early as the 16th century, western European nations constructed
a slavery system in the Western Hemisphere. There was slavery
in all thirteen original American colonies. After the Revolutionary
war the northern states found slavery to be unprofitable and abolished
it; the largely agricultural southern states found slavery to
be profitable and continued it. Although both black and white
people were temporarily bound as indentured servants in the early
colonial period when demand increased for a perpetual labor force,
laws were passed which established chattel (that is, lifelong)
slavery. People of African origin were taken from their homelands
to supply this labor. Enslaved Africans took considerable risks
to gain freedom by escaping from their masters. Their escapes
were carried out in secrecy (therefore, "underground")
and were most numerous about the time that newly built steam railroads
had captured the public imagination.
"Underground Railroad" became a major impetus leading
to the eradication of slavery. Runaway slaves ("passengers") usually traveled to their
destinations by night either alone or in small groups. Whenever
possible black and white abolitionists provided food and shelter
at stopping places known as "stations" or served as
"conductors" providing transportation between stations.
The Underground Railroad remained active until the end of the
Civil war as black bondsmen continued to use the system to flee
the horrors of slavery. DuPage County played a significant role
in this pivotal chapter in American history.
the 1800's, Wheaton, Glen Ellyn, Glendale Heights, Wayne Center,
Warrenville, West Chicago, Lombard, Naperville, Downers Grove,
Hinsdale, Lyons and Oak Brook had "stations" on the
Underground Railroad. DuPage County was situated in such a way
that "passengers" coming from the south, southwest,
and western parts of the state passed through the area. Wheaton
College, the Filer House (Glen Ellyn), the Peck House (Lombard),
and the Blodgett Home (Downers Grove) are examples of the few
remaining structures in DuPage County which provided havens for
slaves seeking their freedom.
Graue Mill and Museum in Oak Brook is one of the remaining "stations". Frederick Graue, a miller by occupation, housed
slaves in the basement of his gristmill. Graue Mill's location
on Salt Creek, a tributary of the Des Plaines River, made it an
ideal location for harboring slaves. Today, the exhibit "Graue Mill and the Road to
Freedom" uses photographs, documents, a computer interactive system and additional
displays to illustrate the issue of slavery, the Underground Railroad
and the importance of Graue Mill and DuPage County in assisting
fugitive slaves to escape to freedom.
of this story
group tours of the Underground Railroad exhibit can be arranged
by calling (630) 655-2090 or (630) 920-9720.