AAHM Part III, The Underground Railroad and Lakewood

(Part 3 in our Black History Month Series) These excerpts are from our May 2011 Newsletter. Information was researched and compiled by former volunteer, Sabine Kretschmar’s article “Rcokport and Slavery Preceeding the Civil War.”

“It is estimated that nationally, about 1,000 slaves escaped each yeaer. Ohio bordered two slave states, Kentucky and Virginia (after 1963, West Virginia)…Countless numbers of slaves escaped to Ohio. Some stayed but many more traveled through the state on their way to Canada. Free blacks, abolitionists, Quakers and others with religious motivations were often the conductors…

“It is very difficult to know for certain who was involved in the Underground Railroad and exactly which houses were ‘stations.’ Clearly, escaped slaves and those who aided runaway slaves did not keep records. What we know about the Underground Railroad comes primarily from oral histories, some of which are more legend than truth. On rare occasions, we have newspaper article3s offering some information. Some of what we do know about activities in the area comes from Ohio State Professor Wilber Henry Siebert (1866-1961), who began to research the Underground Railroad in the 1890s…

“According to Siebert, one route of the Underground Railroad was roughly northeast through Medina and Berea and up through Lakewood to Cleveland. Stories have been passed down telling of rowboats with escaped slaves that were sometimes launched from Lakewood’s shores or Rocky River. Legends have persisted that tunnels were part orf the route, however this is highly unlikely. One particular tunneled in Lakewood, the subject of a 1935 Plain Dealer article, acknowledged the legend and questioned its veracity…

One of Rockport’s most prominent citizens, Jared Potter Kirtland, was also an abolitionist. According to the research Kretschmar conducted, Kirtland’s home in Poland, Ohio, served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. It is said that at one point, Kirtland entertained two slave owners while “simultaneously hiding their runaway slaves in the kitchen.”

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In the next installment of our Black History Month series, we will look at African-American experiences in the 20th Century.

AAHM Part II, Early Abolitionists in Lakewood

(Part 2 in our Black History Month Series) These excerpts are from our May 2011 Newsletter. Information was researched and compiled by former volunteer, Sabine Kretschmar’s article “Rcokport and Slavery Preceeding the Civil War.)

“In the 1830s, hundreds of anti-slavery societies were founded across the state, including the Cleveland Anti-Slavery Society in 1833 and the Cuahoga Anti-Slavery Society in 1837. J.L. Tomlinson of Rockport was a member of the latter group. Although we know almost nothing about him, his colleagues in the society were prominent businessmen, lawyers and politicians from around the county. Their goal was to abolish slavery and elevate ‘our colored brethren to their proper rank as men.’ Mention of the societies disappears in the 1840s; however they resume activity in the 1850s.

“in 1848, a group of Rockport citizens met at the schoolhouse near James Nicholson’s property. They published a set of eight resolutions in the Plain Dealer, the True Democrat and the Cleveland Herald that included their opposition to the expansion of slavery into additional states and their commitment not to support a slaveholder for President or Vice-President.

“Taking a similar position, there is a Plain Dealer article in 1856 mentioning a meeting of the Republicans of Rockport including Tomas Hird, Jared Kirtland and Collins French. Their purpose was to launch a campaign against the expansion of slavery.

“The abolitionist cause gained intensity and momentum after the passage and rigorous enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Penalties were imposed on indviduals who helped escape3d slaves and local officials who refused to enforce the law. In part, this federal law was designed to combat the perceived success of the Underground Railroad.” (…)


This is Part 2 of our series throughout the month of February to highlight the history of African Americans in Lakewood. Stay tuned for our second installment, The Underground Railroad and Lakewood.

 

AAHM Part I, Antebellum Rockport

Excerpts are from our May 2011 Newsletter. An article written by one of our former volunteers, Sabine Kretschmar, highlights the history of African Americans in Rockport Township which would become Lakewood in 1889.

