My New (Second) Favorite History Blog
Like many history-related news stories, the news that Wheaton College was a stop on the Underground Railroad didn't come as much of a real surprise. It was common knowledge when I was a student there in the early 1990s, though some of the details (that escaped slaves had been shuttled around through the network of steam tunnels) were demonstrably false.
So the headline, "Prof: Wheaton College was Underground Railroad stop" prompted a shrug even from this history-enthusiastic Wheaton graduate.
But David Malone, head of Wheaton's of archives and special collections, explained to The Daily Herald newspaper that the discovery of a comment in an 1889 manuscript is actually quite significant.
"We've never been willing to say for ourselves that we were a stop on the Underground Railroad," Malone said. "Others were willing to say it for us. But we wouldn't confirm that. Now we're able to say with full assurance that this was a stop on the Underground Railroad."
Turns out the text isn't massively hard to find if you know what you're looking for: Google Book Search has a scanned, downloadable copy of The History of the Thirty-Ninth Regiment Illinois Volunteer Veteran Infantry(Yates Phalax) in the War of the Rebellion 1861-1865. Here's the passage, a first-person account of Ezra A. Cook:
In the fall of 1853 … we moved to Illinois and settled on a farm about twelve miles from Chicago. About four years afterward [my father] sold this farm and purchased another in Du Page county, about one and a half miles from Wheaton, his object being to give his children a liberal education; the oldest daughter having already spent several terms at Wheaton College. The outbreak of the war in the spring of 1861 found myself and two sisters attending Wheaton ...