African-American Heritage in Lorain County, Ohio
Lorain County’s rich African-American heritage spans two centuries of an organized,... more » 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.
There are many famous African-Americans from Lorain County. Oberlin’s Westwood Cemetery is now the final resting place of many of Lorain County’s “Faces of Change.” It provides a reflective, meditative setting to explore the histories of those who affected vital changes in civil rights history. The enclosed walking tour map guides visitors to their burial sites and provides short biographies of each.
The following sites provide a guide to an enriching and entertaining visit including Underground Railroad history, culture, art and shopping. For more information and for group tour arrangements, please call Visit Lorain County at 800.334.1673.
The Underground Railroad in 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.
Wellington-Oberlin Slave Rescue
On September 13, 1858, a scared 17-year-old former slave, John Price, was tricked into being captured in Oberlin by Federal marshals, who were acting under the laws of the Fugitive Slave Act (1850). The marshals planned to return Price to Kentucky and his “owners,” despite the fact that Price had lived as a free man in Oberlin for two years. There had been three attempted captures of former slaves in the area in 1858 alone. The marshals drove Price in stealth to the American House (Wadsworth Hotel) in Wellington. Passions ran so high against slavery in Northeast Ohio that few residents of Oberlin or Wellington dallied or debated when they learned that Price had been captured. They took action. They sped off in buggies for the eight-mile journey to Wellington, along what is now Hallauer Road.
More than 200 Wellington and Oberlin residents — former slaves and free men, lawyers, college students and professors, religious leaders and ordinary citizens — gathered at the American House in Wellington to pressure the Federal marshals into releasing Price. The marshals refused. Finally, 37 men — 11 from Wellington, 24 from Oberlin and two from Pittsfield and Penfield – orchestrated the dramatic re-capture of young Price and returned him to Oberlin. It was a bloodless event. Price was hidden in the home of Dr. James Fairchild, who later became President of Oberlin College. The 37 men who led the rescue were arrested and sent to Cleveland for trial. The “Wellington-Oberlin Rescue” was reported as a triumph throughout the Union media and further roused anti-slavery sentiment, which spurred the start of the Civil War in America. While John Price finally made his way to Canada as a free man, no further evidence of his life there has been discovered.
Harpers Ferry - Oberlin Three
Three men from Oberlin were among the eighteen who marched along with John Brown into Harpers Ferry on Sunday, October 16, 1859. The men severed telegraph wires to the armory, the arsenal, and rifle works before troops under the charge of Robert E. Lee arrived from Washington.
Lewis Sheridan Leary
Leary, aged 24, was in the rifle works at Harper’s Ferry with John Copeland when it was assaulted. He died after being shot and wounded. He was eventually buried at John Brown’s farm in North Elba, New York along with others who were in the raid. Took part in the Wellington-Oberlin rescue but was not indicted.
John A. Copeland Jr.
An Oberlin carpenter and freeborn black who was the son of a slave. He was active in the Oberlin Anti-Slavery Society. He played a role in the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue and it was rumored that he escorted John Price to freedom in Canada. Copeland was in the rifle works with Lewis Sheridan Leary when it was assaulted. As a result, he was wounded, captured and almost lynched. After a local minister saved him, he was charged with treason, tried, convicted and was hanged two weeks after John Brown on December 16, 1859.
He was a runaway slave from South Carolina and a newcomer to Oberlin when he left to help John Brown. He initially escaped to Canada but later moved to Rochester, New York and became Frederick Douglass’s servant. Green decided to join John Brown after Frederick Douglass turned down Brown, knowing it meant certain death. He was hanged for his participation on December 16, 1859 along with Copeland. less «