Underground Railroad

It is very clear that the Illinois Institute and those involved with Wheaton College were strong abolitionists and had been involved in the Underground Railroad at various places and times. But, documenting the Underground Railroad at Wheaton College had experienced the same difficulties in the dearth of primary source materials as is experienced in many parts of the Midwest. There are many that still strictly associate the Underground Railroad with the eastern United States. However, while conducting research for a volume on Wheaton's abolition roots and the Civil War, Dr. David Maas found written evidence to support the claim that Wheaton College was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

While confirming a detail related to Ezra Cook’s service with the Thirty-ninth Regiment of the Illinois Volunteer Infantry he encountered Cook’s retelling of how he entered the service and his association with Wheaton College.

"The outbreak of the war in the spring of 1861 found myself and two sisters attending Wheaton College, which had a national reputation as an Abolition school in an Abolition town. So strong was public sentiment that runaway slaves were perfectly safe in the College building, even when no attempt was made to conceal their presence, which was well known to the United States Marshal stationed there. With hundreds of others, I have seen and talked with such fugitives in the college chapel. Of course they soon took a night train well-guarded to the next station on the U. G. R. R."
This documentation helps support the other evidence of abolitionist activities of the founders of the Illinois Institute and Wheaton College. John Cross, the first president of the Illinois Institute is widely documented as being directly involved, even superintending, the Underground Railroad in Indiana, Michigan, Iowa and Illinois. If the Underground Railroad operated in Wheaton he was certainly at the center.

Jonathan Blanchard, arriving in Wheaton in late 1859, brought with him knowledge of Cross and his activities, as well as experience harboring freedom-seeking runaways and transporting them towards freedom. While in western Illinois Blanchard, along with his wife Mary, was instrumental in helping the enslaved escape. Shortly after his arrival in Galesburg, he helped aid in the escape of fugitive Bill Casey.
Blanchard was one to speak out, but also put words into action. Jonathan Blanchard is considered to have been a strong influence in Thaddeus Stevens' commitment to the cause of radical anti-slavery. In time, Stevens would become the most influential voice of abolition in the United States Congress.


Sources citing Wheaton’s involvement in the Underground Railroad

Turner, Glennette Tilley. The underground railroad in Dupage County, Illinois. Wheaton, Ill. Newman Educational Publishers, 1978.
Turner, Glennette Tilley. The underground railroad in Illinois. Glen Ellyn, Ill.: Newman Educational Pub., 2001.

Sources citing Blanchard’s involvement in the Underground Railroad

Charles Blockson, the highly regarded Underground Railroad scholar, notes in his The Underground Railroad (1987) that
“numerous passengers on the freedom line were harbored by Galesburg conductors George Davis and Samuel Hitchcock, who with the assistance of the Blanchards [John and Mary] and other families forwarded fugitives.”

Muelder, Owen W. Galesburg, Knox College, and the Underground Railroad.
Online: http://www.knox.edu/x12146.xml

George Churchill, a Knox College alumnus and founder of Galesburg’s public schools, wrote in 1876 of the city’s founders:
“The first and chief constructive undertaking of the colonists was to build a Christian college; their first and chief destructive one, the overthrow of slavery; hence arose many contests between the colonists and the people of the surrounding country, who, many of them being from southern states, were defenders of slavery—and of the black laws of the state forbidding all aid to fugitives from slavery. A branch of the famous Underground Railroad ran through Galesburg and had a depot here…”
Any serious examination of the Underground Railroad in Illinois will reveal the central role played by Galesburg’s “conductors,” “agents,” and “carriers,” who helped transport fugitive slaves to freedom in Canada. There are few communities in the Middle West that rival the town’s contributions to the anti-slavery cause and Underground Railroad activism. This group involved both blacks (Susan Richardson, Hiram Revels, Charlie Love) and whites (George Washington Gale, Jonathan Blanchard, Julia Wells) in a truly integrated social movement carried out on the prairies of western Illinois.

Prominent Figures in Local Anti-Slavery Movement Galesburg, Knox College and the Underground Railroad.
Online: http://www.knox.edu/x12143.xml

Jonathan Blanchard
Jonathan Blanchard, the second President of Knox College, was nationally recognized for his contributions to the anti-slavery crusade. Shortly after his arrival in Galesburg, he helped aid in the escape of fugitive Bill Casey.

Brulle, Andrew. What Can You Say When Research and Policy Collide?
Online: http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/k_v86/k0502bru.htm

Our first president, Jonathan Blanchard, was a real firebrand. He used to hold class on Christmas Day so as not to waste instructional time. He also believed in keeping faculty salaries particularly low so that faculty members would know that they were there to serve God, not Mammon. (This latter practice still appears to be in force.) Even stronger than these beliefs were Blanchard's feelings regarding equality and abolition. Wheaton College was the first college in Illinois to enroll women and the first college in Illinois to graduate an African American. The college also served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Indeed, everyone associated with the school worked to improve society, particularly for those who were disadvantaged.