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The Civil War, 1861-1865

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The Underground Railroad

Michigan was a strong antislavery state.

Michigan's Underground Railroad map

These are the general routes that escaping slaves took
through Michigan to reach Canada, where slavery was illegal.

Before the war, many Michigan citizens helped slaves escape from the South, via the Underground Railroad, a secret, often informal, organization of safe hiding places and people willing to provide transportation between them.

By day, runaway slaves hid in buildings or underground cellars called stations. At night, they traveled north. Station operators gave the slaves food, warm clothing and a place to sleep. They then gave them directions or transportation to the next station, ten to fifteen miles away. The Underground Railroad operated primarily between 1830 and 1861.

Slave Chains Sometime after the Civil War began, a woman in Bowling Green, Kentucky, used this chain to keep her slave in her barn. The slave sawed through the chain and walked to the camp of the 23rd Michigan Infantry. Soldiers took the man to a blacksmith who removed the chain. Colonel Spaulding kept the chain and presented it to the Michigan state librarian upon his return to Michigan.

Laura Haviland Michigan has many Civil War heroines. Among them were Quakers who worked in the Underground Railroad. Born a Quaker, Laura Smith Haviland lived in Adrian and led escaped slaves to freedom in Canada. She was so effective in her abolitionist activities and her work for the Underground Railroad that Southern slave owners offered a $3,000 reward for her capture. She and her family opened one of the first schools in Michigan to admit black boys and girls. A historical marker stands at the Raisin Valley Friends Church in Adrian where her father was the first pastor. Laura Haviland is buried in the church cemetery.

Sojourner Truth Another Michigan Civil War heroine was Sojourner Truth, whose picture also appears in the gallery. Born a slave in New York in 1797, she was freed in 1828. She became an advocate for abolition (making slavery illegal) and for woman suffrage (giving women the right to vote). In 1856, she moved to Battle Creek. She traveled throughout the nation preaching about emancipation and the rights of black people and women.


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