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Salem's Underground Railroad

by Heather Smith

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Salem's
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Underground Railroad UGRR
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By Heather Smith
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Salem 1830's
Salem has a radical past. In fact, it played a huge role on the Underground Railroad. In the 1830's, Salem had a population of about 1400 people. Of those people, 300 were Black and were thriving farmers and business people. In 1837, for part of the year, there was a school near Salem for Black children. It was funded by Augustus Wattles and his brother John.

Augustus and John lived near Cincinnati and wanted to open schools across Ohio for Black children. His brother John married a woman from Salem, Esther Whinery. She was a Radical Quaker nonresistant abolitionist.

Marius Robinson, editor of Salem's Anti-Slavery Bugle, published Sojourner Truth's 1851 Speech from Akron, Ohio. One of his role models was Theadore Weld. He was known as the most "mobbed man in America" for his anti-slavery views. Marius married Emily Rakestraw, from Winona. They met in Cincinnati, as she moved there to teach free Blacks, which was a dangerous job in a pro-slavery city.
Friends were preeminently the followers of the ‘Prince of Peace.’ But I see them sustaining organized powers, based upon a system of violence and blood.” (on quitting the Friends, Philanthropist, June 21, 1843, in Thomas Hamm, ”The Limits of the Peace Testimony”, 1993, p. 20; photo ancestry.com)
Esther Whinery

Sojourner Truth
Marius Robinson
Marius Robinson was once left for dead in a Canfield field. He was a vocal anti-slavery abolitionist. One evening while visiting friends in Deerfield, a few pro-slavery guys came for Marius. A woman tried to stop them but she was pushed out of the way. Marius was taken and beaten. They severed his leg and tarred and feathered him. They dropped him off in a field in Canfield to die. But he didn't. He made his way to the first house and because he looked so bad, they turned him away. The second home helped him. He continued to speak out against the institution of slavery and later published Sojourner Truth's Akron speech.

Marius was an amazing dude! However, when he and Emily got married, her family disowned her. They did not approve of how quickly they got married. Perhaps he was a bit too radical for them as well, but they eventually came back around when Emily and Marius moved back up to Salem.
Marius Robinson
Theodore Weld
George W. S. Lucas
Before the civil war, George Lucas was a Black abolitionist and conductor on the Underground Railroad. He helped Black people seeking freedom from slavery reach Canada. He knew John Brown and spent a couple years with him in Kansas, before Harper's Ferry happened in 1859. George did not go with John Brown and his 22 men. (2 of which were from Salem-Edwin and Barclay Coppock.)

During Reconstruction, after the Civil War, George Lucas helped build the Mt. Zion AME Church in Salem in 1869 when Frederick Douglass came to speak the day the Boyd Mason's were laying the cornerstone. That year, Douglass was touring the country giving his Composite Nation Speech. The church was torn down in 1985.
George Lucus's Salem home
Image of George in his hand.
Edwin and Barclay Coppock
Edwin and his younger brother Barclay were from Salem. They met up with John Brown in Kansas. They were part of the 22 men that went with John Brown to Harper's Ferry. The plan was to help free enslaved people by giving them the ammunition to protect themselves. However, John and Edwin were caught on October 18, 1859. They were both tried for treason and hung for their actions. Barclay got away. He got away with Osborn Anderson, one of the Black men that was helping John Brown and the mission. Barclay joined the Union Army about a year later and was killed with about 100 other men by the pro-slavery opposition.

Edwin was originally buried in Winona but was later moved to Salem in Hope Cemetery, where his body was buried deeper and covered by heavy materials to protect his body from anyone that may try to dig it up.
AME Churches and Black Mason Lodges
AME churches and Black Mason Lodges played integral roles on the UGRR, providing safe spaces to meet. Many times, Black masons and AME church ministers were also conductors on the Underground Railroad, helping people safely reach freedom.

Salem had two AME churches, the Mt. Zion and the St. John AME churches. One still stands, although in pretty bad condition, and is located on 3rd St, diagonally across from where George Lucas lived. Neither church is historically marked.

The Boyd Mason Lodge existed in the 1860's, but local historians are not sure where.

Why are these locations not historically marked? Why do we know so much about Quaker history and buildings, but not about the buildings used by Salem's Black community?
St. John AME Church
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