The Underground Railroad
in Champaign County
The inhumanity of slavery and the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850 motivated anti-slavery activists to operate a covert network, the "Underground Railroad," which helped fugitive slaves escape captivity. From early 1800s to the end of the Civil War, local activists assisted runaway slaves on their journeys north to freedom. Guides ("conductors") used their homes, farms, and churches ("stations") to hide and shelter runaway slaves ("cargo.") If captured, fugitives were severly punished and re-enslaved; "conductors" faced large fines and imprisonment, and Free Persons of Color risked being sold into slavery. A route often - traveled was once a path used by migrating buffalo, which became an Indian trail called the Bullskin Trace. It ran north from the Ohio River to Lake Erie and later became U.S. Route 68.
Lewis Adams (1785 - 1864), a free Black man and a founding member of St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, was an Underground Railroad conductor in Champaign County from approximately 1825 to 1861. Adams, his sons, and his father-in-law, Francis Reno, guided many runaways through the county. Adams sheltered fugitives at his home in Urbana and later his farm in Concord Township (Muddy Creek). In 1848 Adam' son, David, moved north to Findlay, Ohio (Hancock County), and also operated as a conductor who guided runaway slaves north along the Bullskin Trace through Ohio to Canada. Listed among other Champaign County operators are William Adams, Cephes Atkinson, Joseph Brand, John Butcher, Peter Byrd, Moses Corwin, Thomas Cowgill, William Jamison, Joseph Reno, David Rutan, Levi Stanup, Joseph Stillgess, and Abner Winder.