The Underground Railroad was a network of people, secret routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early-to-mid 19th century, and used by enslaved African-Americans to escape into free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause. Citizens of Clermont County, Ohio were major contributors to the Underground Railroad movement. Many were also leaders in the efforts towards freedom and equality for all Americans. – Freedom Trail Guide, Clermont County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The Underground Railroad in Clermont County
The southern half of Clermont County is full of sites with historical ties to the Underground Railroad. In this video, Greg Roberts introduces us to many of these locations. Mr. Roberts is the Director for the State of Ohio, for the Ohio River National Freedom Corridor. He’s also a trustee with both the Clermont County Historical Society and Historic New Richmond.
From our collection
To learn more about the Underground Railroad in Clermont County, check out these two items from our collection.
Freedom’s Struggle: A Response to Slavery from the Ohio Borderlands
A newspaper reporter described Clermont County’s involvement in the Underground Railroad as a “hole in the map.” Meaning that the story was largely an untold one. Gary Knepp has plugged that hole with this book, Freedom’s Struggle: A Response to Slavery from the Ohio Borderlands. It makes readers want to follow the Clermont County Freedom Trail.
Gary Knepp was the director of the Clermont County Underground Railroad Research Project. He also appeared as a guest historian on the PBS television program, History Detectives in 2005.
Candlelight by Night
Clermont County, Ohio was one of the most important areas on the Underground Railroad. It was also part of the Abolitionists movement. The county boasts the most locations on the Network to Freedom with nineteen recognized. It’s estimated that one-third of the slaves who escaped on the Underground Railroad came through Clermont County.
Candle by Night features Richard Cooper, Richard Crawford, Gary Knepp, and Carl Westmooreland. The documentary is a fascinating exploration of Clermont County’s role.
Get out and explore
Clermont County and the surrounding region is riddled with sites that have historical ties to the Underground Railroad. Visiting them is a great opportunity to learn more about local history. Here are some resources to get you started.
Clermont County, Ohio Freedom Trail
The Clermont County Ohio Freedom Trail contains 33 sites; 19 of which are approved by the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Currently, the Clermont Freedom Trail contains the largest Network to Freedom program in the nation. This self-guided tour highlights Clermont’s scenic rolling hills and runs along the Ohio River. It was assembled by the Clermont County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
A Tour on the Underground Railroad Along the Ohio River
Running for 664 miles along Kentucky’s border, the Ohio River provided a remarkable opportunity for the enslaved to escape to free soil in Indiana and Ohio. The river beckoned fugitive slave Henry Bibb onto a steamboat at Madison, Indiana, headed to Cincinnati, where he discovered the Underground Railroad. Upriver from Cincinnati, a lantern signal high on a hill from the Rankin House in Ripley, Ohio, stirred others to flee for freedom.
These stories along the borderland of the Ohio River also served as the setting for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The novel became an inspiration of human resistance. Author Nancy Theiss, Ph.D., takes readers on a tour (with detailed information on historical sites) to see these places of courage and sacrifice in her work A Tour on the Underground Railroad Along the Ohio River.
National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom
Use this interactive National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom map to identify and explore other Underground Railroad sites around the country, in addition to those highlighted on the local Freedom Trail.
Read about the Underground Railroad
Our staff has assembled some resources for those who want to read more about the Underground Railroad.
Adult Booklist: Discover both fiction and nonfiction, written for adult audiences.
Youth Booklist: Discover both fiction and nonfiction, written for youth ranging in age from young children to teens.
Podcast – Discover books related to the Underground Railroad during the Booklovers Podcast.