinois as it was a free state."
The Josiah White Log Cabin was considered a "safe house" -- a place in which slaves traveling to freedom to the North could rest, get a good meal, before they left out the next night towards their journey to freedom. I must admit this was a daunting experience, it left me feeling humbled and very appreciative for what the slaves went through so I could have freedom. So we could have freedom. This is the 3rd in a series of articles on various historical relevant Black History events and locations in and around the St. Louis, Missouri region. Come back each day to enjoy more! Leave a comment below and tell me what you think.