Experience History: The Underground Railroad in Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s extraordinary landscapes, cities and towns are connected with a rich history of visionary leadership. From artists and architects, to political pioneers and social activists, hundreds of our country’s historically notable people and events can trace their roots back to Wisconsin. Our story is America’s story and Wisconsin is often a leader and a change-agent. From the founding of Pleasant Ridge in 1850 to the Housing Marches of Milwaukee and the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the election of Vel Phillips as the first African American woman Secretary of State in 1978, Wisconsin has long been a place where leaders and change agents have contributed meaningfully to positive change to society as a whole. Wisconsin’s brave and forward-thinking responses to slavery set us apart.

Did you know Wisconsin played a role in ushering enslaved people to freedom during the 19th century? Wisconsin’s citizens were firm in their convictions of not wanting slavery in their state, despite the United States Constitution’s orders to return all freedom seekers. Evidence of this was when 5,000 citizens broke Joshua Glover out of Milwaukee County jail and sent him on his way to Canada via local underground railroad stations. This brought national attention to Wisconsin, making it the only state to defy the fugitive slave law.

Milton House – Milton

Several locations in southern Wisconsin served as stops on the Underground Railroad, with some still offering tours, commemorative displays and other opportunities to learn about this significant time in history.

One National Parks Service certified designated state historic site, Milton House, once a stagecoach stop, is the only remaining authenticated stop on the Underground Railroad in Wisconsin that can still be toured today. Known for its hexagonal shape, the historic 1844 structure can be experienced by guided tour, along with the original tunnel and the 1837 settlers’ cabin. Milton House was a popular stop for travelers due to its location near prominent roadways (one running between Chicago and Madison, another between Janesville and Fort Atkinson) and its proximity to the Rock River, which freedom seekers would follow on their way to Racine. From there, they could board a ship to Canada.

Prominent abolitionist Sojourner Truth stayed at Milton House in the early 1860’s, and the building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1998. The Milton House Museum houses archival material and a vast historical object collection.

The Milton House is located at 18 South Janesville Street in Milton, Wisconsin. Please call to make a reservation for group tours at 608-868-7772. The museum is handicap accessible except for the tunnel. For more information please visit their website.

Rescue of Joshua Glover Historical Marker – Milwaukee

Joshua Glover, a freedom seeker from St. Louis, Missouri, escaped from his owner Benammi S. Garland in the spring of 1852. He made his way to Racine, where he worked at a sawmill for almost two years. On March 10, 1854, his owner, accompanied by a federal marshal and others, broke into his cabin, struck him on the head, manacled him and took him to a jail in Milwaukee. When word reached the citizens of Racine, the courthouse bell was rung, and the largest group ever to gather in the city assembled at Haymarket Square (now Monument Square, and an NTF site).

Warrants were issued for the arrest of Glover's owner and the U. S. marshal. A committee of 100 men with strong abolitionist sentiments accompanied the Racine sheriff to Milwaukee to bring the kidnappers back to Racine to face charges. Upon their arrival at the Milwaukee jail, they encountered a crowd of protesters estimated to number between 3,000 and 5,000, demanding Glover's release. Shortly thereafter, a number of those assembled picked up a timber from a nearby construction site. Using it as a battering ram, they freed Glover from jail, whence he was shuttled on a several weeks journey on the Underground Railroad though three additional counties of southeastern Wisconsin, finally being placed aboard a ship in Racine (at Dutton's warehouse, another NTF site), eventually landing in Canada where he spent the next 34 years in freedom, until his death in 1888.

historical marker commemorating Glover’s liberation is located in Milwaukee’s Cathedral Square Park, at the corner of East Kilbourn Avenue and North Jackson Street. While in town, stop by Harriet Tubman Park, formerly Wahl Park, honoring one of the most successful conductors of the Underground Railroad and her time passing through Milwaukee.

Samuel Brown Farm Site

In August 1842, the Samuel Brown Farm in Milwaukee served as a stop on the Underground Railroad during the escape of Caroline Quarlls from Missouri, the first documented case of a freedom seeker traveling through Wisconsin. Despite the real possibility of being caught and prosecuted, Deacon Samuel Brown, a "first" and important citizen, thought it imperative that a young freedom seeker be conveyed to safety and emancipation. Brown housed Quarlls overnight at his farm and conducted her twenty miles by wagon and horseback to another safe haven as they were pursued by bounty hunters.

