(NEXSTAR MEDIA) — 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 heart of the slavery era, helped dozens of runaway slaves escape. We know this because he 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,” said Muelder. Journal becomes one of few records of
The piece of gold in the form of a journal, written by Samuel G. Wright. 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,” read Muelder.
Wright moved from New Hampshire to Canton in the mid-1800s, connecting with the anti-slavery movement in Galesburg and some other neighboring towns. He 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,” said Muelder.
But Wright didn’t stop preaching or illegally helping runaway slaves find freedom.
Slowly, Muelder says the message start 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,” said Muelder.
Through Wright’s diary, you can tell Wright has his hand in the Underground Railroad from 1840 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,” said Muelder.
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,” said Muelder.
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.