The Underground Railroad
Called "Station Hope" by many freedom seekers on the
Underground Railroad, St. John's was one of their final stops.
Though aiding freedom seekers was a crime and often could
not be described in public documents, Sheila T. Hatch
(c. 1848- 1935), an historian of Cuyahoga County and a
member of St. John's for her entire life, notes that "in the
tower of St. John's Church were often secreted runaway slaves
until such time as they could be shipped to Canada." From
the tower, they watched for lantern signals from small boats
that took them to Whiskey Island. There, they boarded the
larger boats that sailed to Canada in search of freedom.
Among the founders and early members of St. John's were
several prominent opponents of slavery. Josiah Barber (1771- 1842)
was mayor of Ohio City and vice-president of the Cuyahoga
County Colonization Society, which held that slaves should be
purchased by the federal government and re-settled in Africa.
John Beverlin (c. 1813- 1891), a later mayor of Ohio City, was
a member of the executive committee of the Free Soil Club,
which stood for "free soil, free speech, free labor, free men."
Josiah Harris (1808- 1876), mayor of Cleveland and owner of
the Cleveland Herald and Gazette, refused to print notices for
the return of runaway slaves.
The Underground Railroad was neither underground nor a railroad, but a system of loosely connected safe havens where those escaping the brutal conditions of slavery were sheltered, fed, clothed, nursed, concealed, disguised, and instructed during their journey to freedom. Although this movement was one of America's greatest social, moral, and humanitarian endeavors, the details about it were often cloaked in secrecy to protect those involved from the retribution of civil law and slave-catchers. Ohio's history has been permanently shaped by the thousands of runaway slaves passing through or finding permanent residence in this state.