top of page

A Conductor On The Underground Railroad

Abner S. Blue was born in Troy, Miami County, Ohio on 3 April 1819. His father, James, was a Justice of the Peace in Troy, an associate judge, and represented Miami County in the Ohio State Legislature. He died a month after Abner was born. Abner was the youngest of their nine children and was raised on a farm. He received a common education. Abner moved with his mother, Mehetible (Mehetabel), to Elkhart County, Indiana in March 1836 when he was 17 years old. They were some of the earliest settlers in the county.

1836 Map of Indiana (Elkhart County circled)

At that time, the upper portion of the state was demarcated with an Indian Boundary and the Putawatomies and Miamis lands, with La Porte, St. Joseph, Elkhart and La Grange Counties existing separately from the other state counties. It had been 20 years since Indiana entered the Union as a free state; the abolitionists had been in firm control and slavery was banned in the state constitution.

Abner worked as a carpenter for a number of years before purchasing his first land in 1837. He eventually added more until he owned 150 acres. On 17 August 1843 he married Harriet N. Clay. They had 5 children (4 daughters and 1 son) and all but 1 would survive to adulthood. Harriet died on 26 July 1859. Abner then married Eliza M. Doolittle on 28 October 1862. They had 2 children, a daughter and a son; the son would die at age 5.

Active in the community, Abner held the office of Township Treasurer and Justice of the Peace. He was a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal order, and a member of the Baptist Church.

In the decades leading up to the Civil War, some individuals became abolitionists to seek an end to slavery through legal means; others became involved in the Underground Railroad and actively aided runaway slaves. Antislavery groups were not in agreement on how they should respond. Some individuals joined antislavery societies forming in the non-slaveholding states, including Indiana, to assist runaway slaves. "There is a law above all the enactments of human codes," wrote one Hoosier; "it is written by the finger of God on the heart of man, and by that law, infinite and eternal, man can not hold property in man." Abner became a key participant in the Underground Railroad in Elkhart County in northern Indiana.

Indiana was a likely place for runaways to escape because of its geographical location as a free state that bordered Kentucky, a slave state. Indiana's southern boundary, directly across the Ohio River from Kentucky, had several crossing points and various routes for runaways to follow north to reach Detroit, Michigan. From Michigan, fugitives could cross the Detroit River and find refuge in Ontario, Canada. Although runaway slaves were not officially granted asylum in Canada, extradition requests from U.S. authorities were rarely granted, allowing the fugitives to live the remainder of their lives in freedom.

Levi Coffin (1798-1877)

In one of the more famous events of the underground railroad, Eliza Harris, a slave from Kentucky, crossed the Ohio River one winter's night when it froze over. She was aided in her escape by Levi Coffin, a Quaker and one of the most famous abolitionists in Indiana, operated a station out of his rural home at Newport (present-day Fountain City). Eliza eventually escaped to Ontario after being guided by Hoosiers from safe house to safe house through Indiana. Her story was the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe's book Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Coffin was sometimes referred to as the president of the Underground Railroad. He made no secret of his activities as an Underground Railroad conductor, although many of his fellow Quakers thought his actions were too radical. His home at Newport has been called the "Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad" and between 1826 and 1846, more than 2,000 escaped slaves reportedly stopped there for aid.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 reinforced prior fugitive slave laws dating from 1793 and protected the rights of slaveholders, as well as the slavecatchers who came into Indiana to capture runaways. These laws also punished those who participated in Underground Railroad activities with monetary fines, imprisonment, public harassment, etc. if caught. In addition, enforcement of the federal fugitive slave laws made it riskier for fugitives and free people of color who aided them to remain in Indiana. Thus, there was an urgent need for secrecy. In some Indiana communities, dozens were involved; in others, it may have only been a single person, but the Underground Railroad was not an organized nationwide network.

The conductors on the railroad agreed to provide food, clothing, and shelter as they were able for the runaway slaves, the "passengers." When they determined it was safe, they moved them to the next location on the railroad, usually at night.

Abner's home was on the Goshen and Bristol road; the first house north of the line between Elkhart and Jefferson townships and in the corner where the roads make its first turn to the east. It would have been known as a "station" on the Underground Railroad.

Conductors transported fugitives through Silver Lake, Goshen, and Bristol. In addition to Abner, Jesse Adams, B. F. Cathcart, William Martin, and C. L. Murray acted as station keepers and conductors on the Bristol Road. The Murray home was the last stop in Indiana; only four miles from Michigan.

Abner and the other men were successful farmers in the community and quite respected. That, no doubt, helped them accomplish greater successes in their secretive work with the escaping slaves. Presumably, Abner's children would not have known of their father’s participation in the Underground Railroad because the risk was awfully high if they told anyone; it is unknown if the wives knew.

When the Civil War ended, Abner resumed farming. Abner and Eliza eventually took up residence on the North Side of Goshen where his face was a familiar sight. On Wednesday morning, 4 April 1894, he arose as usual and after eating a hearty breakfast, he sat down and complained of feeling badly. He had just turned 75 the day before and had been in failing health for some time. He took to his bed and died a few minutes later.


bottom of page