“The First African-American in Cuyahoga County, George Peake, settled in Rockport in 1811. By 1820, blacks accounted for twenty percent of the overall population of 157, a very high percentage for a township in the Western Reserve at the time.

“Rockport was primarily a farming community and not surprisingly, most of the residents, including the black population, were farmers or farm hands. Mentions of blacks in local histories are very infrequent and usually refer to them by first name only, such as ‘Henry’ or ‘Elijah’ or by their labors. For example, the book titled the Early Days of Lakewood, reported that Adam Wagar employed, ‘twenty Negroes cutting wood on his property; they lived in temporary shacks south of the present Madison Avenue at Morrison Avenue.’

Wyandot mission0001“The laws in Rockport, as in all of Ohio, were not colorblind. Ohio was a ‘free state’ as confirmed in the state constitution in 1803. However, that does not mean it was without racial discrimination.

“Ohio passed several ‘black laws’ in 1804 and 1807 designed to prevent African-Americans from migrating to the state. In order to be a citizen of Ohio, b lacks would need at least two people to put up a $500 bond for their good behavior and they would have to produce a certificate of free status. In addition, laws prohibited blacks from marrying whites, voting, testifying in court against whites, holding office, or serving in the state militia. State tax dollars would not support schools with black students. By the late 1840s, abolitionists were successful in repealing some of these laws.

“In spite of this, northern Ohio-especially the Western Reserve-was relatively more sympathetic to the plight of African-Americans than the southern part of the state. New Englanders and New Yorkers, who settled in this part of the state in large numbers, brought their dislike of slavery with them.” (…)

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This is Part 1 of our series throughout the month of February to highlight the history of African Americans in Lakewood. Stay tuned for our second installment, Early Abolitionists in Lakewood.

Lakewood’s First African-American Resident

In 1809, African-Americans George Peake and wife Hannah guided their wagon across the Cuyahoga River and onto the new Rockport Road. Theirs was the frist wagon to travel on the new road, which had been the former Indian trail known as the Detroit Road. Records show that George was a British veteran of the French and Indian War and had served under General Wolfe in Quebec. It was said that he had deserted his unit, taking with him the money he was given to pay the other soldiers. He married and settled in Pennsylvania, then moved to Cleveland in 1809, choosing to settle on land one mile south of the mouth of the Rocky River in Rockport.

George was 87 when he arrived in Rockport with his two older sons, George and Joseph. His younger sons James and Henry soon followed them. George purchased 105 acres of land, which he farmed, and became a well-respected Rockport citizen. The Peakes built a handmill which was an improvement on the Indian style mills used locally in grinding hominy. George died at the age of 107. He and his wife Hannah were said to have been the first African-Americans to reside in Cleveland.

Black History Month at Lakewood Historical Society

As countless historical societies, museums large and small, and other organizations reflect on the impact slavery had on our national identity and history, it inspires us at the Lakewood Historical Society to reflect on our history of abolition and freedom.  Here at Lakewood Historical Society, we have a collection of books written by local authors that shed light on the interesting history of the Rockport area.  Students are taught in school about the Civil War that divided the still young nation over the issue of states’ rights to own slaves.  The divisive nature of slavery and the desire to help escaped black slaves find their freedom in Canada and other areas of the North touched Lakewood and other coastal areas.  In one of our local history books, Margaret Manor Butler wrote, Philander Winchester’s:

“religious background made them ardent supporters of freedom” and “did all [he] could for the anti-slavery movement. The Winchester home was the key place in Rockport for the underground movement, and many stories of narrow escapes have come down to us.”

With stories about Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglass, students are exposed to one of the darkest times in our nation’s history. With the study of local individuals, like the Winchesters, we see that Lakewood has a diverse history and role in the abolition, ending, of slavery.  It also serves as a brief look at how national events and issues touch a small community.

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Margaret Manor Butler, The Lakewood Story (New York: Stratford House, 1949). 112-113.