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Friday, 14 February 2014 11:33

Explore local ties to Underground Railroad

Written by  Darryl J. Enriquez
Dan Finley, interim president/CEO of the Waukesha County Museum, inspects the replica of a slave rack that’s part of a traveling exhibit about slavery and the area’s ties to the Underground Railroad. The exhibit runs through June 14 at the museum, 101 W. Main St., Waukesha. Dan Finley, interim president/CEO of the Waukesha County Museum, inspects the replica of a slave rack that’s part of a traveling exhibit about slavery and the area’s ties to the Underground Railroad. The exhibit runs through June 14 at the museum, 101 W. Main St., Waukesha. Darryl J. Enriquez

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- Caroline Quarles, a young slave from St. Louis, Mo., escaped to Canada in 1842 with the help of Burlington abolitionists, who hid her at a stop along the Underground Railroad to evade pursuing bounty hunters.

The railroad that partially snaked through Wisconsin was neither a train nor underground. It was a network of secret routes and safe houses used by slaves prior to their Civil War emancipation to escape bondage.

One such lifeline to freedom swung through Prairieville, a settlement on the Fox River later renamed Waukesha. The same route skirted outside of Burlington to the area known as Spring Prairie in Walworth County.

 Read the current edition here: http://www.server-jbmultimedia.net/CSI-WalworthCountySunday

The Waukesha County Museum is commemorating that slice of the area’s heritage through the traveling exhibit, “Passage to Freedom, Secrets of the Underground Railroad.” The display runs through June 14 at the museum, 101 W. Main St., Waukesha.

“There were a lot of vocal abolitionist groups around the areas that are now Waukesha and Walworth counties,” said Elisabeth Engel, director of museum collections and exhibitions. “The exhibit displays their lives on the Underground Railroad and what their lives became in Canada.”

The exhibit will take viewers back to the 1800s to learn about slavery, escape routes and difficulties freedom seekers faced in journeying to the “promised land” of Canada as well as their resettlement north of the United States, according to the exhibit.

In the 1850s, about 40,000 black refugees entered Canada with the help of such famous Underground Railroad “conductors” as Harriet Tubman. Lyman Goodnow, a local conductor, helped Quarles achieve her freedom. His efforts are well documented in local and state historical societies.

The exhibit originates from the Welland Historical Museum in Welland, Ontario, and is presented in three parts:

• Slavery -- stories of capture and life as a slave

• Escape --illustrations and narratives about the dangers of escape; signs, codes and symbols; messages in spiritual songs; the importance of the stars; inventive escape methods, including a box like the one used by Henry “Box” Brown to mail himself to freedom. 

• Freedom --stories from former slaves and their descendants who found both freedom and prosperity in Canada; and those who found discrimination, racism and even lynching there.

The exhibit will coordinate with the museum’s permanent display that chronicles the area’s ties to the anti-slavery movement and the Underground Railroad through illustrations and exhibits featuring Quarles and Goodnow. Based on Goodnow’s memoirs, historians wrote:

“With bounty hunters closing in, Goodnow and Quarles traveled by horse and wagon from the Prairieville area into the Spring Prairie area near Burlington where she was hidden for several days. They resumed their journey by horse and buggy through Illinois, Indiana and into Michigan where Caroline was taken across the Detroit River to Sandwich, Ontario, where Quarles lived the rest of her life.”

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