A Fugitive’s Path: Escape on the Underground Railroad
On a recent Friday night, my husband and I traveled about 30 miles away from our home in Cleveland to the serene countryside of Bath, home of Hale Farm & Village.
For the 12th year, Hale Farm & Village, an outdoor, living history museum that provides insight into life on the Western Reserve in the 19th century, is hosting A Fugitive’s Path: Escape on the Underground Railroad through April 16.
When we first found out about the Fugitive’s Path program, both my husband and I were a bit apprehensive about participating. We read that we would be playing the part of fugitive slaves, and we were unsure about how Hale Farm could create an “edu-tainment” activity based on something so brutal and morally wrong as slavery.
Once we arrived at Hale Farm, we joined a small group and began our “tour” as slaves up for auction in a barn in Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia) in pre-Civil War 1859. Something that struck me was that in the barn, the men and women were separated for inspection. I imagined my great-great-great grandparents being separated and sold off, never to see each other again.
When we escaped, we learned from the abolitionists (portrayed by local actors) who helped us on our way that our goal was to reach Hope, or Cleveland, but the best thing would be to make it to Heaven – Canada.
In a span of 90 minutes at Hale Farm, we were sold in Virginia, escaped, crossed the Ohio River, and endured dark, damp and cold weather and walked our way to Northern Ohio (almost 200 miles), only to be captured and sent back to a life of servitude. Just because we reached a Union state did not mean we were home free; many northerners adhered to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, where if a fugitive slave was caught anywhere without “free papers,” he/she would be taken back South.
It was interesting to learn about the struggles of people who wanted to help slaves escape to freedom, but instead turned a blind eye in fear that they would have all of their belongings and life savings taken away for aiding “fugitives.”
And since we are both descendents of slaves, we can only imagine the pain, anguish and physical discomfort of literally attempting to walk to freedom.
After A Fugitive’s Path was over, my husband and I walked quietly to our car, turned on our heat, drove to our own warm home, and expressed thanks to our enslaved ancestors for their strength, courage and wisdom so that we could have freedom today.