— The Second of Two Identical Markers —
The Underground Railroad
The Underground Railroad was neither underground nor a
railroad, but a system of loosely connected safe havens
where those escaping the brutal conditions of slavery
were sheltered, fed, clothed, nursed, concealed, disguised,
and instructed during their journey to freedom. Although
this movement was one of America's greatest social.
moral, and humanitarian endeavors, the details about it
were often cloaked in secrecy to protect those involved
from retribution of civil law and slave catchers.
Ohio's history has been permanently
shaped by the thousands of runaway
slaves passing through or finding permanent
residence in this state.
The Marion County Trail of Bill Anderson
Runaways sheltered by friendly abolitionist communities often believed
that slave-catchers could not touch them in the heart of Ohio, but
they were wrong.
Such was the case in 1838 in Marion County. A black man by the
name of "Bill Anderson" or "Bill Mitchell" fled bondage in a Virginia
salt works and settled near Marion but he was soon recognized there.
A mail dispatch sent to Virginia caused the alleged slaveholder to
demand Bill's incarceration by local authorities.
Forty days after his capture, six strangers appeared in Marion
claiming ownership of Bill and brandishing bowie knives, pistols,
and clubs. During the trial, the men, one identified as "Smith"
produced notes of sale showing that three of them had purchased
"Bill" at different times with "John Smith" the most recent buyer.
After lengthy preamble, local UGRR stationmaster Judge Ozies
Bowen rocked the courtroom by announcing, "Mr. Smith and John
Smith might be two different persons, therefore I shall decide in
favor of the prisoner."
Pandemonium erupted in the courtroom after the ruling was announced
and the Virginians refused to accept the verdict. They drew weapoms;
Bill was jerked back and forth in a vicious tug-of-war, while
clubs and pistols pummeled bodies. Several Quakers gave as good
as they got. A local black man helped Bill escape, and Quakers
escorted them both to the Ruebem Benedict home near Marngo,
Morrow County. After a long and anxious night, Bill was on his
way north to Oberlin, a noted Lorain abolitionist stronghold, and
then to freedom in Canada.