Journey to Freedom: Indiana and the Underground Railroad

Posted at 8:22 PM, Feb 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-01 08:06:40-05

WESTFIELD — In the mid 19th century, there were free states, slave states and different definitions of freedom for different people.

The Underground Railroad had many stops; it was a series of paths and routes, some of which went through Westfield.

"Most of it was above ground and was a secret network of people helping formerly enslaved people that escaped from the south go to freedom," Michael Kobrowski, archivist at the Westfield-Washington Historical Society, said. "It wasn't underground and it wasn't a railroad."

Conductors, like Harriet Tubman, guided slaves, who were called passengers or cargo, along the way.

Kobrowski says there's no way to know many slaves came through the area. Many slaves escaping the south landed in Indiana and Westfield played a big role in their quest for freedom.

"Westfield was founded by Quakers, also called Friends, and they came from the south to get away from the slave economy there," Kobrowski said.

Quaker and Westfield founder Asa Bales' home served as one of eight documented stations on the Railroad. Homes and barns with secret rooms turned into hideaway places for the runaway slaves.

"It was a secret undertaking and it was against the law," Kobrowski said. "It's very important to highlight, as well, that the formerly-enslaved people did the first step. They got their freedom. They walked away from the enslavement."

Louisa White ran an inn and when two African-American women being searched for by slave hunters showed up at her back door, she made a plan to protect them.

White invited them in for lunch and dressed them in traditional Quaker attire — long sleeve dresses and bonnets that covered most of their faces.

westfield underground railroad

The two were later taken to safety.

According to the State of Indiana, several Indiana counties were part of the Underground Railroad.