As fugitive slaves neared the Ohio River there was a sense of apprehension. They were
so close yet they knew that any second all of their dreams could be snatched away
by the bite of a dog or the sting of a whip hot on their trail. Fugitives had put
everything on the line by attempting this escape and the only thing that they had to believe
in was the rumor that there would be help along the way.
As they neared the site where they were to meet their first "friend", they shook with
anticipation. Would they get there quickly enough, would someone be waiting, where
would they go from there? Then, they spotted the site. Thick vegetation along the
river, the muffled hoot of an owl. Yes, this was the spot and there was a friend there
to help. Excitement filled their limbs with new energy.
Quickly they climb into the boat and now they are learning through whispers that their
friend is Josephus, a slave himself, and that they are going to be to the other side
before morning. As the boat drifts further and further into the water, the sound
of their pursuers grows fainter and fainter. It's safe now to rest for a few minutes.
The nap is soon interrupted though as they near a small island. They must drag the
canoe to the other side to continue their journey. By this time their limbs are feeling
the strain of the day and it is all they can do to drag their own ragged bodies across the island. Josephus takes care of the canoe and after a draining hike they hit
water again. This time it will carry them all the way to the mouth of Duck Creek,
Josephus' favorite site for hiding his passengers.
He awakens them again and introduces them to their new friend David Putnam. After
a quick conversation, they learn that the bounty hunters are hot on the trail and
it will be necessary for the group to split up. Half will continue on to the Rainbow
Station and the other half to the Palmer Station.
Directions are given and the first half of the group heads out on their own to the
Palmer Station. David leads the others up the other way to follow the Muskingum River.
To make conversation Mr. Putnam tells his passengers about his family and their home. He tells them how his home is rarely used because it is to easy for hunters to find
being so close to the river. The passengers are exhausted by this point, but Mr.
Putnam is encouraging and tells them that waiting just a few more miles up the river
is a safe place to rest with clean clothes for everyone. This along with the sounds of
the pursuers is enough to keep them going at a nice pace.
Just when they have all decided that they can't make one more step, David shows them
their destination between the trees. They're almost there. Mr. Ridgeway rushes out
to greet them and welcome these guests to his home. Finally a safe place to sleep.
It looks as if the hunters have quit for the night and the passengers can rest until it
becomes dark again. Mrs. Ridgeway shows them to a secret room in their home and they
all fall to the ground sending up one last prayer of thanksgiving before falling
into a restless, nervous slumber. The Ridgeways talk with Mr. Putnam and decide the best
stop to send the passengers to from there would be further up the Muskingum to the
Stafford Station to meet up with the rest of their group and continue to Canada.
Meanwhile the other half has been running with hunters close behind all night. The
only thing keeping their exhausted bodies from collapsing is the adrenaline pumping
through their veins. The howl of the dogs is fast approaching and they are uncertain
about their destination. It should be soon, but the black sky is concealing all of the
landmarks said to lead the way. It seems so hopeless and then they hear it, the familiar
sound of the muffled owl. It can't be far now. Then they see him. A figure
standing only about ten feet away. Is he friend or foe? A quick hand
gesture indicates friend and they follow him through the thick brush and
into a secluded cave. Finally they
have arrived. A safe haven to rest. They are quickly introduced to Mr. Palmer and
informed that they have reached their destination for the night. Mr. Palmer begins to explain
that he will stay on guard for them all night and his wife will bring some food and
clean clothes in the morning, but the passengers have already passed into dream land and are flinching and kicking as they battle their imaginary captors.
Like any team, the Underground Railroad depended on all of its players to win. Each
county had a different yet important role. What role did Washington County play in
the success of the Underground Railroad? This county had a unique responsibility
because it bordered the river separating freedom from slavery for slaves. It was the first
free land that many fugitives walked on and even though they were not yet safe they
had survived the journey to this point. The journey was half over for many slaves
and it was the job of the conductors in this county to see that the fugitives had a sound
beginning to the last half of their journey. If the conductors could get their passengers
through the county skillfully the bounty hunters and plantation owners would loose
the trail of the fugitive. This would make the rest of the journey much easier for
the fugitives. Washington County had a very significant role in the Underground Railroad.
They received many passengers from the neighboring state of Virginia. The county
had good land to hide slaves in and because it wasn't very densely populated there were
less people to help the bounty hunters locate their prey. The efforts of the abolitionists
in this county combined with the power of unity that the Underground Railroad had were enough to deliver thousands of slaves to the freedom of Canada. With the help
of Washington County, the Underground Railroad was proudly able to live up to this
credo of the American Anti-Slavery Society.
If you come to us, and are hungry, we will feed you; if thirsty, we will give you
drink, if naked, we will clothe you; if sick, we will minister to your necessities;
if in prison, we will visit you; if you need a hiding-place from the face of pursuers,
we will provide one that even bloodhounds will not scent out (Cosner, pg. 85).