Hidden History: Underground Railroad


Most of America’s underground railroad research centers around the east coast, but it has deep tracks in the center of Illinois. There’s a man there who in the heat of the slavery era, helped dozens of runaway slave’s escape. And as Hannah Hilyard tells us, we know this because one man used his pen and paper to write history as a historian

Knox college’s Owen Muelder knows he’s lucky.

“It is like a piece of gold.”

The piece of gold, in the form of this journal, written by Samuel G. Wright, and it has become one of only a few written records of the underground railroad.

“Look it. January 5, 1848: arrived home Friday evening and learned that two fugitives had been along. pursuers had gotten a search warrant. “

Wright moved from New Hampshire to canton in the mid-18-hundreds, connecting with the anti-slavery movement in Galesburg, and some other neighboring towns. Wright started to spread the abolitionist platform, entangled with a Christian platform.

“That message was not received very well by most people when he first started preaching.”

But Wright didn’t stop preaching or illegally helping runaway slaves find freedom, slowly. Muelder says the message started to pick up steam.

“It’s the first time in American history that we see a socially integrated movement where both black and whites are helping each other in a common cause. “

Through Wright’s diary. you can tell Wright had his hand in the underground railroad from 18-40, up to and during the civil war.

“This is an example of how things can change and how one person can have a fundamental impact on people that way.”

But we wouldn’t have known the half of it, if it weren’t for wright’s notes.

“He didn’t just talk about it, he actually took direct action to help these people escape. Samuel G. Wright is a hero of mine.”

In Galesburg, I’m Hannah Hilyard.

Because many people kept quiet about their help in the underground railroad, historians are hesitant to quantify just how many runaway slaves benefited from these efforts. But even after the Civil War, Wright couldn’t sit still.