Stories of the Underground Railroad Now Available Online

Now you can find the text of correspondence with Underground Railroad participants, photographs of agents and former slaves and maps of Underground Railroad routes online. This fascinating material about the Underground Railroad in Ohio and other states was collected and compiled by Wilbur H. Siebert, a former history professor at Ohio State University. His original papers have been held by the Ohio Historical Society’s Archives/Library since 1946.

Wilbur H. Siebert, former professor of History at The Ohio State University.

Wilbur H. Siebert, former professor of History at The Ohio State University.

Siebert was a professor at the Ohio State University from 1891-1935. His research material on the Underground Railroad, collected over a period of 50 years, includes survey responses, interviews and copies of notes from books, diaries, letters, photographs, newspapers, biographies, memoirs, speeches, annual reports, trial records, census records and legislation. He organized his research by state and county, eventually binding his notes in volumes by location.

Photograph of former slave and Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman from the Wilbur Siebert Collection.

Photograph of former slave and Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman from the Wilbur Siebert Collection.

Extensive Collection
Among the many fascinating items in the collection are transcripts of letters by well-known abolitionists like John Brown and John Rankin, an Underground Railroad conductor in Ripley, Ohio; a letter Siebert received from famous former slave Frederick Douglass; and documents that show the large role Ohioans played in the abolitionist movement. Follow the links below to view selected items from the collection.

  • John Brown Letters
  • John Rankin’s Letters on American Slavery
  • Ohio Abolitionists at the Zanesville Anti-Slavery Convention of April 1835 Which Formed the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society
  • Ohio’s Aid to Fugitive Slaves as a Contributing Cause of the Civil War, an Article by Wilbur H. Siebert
  • Charles Beecher Letter to Wilbur Siebert, Mar. 7, 1896, Describing a Night Working with Prof. Calvin E. Stowe on the Underground Railroad
  • Frederick Douglass Letter to Wilbur Siebert
  •  Now Accessible 24/7
    For decades teachers, students and historians had to come to the Ohio Historical Society’s Archives/Library at the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus to view the collection. Now, for the price of a subscription, researchers can view over 4,700 Ohio-related items from the Siebert Collection 24 hours a day, seven days a week in Ohio Memory, the Ohio Historical Society’s digital library. In addition to unlimited access, subscribing to the online collection gives researchers the ability to search the full text of documents; page through multiple-page documents; zoom in to view documents more closely; and save interesting items to a “my favorites” list.

    Giving researchers the ability to search the text of documents in the Siebert Collection and read them online has been a dream years in the making. It began with a grant in 2001 to reprocess the original papers and scan each item. In 2008 the Ohio Historical Society purchased CONTENTdm, powerful digital library software created by OCLC. Digital projects staff loaded over 22,000 files, including the scans of the original documents and text files of transcribed documents, into the CONTENTdm database.

    Virtual Volunteers
    The technology that allows researchers to access the collection outside of the Ohio Historical Center also gives us the ability to work on the digital library database outside of the building. Staff have been assisted for the past year by 20 volunteers working both on- and off-site to update the descriptions of individual items in the Seibert Collection. Currently there are four “virtual volunteers” who log into the CONTENTdm database and edit records for the Seibert Collection from their own homes. Some dedicated staff are known to log in after hours and edit records just for fun. The flexibility to work on- and off-site has improved productivity. Fewer than 1,000 records are yet to be edited.

    The Siebert Collection finding aid, a detailed inventory of materials in the collection, is available free online without a subscription. One-year subscriptions to access all of the materials in the Siebert Collection online are available at individual and institutional rates. The individual rate is $50 (Ohio Historical Society members $30). Click here for a printable subscription form to return by mail, fax or e-mail. Questions about subscribing? E-mail images@ohiohistory.org.

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    This entry was posted in Civil War, collections, Digital Projects, Digitization, OHS Resources, Research Tips, Research Tools. Bookmark the permalink.

    5 Responses to Stories of the Underground Railroad Now Available Online

    1. Steve Harvey says:

      My ancestor, Dr. Ellwood Harvey, was mentioned in a file of Professor Sieberts, for the Chester Underground Railroad. How can I get a copy of what is in this file?

    2. Mary Morris says:

      I’m looking for information about someone who operated a station for the Underground Railroad. His name is Abraham Morris and He’s my Great,Great Grandfather. He and his wife lived in Athens Ohio during the Civil War. They operated a station for the Underground Railroad. I’m trying to find any and all information concerning them. If someone can help me I can be reached at sunflowergirl21324@yahoo.com Thank You for your time. Mary Morris.

      • ohiohistory says:

        Please send this question to our reference staff at reference@ohiohistory.org. It will probably take them a few working days to get back to you.

      • Terri Camp says:

        I am also a direct decendant of Abraham Morris. He was a landowner/farmer in Wilksville, OH in the mid 1800′s. He was also the Bailiff at the Common Pleas Court of Vinton County which made him well connected politically. He would allow slaves passing through room & board on his property and let them work in his fields until the heat was off. Many slaves passing through had no last names and took the name of Morris in gratitude to our grandfather. Cool, huh? Abraham is burried just outside of Wilkesville in Vinton County. My brother did an extensive family tree. He knows far more about this than I do. You can find him on FB ~ Troy Turner (Cowboy looking guy with black hat, side profile view). Private message him. He loves this stuff & would be happy to assist you. Good luck cousin. :) Terri

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