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Charting the Underground Railroad

Historians want Madison sites
to be recognized

Breitweiser working
to promote Georgetown area

By Ruth Wright
Staff Writer

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 nation’s 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 living there.

Jaew Breitweiser, John Staicer

Photo by Ruth Wright

Jae 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.

AME Church

Photo provided

The 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 state’s 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.
Breitweiser’s 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.

Elijah Anderson home

Photo provided

Elijah Anderson home.

A boon to Breitweiser’s 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 area’s role in helping runaway slaves reclaim their freedom. She was assisted in her research of the Georgetown district by HMI interns Katie and Emily Strandmark.
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 country’s Underground Railroad history. From the center will branch out into surrounding states official Underground Railroad stations.
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 Madison’s Underground Railroad history. Lytle also plans to make information regarding Madison available at the Freedom Center in Cincinnati via the center’s 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 Railroad.
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 district.

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