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The Underground Railroad was a system of safe houses and hiding places in which white and free African American “conductors” would assist runaway slaves, or freedom seekers, from Southern slave states to freedom in Northern free states as well as Canada.
One of the most prominent Underground Railroad stops in Stark County is the Spring Hill House in Massillon. The Spring Hill house was built in 1821 and owned by Thomas and Charity Rotch, who were Quakers and abolitionists. They used their home as a stop for fugitive slaves escaping slavery to the North. Despite attempts by slave hunters, no fugitive slave was ever caught at Spring Hill.
Spring Hill had a secret staircase that connected the basement kitchen to the servants’ quarters on the second floor. This allowed fugitive slaves to move between hiding spaces without being exposed to the main floor of the house. Using the secret staircase, fugitive slaves could hide in the attic crawlspace. Additionally, the attic was at one time used to keep bees and make honey because The Rotch family did not want to buy sugar, which used slave labor in the Caribbean to produce.
Another stop on the Underground Railroad was the Haines House in Alliance. The house was owned by Jonathan Ridgeway Haines, a Quaker and abolitionist, and his wife Sarah. Jonathan Haines and his son John would stand guard while runaway slaves stayed in the upper story of the house.
There were several other citizens of Stark County that were involved with the Underground Railroad. Many of those who were involved used their houses as stations on the Underground Railroad. Some of these people were the lawyer Anson Pease and his family. Their home, nicknamed Roanoke, was a station on the Underground Railroad.
Some of the other people involved in the Underground Railroad were James Bayliss and George Harsh, who both used their houses as stations. There was also Jacob Gaskins, one of the first African American settlers in Stark County, and Robert Folger, the former mayor of Massillon in 1861 and from 1864 to 1866.
Another important figure was Lucretia Mott. For a short time, her parents lived in Kendal, Ohio, which is now Massillon. Lucretia fought for women’s rights and slave emancipation, and in 1847 she delivered a lecture in Massillon on social reform. She would later help organize the First Women’s Rights Convention with Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
There were many active members of the Underground Railroad and anti-slavery movement in Ohio. In an article from the Anti-Slavery Bugle of Lisbon, Ohio, citizens of Massillon proposed an anti-slavery convention. Another article from the anti-slavery bugle features plans for anti-slavery conventions in Ohio in which prominent abolitionists Frederick Douglas and William Lloyd Garrison would be in attendance.
Ohio was an important part of the Underground Railroad. In Stark County, there were several routes though cities such as Canton, Alliance, and Massillon and many prominent figures that helped on the Underground Railroad.