OSGOOD, Ind. (February 2004) Jae Breitweiser of Historic
Eleutherian College on Jan. 14 was busy putting the final touches
on an application to the National Park Service requesting inclusion
of Madison, Ind.s historic Georgetown district in the Network
to Freedom, a program that officially recognizes the nations
Under-ground Railroad sites.
Located downtown, the Georgetown district was where many free black
families settled in the first half of the 19th century, according
to Breitweiser. The 1860 census identified 23 African American families
by Ruth Wright
Breitweiser, left, with John Staicer.
Although its borders have not been officially designated, research
has indicated that the district was located approximately between
present-day Jefferson and Walnut streets and stretched from Third
Street about five blocks north. The primary source for mapping the
district was a book by Donald Thomas Zimmer, Madison Indiana
1811-1860; A Study in the Process of City Building, which includes
a demographic map marking the presence of German, Irish and African
American families in downtown Madison.
From old deed records, Breitweiser has documented several still-standing
historic structures in the Georgetown district. Among them is the
African Methodist Episcopal church at 309 Fifth St. Historic Madison
Inc. acquired the church in June 2001 and hopes to eventually create
there a museum and an African American historical interpretive center,
according to Kim Nyberg of HMI.
Also documented in the district have been the former home of Elijah
Anderson at 624 Walnut St., the former home of William J. Anderson
at 713 Walnut St., and the former Colored Methodist Episcopal Church
at 711 Walnut St. All three buildings are currently private residences.
African Methodist Episcopal Church in Madison.
Both Elijah and William J. Anderson were free blacks who lived in
Madison around the mid-1800s. A blacksmith, Elijah Anderson was tried
for his involvement in helping runaway slaves and was imprisoned in
Frankfort, Ky., where he eventually died.
William J. Anderson, who was born free but became enslaved, escaped
in 1836 to Madison, where he helped found and build the CME Church
next door to his Walnut Street home. He died in Madison and is believed
to be buried in Springdale Cemetery.
George de Baptiste, a nationally known Under-ground Railroad conductor,
is also known to have lived in Madison from 1838 to 1846, but the
location of his residence has not yet been determined.
Other key figures associated with the Georgetown district include
Griffin Booth, Sandy Brown, William Brown, John Carter, William Douglas,
Lewis Evans, Chapman Harris, David Johnson, David Lott, George Rowden,
Stepney Stafford, Steven C. Stevens and Archibald Taylor.
Although slaves were considered free once they reached Indiana soil,
the states laws were not friendly to runaways, Breitweiser said.
And because of its location on the Ohio River, a border between free
and slave states, Madison and the surrounding area was a hotbed for
Underground Railroad activity.
Breitweisers primary focus has been the involvement of Historic
Eleuther-ian College and the Lyman-Hoyt House with the Underground
Railroad. Her research was instrumental in the inclusion in the Network
to Freedom both sites, two of only three in Indiana to date. The third
is the Levi Coffin House located in Fountain City.
A boon to Breitweisers research was the donation of historical
documents to Eleutherian by descendants of John H. Tibbits, a known
area Underground Railroad conductor. Tibbits family donated
15 legal-size documents of typed information originally written by
Tibbits documenting his activities.
The Network to Freedom application process has been long and time-consuming
for Breitweiser, who has spent several years researching the areas
role in helping runaway slaves reclaim their freedom. She was assisted
in her research of the Georgetown district by HMI interns Katie and
Currently there are 149 sites, programs or facilities that are officially
designated by the National Park Service as Network to Freedom sites,
according to national coordinator Diane Miller. The designation, because
it is verified by a team of park service historians, lends a great
deal of credibility to the sites, Miller said.
Breitweiser estimated that it will be about six months before she
receives word on the status of the Georgetown application. That will
likely be this summer, which is also when the National Underground
Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati is expected to open.
The Freedom Center, a $6.5 million facility, will be the epicenter
of the countrys Underground Railroad history. From the center
will branch out into surrounding states official Underground Railroad
Madison Tourism director Linda Lytle has said that her office plans
to have ready by the time the center opens a walking tour of downtown
sites related to Madisons Underground Railroad history. Lytle
also plans to make information regarding Madison available at the
Freedom Center in Cincinnati via the centers planned interactive
computer system, which will take the place of brochures.
Also this summer will be the placement of state markers at approved
Underground Railroad sites by the Indiana Historic Bureau in conjunction
with Indiana Freedom Trails. IFT is a community-based, statewide organization
established to complete the archival research necessary to identify
the sites, structures and individuals involved in the Underground
Breitweiser, a member of the organization, said a sign identifying
the Georgetown district should be erected sometime this summer at
the intersection of Fifth and Walnut streets, the center of the Georgetown