Wisconsin Historical Marker at the site of the former farm, is located on northbound North 17th Street, just south of its intersection with West Fond du Lac Avenue / Wisconsin Highway 145, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53205. On the nearby Highway 43 underpass, you'll find two murals honoring Joshua Glover and Caroline Quarlls, paid for by the State of Wisconsin.

A. P. Dutton Warehouse

Racine County's involvement in the Underground Railroad is documented from 1842 with Caroline Quarlls' passage, through the Civil War with Racine's Colonel Utley and his Abolitionist Regiment. One major Racine UGRR conductor was Achas P. Dutton. He had a verified role in the escape of Joshua Glover and approximately a hundred others. His warehouses were concealment and embarkation sites, where Dutton could transfer freedom seekers to the vessels of abolition-friendly lake captains who then took them to Canadian ports and their freedom. Dutton provided a link to the Great Lakes maritime portion of the UGRR. His warehouses along the south bank of the Root River in Racine are long gone; the sites are now pleasure boat marinas and condo developments. The site is proposed to be commemorated with a monument on a city-owned promenade along the Root River, located within view of the original sites of Dutton's elevators and warehouses.

historical marker is located at Gaslight Pointe, Gaslight Circle, Racine, 53403.

Haymarket Square, now Monument Square – Racine

On March 30, 1854, the largest crowd that had ever assembled here met to protest the capture of Joshua Glover, a freedom seeker who had lived and worked in Racine for two years. A committee of 100 then took a boat to Milwaukee where Glover had been jailed. They aided in his rescue and subsequent journey on the Underground Railroad. He eventually escaped by ship to Canada, where he lived in freedom until his death, June 8, 1888.

This marker commemorates Glover and the citizens of Racine who, at their peril, aided one of their own out of the bondage of slavery.

The historical marker is at located Racine's Monument Square, at the intersection of Main Street and 6th Street, Racine, Wisconsin 53403.

First Presbyterian Church of Racine – Racine

Racine County is known for a history of abolitionist activity. Over two dozen sites around the county are rumored to have connections to the movement, with one prominent location being the First Presbyterian Church of Racine. According to oral history, the church contained a crawlspace where freedom seekers were concealed on their journey.

Other sites in Racine that are said to have ties to the community’s abolitionist history are the office of the Racine Advocate, an abolitionist newspaper, and the Colored Union Baptist Church (now St. Paul’s Missionary Baptist Church), Wisconsin’s first African-American church. The Roots of Freedom Underground Heritage Trail is a self-guided walking/driving tour of the county's significant abolitionist sites. A pamphlet outlining the sites on the self-guided Trail has been available at the Racine Heritage Museum since 2008. The trail includes 27 sites across the county, 10 of which are in the Downtown Racine area, two of those are already marked with plaques.

Proposed locations for additional signs or plaques include:

• Racine Heritage Museum, 701 Main St.
• Joshua Glover Plaque in Monument Square (already marked)
• First Presbyterian Church, 716 College Ave.
• Site of the Cartwright blacksmith shop: sign would be posted on sidewalk outside Robert’s Roost, 600 Sixth St.
• Utley and Birch Site: either a plaque on the Wisconsin Avenue wall of Butcher & Barrel Gastropub, 300 Sixth St., or a sign would be posted on Wisconsin Avenue outside the 500 Wisconsin Ave. office building
• Clement’s Newspaper office, a sign would be posted on the sidewalk outside CCB Technology Services, 405 Main St.
• Armour Livery Stable: a sign would be posted on Fourth Street outside the Lake Avenue parking garage, 300 Lake Ave.
• Dutton and Raymond Warehouse site: already marked on the south side of the mouth of the Root River.
• Home of Reverend Kinney, now the St. George Serbian Orthodox Church, 826 State St.: a sign could be placed on the State Street sidewalk
• And the Colored Baptist Union, now the site of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, 1120 Grand Ave: a sign could be placed on the southeast corner of the parking lot, adjacent to the sidewalk.

Wisconsin is home to nine National Parks Service certified Network to Freedom sites or programs.

This entry was posted in Museums & History