Underground Railroad in Conneaut, Monroe, and Kingsville

Excerpt from Abolition in Eastern Ashtabula County, 2004
by Andy Pochatko
South Ridge
Don't look for the community of South Ridge on the map today, you will only find the road. South Ridge now bears the name of Farnham. As many small country towns, most life has left and only few people remain and with those people dies the memories of days past.

One man was almost wholly responsible for the conversion of the early supporters of slavery to abolition. Ralph Wright received the knick-name "Abolitionist Missionary" for his work. Wright would receive pamphlets of information on abolition and slavery, and being vision impaired would ask people on the street to read his papers to him. From this Uncle Ralph was able to memorize this information and preach it to whoever would listen. The reader and listener went away with a new awareness on the “peculiar institution.” Mr. Wright never lived to see the day the slaves would be free. He died in 1860 and is buried among the other early settlers of the Ridge in the South Ridge Cemetery (Clark 43).

During the earlier half of the 19th century, South Ridge rivaled Conneaut for population. It was here that some of the most pious people, devoted strictly to Higher Law, resided. The people committed themselves to spread the word of abolition and refused to live among any who were pro-slavery.

Much abolitionist sentiment was preached to the people in church. Consecutive preachers of the South Ridge Free Will Baptist Church made it a point to give sermon to the congregation on the evils of slavery. It was in this church in October of 1839 that the General Conference of Free Baptists met, the first out of the New England states. During this meeting the members of the Baptist church took a strong stance against slavery. It was understood that this was the most supreme action taken against slavery by any Christian group in the United States at that time (Clark 44).

One man who would stand behind that pulpit was the Rev. Rufus Clark, to whom we are indebted for his sketches on South Ridge. Clark would hide the runaways at his house, directly north of the church. This house also served as the church parsonage (Seibert 308). From Clark the slaves were usually directed into Erie County by way of the Gould brothers in Springfield Township (Clark 44).

The only anti-slavery society which is ever known to have existed in Conneaut's limits convened on the evening of October 23, 1839 at the Baptist Church. It was on the 14th night previous after a lecture by Rev. D.M.L. Rollin that the people of South Ridge saw it necessary to form such a society. On that 23rd night the preamble and constitution, written by a committee consisting of Diocletian Wright, Rev. Rollin, Rev. Gardiner Dean, Alonzo Moulton, and Silas A. Davis, was formally adopted. “The meetings held it’s meetings at such times and places as the officers seemed proper” (Clark 44). At one of its last regular meetings, April 21, 1845, the president was asked to select delegates to represent the Ridgeville people at the Ashtabula County Liberty Convention to be held at Jefferson (Clark 45).

One of the men selected to represent South Ridge was Marshall W. Wright. In his later years Wright would be an active member of Ashtabula County politics, including a marshal and director of the county infirmary (Williams 48-9). In his younger years, Wright was active as a conductor in the UGRR. One of the escapees who graced his doorstep was that of Lewis Clark. Lewis had been recently released from the grasp of his master on the Lake-Ashtabula County lines by the sheriff. It is told that to make the arrest legal, the Lake County portion of the road was blockaded so the coach carrying Lewis and the master would be forced to turn to the Ashtabula line and allow for the sheriff to make the arrest within his limits (Clark 47).

At last we have reached Conneaut on the Lake Erie shore in "Ohio's Sharpest Corner." Still standing on Main St. in Conneaut is a little white house named after its builder, Hiram Lake. Many people fail to recognize this place as a place of history. Hiram Lake was a member of the South Ridge Anti-Slavery Society and was also chosen as a delegate with M.W. Wright at Jefferson in 1845 (Clark 44-45). In the present day kitchen you will find a trap door leading into what people probably think was a root cellar. In reality this was the beginning of a tunnel, now filled, which reached the banks of Conneaut Creek, about 500 feet away. It was in this tunnel which Lake"s step daughter would note to be "packed full of negroes," on her weekend visits home (Seibert 308).

Another place "known" to be a station on the UGRR is an Octagon House that stands on Liberty Street. This house was undoubtedly built for persons fleeing slavery, as it incorporates many features as the Carpenter House in West Andover. The only problem with this house is the date. The Octagon House is believed to have been built circa 1863 by David Cummins. It is because of this date that I believe this house was used sparsely, if at all, as a station. Many people will still argue, however, what about the secret tunnel leading to Conneaut Creek? I believe this to have been incorporated from the previous house which stood on the spot.

Monroe is bordered on the North by Conneaut Township and to the east is the Pennsylvania stateline. If you followed State Route 7 into Monroe Township, near the present day intersection of Route 84, you would have run into a settlement then called Reed's Corners. Today we know this settlement as Bushnell. Our abolitionist is of that surname. Sidney S. Bushnell handled the contraband of slaves, moving ever closer to freedom in Canada.

There were several places for an escapee to go in Monroe. If you selected a route other than Route 7, you could find yourself in Kelloggsville. Kelloggsville was home to Samuel Hayward (Fig. 1). This area seemed to be particularly safe for slaves as Hayward would later tell of some slaves staying for a weekend (Clark 48). Hayward's name also appears in H.U. Johnson's tale of Edward Howard (142).

A little further north of Kelloggsville one might find safe heaven in the presence of Albert Kellogg. Being of New England ancestry, Kellogg was compelled to aid the negroe by the same passion which ran through the blood of the good people of the upper Atlantic States.

Kingsville, on the shores of Lake Erie, also seems to be used as a place of diversion. Ira Taft would receive the goods and transport them beyond the reach of the slave hunter (Clark 46). But Mr. Taft was not the only person known to harbor slaves. Under their penname, the poet Franziska authored A Story of Slavery for the Kingsville Tribune sometime around 1887. From among the verse of the stanzas comes the story of a fugitive slave beseeching the help of one of the residents of Kingsville, in this case the Hon. D.C. Phelps. Phelps readily invites the slave into his home and is given meal and shelter for the night. On the morning, Phelps was approached by a neighbor who told Phelps of the knowledge of the neighbors on his harboring a slave in his quarters. Also attained was the information that one of the individuals, in their greed, set off to get the marshall so that he might search Phelp’s residence, discover the slave, and collect reward. Phelps immediately warned the slave of forthcoming problem and lead the slave out the back and concealed the runaway in a thicket near Lake Erie. He told the escapee that when all was well, he would return and direct him onto Canada. On his return to his premises, Phelps was met with a party in possession of a legal document granting the searching of the residence. The laborious search was fruitless, much to the disappointment of the bounty hunter. 1