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Abner Blue and the Underground Railroad

May 9, 2012

Abner Blue ( in the Blue Family Genealogy) was born in Troy, Miami County, Ohio in 1819.  His father, James, was a Justice of the Peace in Troy, an associate judge, and represented Miami County in the Ohio State Legislature. He died the same year Abner was born. Abner was the youngest of their nine children and he moved with his mother to Elkhart County, Indiana when he was 17. This was in 1836-37 and the politics of slavery were heating up. Indiana in its earliest configuration was part of Virginia and did have slavery. By the time Abner moved there, Indiana had became its own state and, while they were not welcoming to the escaped slaves or freed Blacks, they did not allow slavery within the state borders.

In the decades leading up to the Civil War, many churches in the state took strong stands against slavery; other abolitionists took a constitutional angle, asserting it was contrary to the Constitution of the United States. A more radical group held their beliefs quite passionately and acted on them more overtly. Abner Blue was among them. “There is a law above all the enactments of human codes,” one Hoosier wrote; “it is written by the finger of God on the heart of man, and by that law, infinite and eternal, man can not hold property in man.” This group was willing to act on their beliefs in both legal and illegal ways. The Underground Railroad was one of the illegal ways.

The Underground Railroad had various paths from the South, through the border states, then through the northern states to Canada. Abner Blue was a key participant in the Underground Railroad in Elkhart County in northern IN (see map).

He and some of his neighbors were acknowledged as “conductors” by the Indiana Historical Bureau:

Eliza Harris, the slave mother immortalized by Harriet Beecher Stowe, reportedly stayed overnight at a station near Pennville in Jay County. Conductors also transported fugitives through Silver Lake, Goshen, and Bristol. Jesse Adams, Abner Blue, B. F. Cathcart, William Martin, and C. L. Murray acted as station keepers and conductors on the Bristol Road. The Murray home was the last stop in Indiana, only four miles from Michigan.

Richard Dean Taylor wrote on his website, Slavery in Indiana, “The residence of Mr. Blue was on the Goshen and Bristol road, the first house north of the line between Elkhart and Jefferson townships and in the corner where the roads make its first jog to the east. ” Abner and the other men were successful farmers in the community and quite respected. That, no doubt, helped them accomplish greater successes in their secretive work with the escaping slaves.

The Abner Blue home would have been known as a “station” on the Underground Railroad. They moved fleeing slaves, the “passengers”, from one location to the next, usually at night. There were three main routes through Indiana: west, central, and east. The Blue home was at the very north end of the eastern route, just miles from the Michigan border.

There are many stories of slave hunters chasing slaves in the communities where the slaves were being hidden and transported. If the slaves were caught, they often suffered great cruelties on the way back to their owners and then were punished again when they arrived back at the place from which they had escaped. With the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, anyone caught harboring the escaping slaves could be arrested and punished accordingly. Thus, the need for secrecy was created.

The conductors on the railroad agreed to provide food, clothing, and shelter as they were able for the runaway slaves. When they determined it was safe, they  moved them to the next location on the railroad. Abner was married to Harriet Clay in 1848 until her death in 1859. They had five children. Then he married Eliza Doolittle in 1862 and they had two children, although the oldest of those was born late in the Civil War (1864) and the younger one was born in 1874. Presumably, the children would not have known of their father’s participation in the Underground Railroad because the risk was awfully high if they told anyone; it is unknown if the wives knew. It is known that he hid the slaves on his farm, but there would have been many, many hiding spots from which to choose.

Abner lived until 1894 and died in nearby Goshen, IN.


October 5, 2013

As a follow-up to this post, Joan Stiver commented on this article with the following insights. Her book can be found on Amazon as both a paperback and a Kindle download. It is a great read. I highly recommend it!  CJ

From Joan:

What a wonderful site! We lived on S. R. 15 in Jefferson Township north of Goshen from 1980 to 1990 when our children were small. At that time we never knew that one of the Freedom Trails was right out in front of our house. As a second grade teacher in the Middlebury Community Schools of which Jefferson Township was a part, we three 2nd grade teachers taught a large unit on the Under ground Railroad especially as it went right through our school district. After I retired I wrote a book for young children about Abner Blue – fiction but based on fact. A few of us interested in this part of history including the Elkhart County Historical Society visited the brick house – probably built in the 1880′s or 1890′s – which still stands today on the old S. R. 15 route. We saw Abner Blue’s name on the deed as the first owner. We learned that his son – in – law owned (or worked at) a brick factory not far away. We know that Abner Blue was a joiner, and we wonder if the beautiful wooden staircase in the home was built by him. The present owners of the house have adopted two black boys from Ethiopia so, in a sense, history has come full circle. Black people now are living on the property where black people used to have to risk their lives for freedom. Joan Trindle Stiver

From → Aderman/Bates

  1. x
    Submitted on 2013/10/04 at 2:35 pm | In reply to Joan Trindle Stiver.

    What a delight to hear from you, Joan. I ordered a copy of your book from Amazon but was so excited to read it, I also downloaded the Kindle version. It is a great read–thank you! Teach me what you know about this, please . . . would they have hidden the freedom-seekers in the house where the children would have known about it? If so, I need to correct my post.

    I love to hear that the boys from Ethiopia, now Americans, are living in that home! We are making slow but steady progress toward being a better nation.

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Joan. It is an absolute joy to make contact with you.

  2. Joan Trindle Stiver x
    Submitted on 2013/10/07 at 4:04 pm

    Hello, Thank you for the kind comments about my book. The main reason I wrote the book was to help teachers and parents begin to teach small children about prejudice and discrimination using the UR as a background as I wrote on page 33 of my book, THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR. Please understand that I am not in any way an expert on the UR – just a retired elementary teacher who wants to continue to teach but in a different way. You are right in thinking that most freedom seekers were hidden in barns, sheds, or outbuildings.and some in basements. I used literary freedom in this fictional account by having the two girls, the main characters, meet and begin a forbidden friendship. We know where Abner Blue, his mother, and his daughter are buried. My husband and I saw the graves which are located in a cemetery behind Pleasant View Mennonite Church in Jefferson Township north of Goshen, IN. I have been told that the part they are buried in is a township cemetery but the part of the cemetery closer to the church is owned by the church. When Abner Blue was living it is thought that the church most everyone attended was a Union Church rather than any one denomination, but I don’t believe that has been documented. Of cocurse the church building standing there now on the corner of C.R. 20 and C.R. 23 is not the same building that was standing back in the 1850′s and 60′s. The more I learn about Abner Blue the more I think of him almost like Charles Ingalls in LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. I saw his signature on a petition to build a new school for the children. I read that he helped his neighbor build a barn in a “barn raising” not far from where he lived. On that day a heavy wooden beam fell from above and landed next to him just missing him by inches. This is all so fascinating to me. Thanks again, Joan

  3. cjaderman
    Submitted on 2013/10/17 at 4:08 pm | In reply to Joan Trindle Stiver.

    Thank YOU, Joan. I have been blessed by our conversation.

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