Lorain County’s rich African-American heritage spans two centuries of an organized, united fight for liberty. In 1965, Martin Luther King delivered a speech at Oberlin titled, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” Oberlin was indeed awake. “Red Hot Abolitionism” described Oberlin and its antebellum efforts to abolish slavery. Many who were active in anti-slavery efforts continued their call to advance freedom on Civil War battlefields.
Oberlin and Wellington were the sites of a famous slave rescue in 1858 that was said to have raised consciousness nationwide regarding the anti-slavery movement and earning Oberlin the recent title, “The town that started the Civil War.” The famed Underground Railroad to freedom blazed several paths through Lorain County.
Fugitive slaves passed through Lorain County in their search for liberty until about 1861, following Frederick Douglass’s advice to follow the North Star to freedom in Canada. Lorain County provided a direct route to Lake Erie as northern Lorain County borders Lake Erie’s central basin. Canada was said to be a “Promised Land” for the escaping slaves; however, many felt so safe in the little town of Oberlin that they decided to stay. They lived out their lives in peace among the safe confines of the town, some becoming anti-slavery activists. Because of the efforts of Oberlin’s anti-slavery activists, no escaping slaves were ever caught in the town and returned to bondage.
In September of that year, John Price, a fugitive slave living in Oberlin, was tricked by slave hunters and taken by force to the nearby town of Wellington to await a train that would transport him back to Kentucky and slavery. The news of his abduction spread rapidly, and local abolitionists sprung into action. Students from Oberlin College set out for Wellington on foot, only to be overtaken by black and white townspeople speeding past in carriages and on horseback. Vowing no slave would ever be taken from Oberlin, the mob surrounded the Wellington hotel where Price was being held by three slave catchers from Kentucky. The rescuers carried him out a window, shuttled him back to Oberlin and hid him in the basement of James Fairchild’s house (Fairchild later became president of Oberlin College). Soon after, Price disappeared. It is assumed that he made it to Canada and freedom.
Thirty-seven rescuers were later indicted for their roles in the Wellington-Oberlin Slave Rescue, but only 20 served time in jail while awaiting trial. Eventually all 20 were acquitted and were welcomed back to Oberlin with a parade and rallies.
Underground Railroad and Civil War-era homes can be found in Huntington, Oberlin, Elyria and Sheffield. Some are open to the public, while others continue to be private residences. Please check listings prior to your visit to determine which sites are open to the public.
Visitors to Lorain County can recapture the spirit of the Underground Railroad on a driving tour, designed by Visit Lorain County. Visit Lorain County will be happy to book a tour for any group. We have itineraries that last from just a few hours to several days. Please check our group tour information for planning resources. Please note Visit Lorain County does not supply buses.
To view or download an online version of the Trail to Freedom Underground Railroad Tour:
Other related sites: Oberlin College Archives
1820 stately brick house that served as a branch school for the Oberlin Collegiate Institute and later was a station on the Underground Railroad.
This historic landmark can be found at the Black River Landing in Lorain.
Oberlin College has a historical reputation as a center for abolitionist activities.
Visit the Oberlin Heritage Center to explore the history of this small town with nationally significant stories.
Future home of the Underground Railroad Center
Museum contains the history of painter Archibald Willard, artist of the famous "Spirit of '76." The museum also contains Revolutionary and Civil War artifacts.
Monument to the Wellington-Oberlin rescuers that participated in the 1858 rescue of fugitive slave John Price.
Here lie former slaves, famous abolitionists, and many who have become known as Oberlin's faces of change. Click here for a map to guide you through Oberlin's faces of change who now rest here.