Clermont to host Underground Railroad conference in June

National conference will focus on history of the region

Clermont County will host the fifth annual National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Conference this summer.

“We are so proud to be able to host this event,” Clermont County Commissioner Bob Proud said. “Clermont County is where so much of the abolitionist activity took place and we are so proud of that fact.”

The convention, which will be held June 15 – 18 at the Holiday Inn Eastgate, is a gathering of genealogists and historians who come together to share knowledge and discuss new research into the history of the Underground Railroad.

The National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Conference will be held in Clermont County this year and the promotional materials will feature Kentucky artist Ken Swinson’s depiction of abolitionist John Parker helping a family cross the Ohio River to Ripley. Standing with the painting are from left, National Parks Service midwest region national program manager Diane Miller, Clermont County Commissioner Bob Proud, historian Gary Knepp, Clermont County Ohio Convention and Visitors Bureau director June Creager, and Congresswoman Jean Schmidt.
“About a third of the conferees come from out of the area,” National Parks Service Midwest region national program manager Diane Miller said. “They are people who manage sites related to the Underground Railroad, they are educators, they’re genealogists, community historians, scholars, and historians in academia. The idea behind it is to have an opportunity to bring people together to share new research, to share information about aspects of the Underground Railroad that may not have been known very well, to share best practices on how to teach this history, or how to interpret it to the public when they come to your historic site.”

The railroad was a loosely connected network of abolitionists that helped hundreds of slaves each year between about 1810 and 1865 in the southern United States escape to non-slave holding states in the north and Canada.

Proud thanked local historian Gary Knepp for his role in bringing the conference to Clermont County and in documenting the 19 historic sites in the county with connections to the Freedom Trail.

“Gary Knepp did the documentation of all of our accepted sites on the Freedom Trail,” Proud said. “We are very excited to say we have more accepted sites than any other county in this nation.”

The conference is expected to draw about 300 people from over the course of the weekend. Friday and Sunday will be tour days while the conference itself will take place on Saturday. Miller said details for the tours have not been finalized, but the Friday tour will focus on local sites throughout Clermont County and in Ripley. The tour will also feature other sites in the Greater Cincinnati region, including a trip to Kentucky to see the conditions many of the slaves were escaping from.

The tour following the conference will continue along the northward trail towards Xenia and Wilberforce.

Clermont County is the starting point for one of the most widely used trails in the Underground Railroad, the Bullskin Trail. Historian Richard Crawford said the trail was originally a buffalo trail utilized by the Native Americans and early settlers which began at the mouth of Bullskin Creek on the Ohio River in Rural and followed state Route 133 north through the county.

Knepp said Clermont County has many amazing stories about the Underground Railroad to share, including the story of the U.S. Senator from Bethel, Thomas Morris.

“He was the first anti-slavery United States Senator and made an unbelievable speech on the floor of the United States Senate in 1838, well before there was much of an anti-slavery movement,” Knepp said, “and for that he was basically drummed out of his party. He then ran for Vice President of the United States on the Liberty Party, which was dedicated to the ending of slavery.”

Congresswoman Jean Schmidt attended the press conference announcing the coming of the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Conference and said she was very excited to see her home county receive national recognition.

“I am so thrilled that this is in my home county. Ohio is ripe for telling the story of the Underground Railroad,” Schmidt said. “It’s not just the fact that we have the national museum in Cincinnati, it’s the fact that all along the river there is story after story after story of people who risked their lives to bring the slaves across the river to freedom. When you go to New Richmond the homes are still there that were part of this movement.”

Knepp and Miller said the conference is coming to Clermont County with the help of June Creager and the Clermont County Ohio Convention and Visitors Bureau. Miller said admission to the conference will be under $200 and will be set with the goal of covering the cost of holding the conference.

“The National Parks Service is very glad to be here,” Miller said. “This of course is the very heart and soul of Underground Railroad territory.”

The Civil War, which resulted in the end of slavery in the United States began 150 years ago this April, and Proud said the fact that the general that won that war, General Ulysses S. Grant, was born in Point Pleasant also adds to the significance of the conference.

“We’re very happy that you’re here and that we’re having a chance to showcase our history with the rest of the nation,” Knepp said.