“Of Waterways and Runaways: Reflections on the Great Lakes in Underground Railroad History,” by Tiya Miles
nonfiction by Tiya Miles
Here in the Great Lakes region of the Midwest, waterways were especially pivotal to Underground Railroad history, and movement to and across those waters highlights the remarkable bravery, determination, and resourcefulness of escaping slaves as well as their allies. The Old Northwest (the Midwestern territory designated by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787) was central ground for abolitionist struggle in the middle decades of the nineteenth century because of its location on two liquid borders. The line between the slaveholding country of the U.S. and the free realm of British-controlled Upper Canada (or Canada West), and the line between the slave state of Kentucky and the free state of Ohio flowed through this region in the form of water. The winding rivers and ample lakes that characterized the area’s geography and marked the boundaries between and among colonial-European states and Native nations also became physical markers, signs, and routes of the Underground Railroad.