The Underground Railroad’s Addison White

addison white_find a grave

Addison White (Find A Grave)

Addison White.  I first heard his name last month when I took a bus tour of Underground Railroad sites in Kentucky and Ohio.

I was visiting with our tour leader, historian Jerry Gore of Freedom Time Heritage Tours, as we waited to get back on the bus at the Charles Young Birthplace in Mays Lick, Kentucky.   I was interested in what led him and co-founder Peggy Overly to start their business of providing heritage experiences:

They have traveled the United States and Canada researching and sharing their stories of the history of the enslaved Africans and the Underground Railroad.

This live and interactive presentation will capture your heart and mind as you explore the life of the enslaved African, his and her courage and determination for freedom on their flight on the Underground Railroad.

They were also instrumental in establishing the National Underground Railroad Museum located in historic Maysville, Kentucky.

Jerry mentioned that he was the great-great-grandson of Addison White, a slave who escaped along the Underground Railroad.  A quick internet search showed him to have been one of the most famous names in Underground Railroad history.

jerry gore november 2015

Historian Jerry Gore, great-great grandson of Addison White

Addison was probably born around 1821.  He was owned by Daniel White of Fleming County, Kentucky.  In 1856 he escaped by swimming across the Ohio River and using Underground Railroad safe houses to travel north into Ohio.    He reached the home of abolitionist Udney Hyde in Mechanicsburg, Ohio, where he stayed for eight months while helping Hyde, who was recovering from a broken ankle.

Daniel White and federal marshals located  him in Mechanicsburg, but an armed Addison White barricaded himself in the loft of a log cabin and held them off.  They later returned, but by this time sympathetic citizens of the town, armed with pitchforks and shovels, had surrounded the cabin and refused to let the marshals take him.   They put out the story that he had escaped to Canada.


“The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom” by Willbur H. Siebert,1898. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

The federal marshals arrested several people for helping him in his escape and the sheriff of Clark County tried to arrest the marshals for illegal arrests.  Things got even uglier, with the marshals beating up the sheriff and his posse and refusing to release the prisoners.  Mob rule took over and the marshals were jailed in Springfield, Ohio, charged with attempting to kill the sheriff and his posse. The Governor of Ohio intervened and all charges were dropped against both sides.

After that, Daniel White tried another tack.  He filed a lawsuit, demanding the return of his property, Addison White.    Because of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the “Bloodhound Law,” the law was on Daniel White’s side.  Because it seemed likely that Daniel White would win the case, the people of Mechanicsburg raised money to pay Daniel White for Addison White’s freedom–$900.

The Rest of the Story
  • For the duration of the court case, Udney Hyde had been a fugitive.  He was never captured, and was finally able to return home, where he continued to be a conductor on the Underground Railroad.
  • Addison White lived out his life in Mechanicsburg, where he worked for the street department.  During the Civil War, he served two years with the 54th Massachusetts Infantry.  He had been married to a free black woman in Kentucky, but she refused to follow him to Ohio.  Amanda White later became his second wife.

“The Storming of Ft Wagner-lithograph by Kurz and Allison 1890”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons –

If You Want to Learn More
  • Addison White’s story is told in the play Freedom Bound from Mad River Theater Works in Zanesville, Ohio.  You can view a video clip and listen to songs from the play at their website.
  • And if you’re thinking the 54th Massachusetts Infantry sounds familiar, you may have seen the 1989 movie Glory, which told its story.  The film won three  Academy Awards.

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