by Charles Gulick
A Stop on the Underground Railroad
Title: UNDERGROUND RR
En Route Coordinates:
Aircraft: N17361, E18888
Tower: N17272.897, E18876.288
You're approximately paralleling the downwind leg for Runway 08 at Ashtabula Airport, Ashtabula, Pennsylvania. But meanwhile you have a beautiful view of Lake Erie stretching--limitlessly it seems--to the horizon. And indeed it does reach from here to Toledo, Ohio, well over a hundred miles.
The highway you see on your left is Pennsylvania State Highway 11. When the near end of it is well to the rear of your left wingtip, turn left to a heading of 170 and you'll be on a long base for Ashtabula, which you'll already have seen out there. Airport elevation is 922 feet.
In Ashtabula there's a tourist attraction called Hubbard House, which was a station on the historic underground railroad of the days prior to the Civil War. Railroad terms such as station, lines, conductors, and freight were used to describe the various aspects of the railroad, an organized, secret system by which slaves were helped by sympathetic northerners to es-cape to freedom in Canada. This was in defiance of the Fugitive Slave Acts, laws passed by Congress denying runaway slaves a jury trial, and imposing severe fines or prison sentences on citizens who helped them or failed to report them. Some slaves walked from their plantations to the Ohio River, moving by night and guided by the North Star, to connect with the system. Most of the conductors were slaves themselves. One of them, Harriet Tubman, working with other abolitionists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Brown, led more than 300 other slaves to freedom. The stations, many run by Quakers such as abolitionist Levi Coffin, president of the rail-road (along with Robert Purvis, also a president), provided food and shelter along the way. The routes the slaves took were lines, and they were referred to as freight or packages. Coffin's home here in Ohio was the meeting point of three lines from Kentucky. Estimates of the total number of slaves helped to freedom by the railroad range from 40,000 to 100,-000, and its very existence represents a bright spot in American history.