Genealogic research performed by uncles on both sides of my family has piqued my interest in our families’ history. They’ve dug diligently to trace our European ancestry as far back as the 17th century. You can view much of our lineage if you click the Geni link to the right.
My interest in history swings much broader than just my own family tree, however. I’ve recently begun investigating the history of Lyles Station and that settlement’s connection to the Underground Railroad (UGRR) in Indiana. My aim is to establish a solid link between the African-American community in Gibson County and the white abolitionists who aided them, like the Stormont family, and thereby obtain an Indiana Freedom Trails marker as a monument to their efforts.
I guess a combination of these interests caused me to checkout the 30th Anniversary DVD of Roots at the local library. That, and my wife was not allowed to watch it as a child, so this was her first viewing.
I was surprised how little of it I remembered even though it made an indelible impression on me when I first saw it on television in 1977. And while it only gives small glimpses into the UGRR, it continues to stir my curiosity about the secret pathways north and the courage of those who dared to travel it and also those who risked all to aid the escapees.
It stands to reason that free African-Americans in the “lower north,” particularly the settlements in southern Indiana, would have been a first stop along the pathways to freedom. Some escaped slaves would have surely settled there while many others would have continued north to Michigan and Canada.
The problem in documenting all this is that most of the 19th century American history you find in libraries was written by white men. They weren’t particularly interested in elevating the heroes of the African-American community. Their self-serving portraits of abolitionist activity paint an almost white portrait of the UGRR, as if no escape from slavery would have been possible without the aid of anti-slavery whites. While this may be true in part, it is not the whole truth.
Have you ever considered what it would have been like to be a slave on the run and scared for your life? Who would you trust? It certainly wouldn’t be a white man. So my work is definitely cut out for me. This will not be an easy project to document with concrete evidence. Just like my uncles, I will have to dig to uncover the important role the free African-Americans of Lyles Station played in helping others to freedom.