The Ohio River Was Essential In The Underground Railroad

ship docked at a port that has nathaniel written on the side
Via Picryl
Adé Hennis
June 23, 2024

In the 19th century, a mile-wide river that froze solid during the winter was one of the most traveled paths to freedom for our people. Some formerly enslaved people even called it their own “River Jordan.”

In the 1800s, the Ohio River was the dividing line between North and South, between free and slaveholding states. And while crossing the river to get to the North brought no certainty of freedom, at least there was a welcoming Black community in the Ohio River Valley.

From 1800 to 1810, Cincinnati’s Black community grew more than fivefold, from about 300 to 1,900. By the 1850s, approximately 40,000 enslaved people crossed it to escape bondage. This was the power of community.

Abolitionist communities settled alongside the river, and the Underground Railroad wouldn’t have been successful without people looking out for each other.

The Ohio River was an escape route for our people, but physical freedom was just the beginning. The River reminds us that hope does indeed float, and that community is always a factor in our freedom.