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“The Underground Railroad in Illinois,” by Glennette Tilley Turner, Newman Educational Publishing, Glen Ellyn, IL, 2001. This 289-page paperback uses a question and answer format to describe the underground railroad in considerable detail. Between the 50 questions, the author inserts biographical sketches of key players and photographs.

The underground railroad assisted escaping slaves. Quakers were strongly anti-slavery. They were early participants. Abolitionists and other religions played a role as did free blacks. Most slaves walked the entire distance. Often they were pursued by slave catchers sometimes with dogs tracking them. They usually traveled at night and hid in daytime. Tall grass, woods, caves, and other natural barriers were often used. Stations on the underground railroad assisted with food, shelter, a place to rest, sometimes transportation, clothing, and directions to the next station. The book describes many stations with escape tunnels, hidden rooms, trapdoors etc to hide runaways or provide quick escape. There were also wood piles and hay stacks with false centers used to conceal slaves. Most slaves sought freedom in Canada. In Illinois, maps show they often went through Chicago, sometimes north through Wisconsin, but often through Detroit to Ontario. Canada provided land to escaped slaves.

Illinois’ long border with Missouri meant most escaping slaves came from Missouri. Even those escaping to Iowa came to Illinois. Some also came from Kentucky. The major routes were from Chester, Alton, and Quincy. There were also routes across northern Illinois from Iowa and numerous alternate routes. Galesburg was central to many routes. A map shows the Quincy route extending into the heart of Missouri’s slave owning country known as Little Dixie. The S-bend in the Missouri River indicates the southern end is at Rocheport on the river between Columbia and Boonville.

The death of Elijah Lovejoy in 1837 was a major event in the anti-slavery movement. He was a Presbyterian minister trained at Princeton who published an anti-slavery newspaper in St. Louis. Under threats he moved to Alton, IL, where his printing press was destroyed multiple times. He was shot and killed by a sniper during a mob attack on his building. People were alerted to the issues of freedom of press and freedom of speech and the problem of slavery.

Slavery was a unique situation in Illinois. In 1787, The Northwest Territory had been designated slave free by Congress–causing settlers from Virginia and Kentucky to by-pass Illinois and settle in Missouri where slaves were allowed. But French settlers had earlier had slaves in Illinois country. Illinois became a state in 1818. Its constitution forbid slavery but allowed indentured servants, which the book claims is similar to slavery. (Apprenticeships were thought to be slave-like if terms are unlimited.) Illinois also permitted slavery at saltworks. A series of Black Codes followed. In 1853, Illinois Black Codes forbid people of color from entering the state and made them subject to arrest and fines. They could not vote or hold office. The southern hundred miles of Illinois was settled from the South. Slave owners could bring their slaves into Illinois, but law suits arose when the slaves claimed freedom. One of those resulted in the Dred Scott Decision.

The Emancipation Proclamation became law on January 1, 1863. It is celebrated in southern Illinois and the Paducah, KY area on August 8, thought to be the day word was received. Juneteenth, June 19, 1865, is celebrated as the day the slaves in Eastern Texas learned of the proclamation.

In the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Abraham Lincoln debated the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 with Senator Stephen A. Douglas. The act let residents of those states decide if they would allow slavery. The act repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and resulted in border wars in Kansas. Douglas favored the act, but Lincoln opposed slavery. The debates were held in seven Illinois cities from August to October, 1858. People came from miles around to watch. Lincoln lost the election for senate but was elected President in 1860.

In 1990, Congress passed legislation requiring the National Park Service to study and preserve the history of the Underground Railroad.

The book includes maps of underground railroad routes, suggested exercises for students, over 50 photos of underground railroad stations, 28 pages of reprints of news articles and letters, and 22 pages of annotated bibliography.

This is a remarkably comprehensive story of the underground railroad–especially in Illinois. Loaded with historical details. Maps, photos, bibliography, index.
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