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Community of Africa

In the 1840s, along the border of present-day Alum Creek State Park, stood a community of African Americans, abolitionists, and Quakers. Originally part of East Orange, the area took its name from a pro-slavery neighbor who used the term mockingly.   

Ohio's abolitionist history is well-known. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the "little lady who started this great war," as the much-disputed legend claims Abraham Lincoln called her, lived in Cincinnati for 18 years, beginning in 1832. Ohio held an active position in the underground railroad, offering more routes than any other state. East Orange was part of that rich history. 

 Samuel Patterson, who lived in the area since the late 1820s, played an important role in the development of the Africa community. He built a large house and a variety of outbuildings in the 1840s to expand his farm. These buildings also provided space to house people escaping through the Underground Railroad. Other community members also participated, helping those men, women, and children fleeing to safety. 

Alum Creek provided refuge for many people on the way to safety, and records show that there could be as many as 60 individuals moving through the area in one month. However, the average was more often a fraction of that. Many community members provided smaller cabins they had used while building their larger homes to shelter the Underground Railroad passengers. 

Those cabins became the homes for a new settlement. The community grew from the arrival of a group of freed slaves from North Carolina. In 1859, between twenty-eight and thirty-five people joined the community after being freed from Oroon Alston, a plantation owner in Chatham County. Alston's widow left money for the enslaved people to travel to Ohio. The trip to the north, despite their freed status, remained dangerous for this group and other people undertaking the route. This was especially true after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which not only allowed for the capture of escaped slaves but added significant punishments for people who did not assist in those captures.  Regardless of freed status, African Americans traveling anywhere in the north or south were likely to be subject to harassment, assault, and kidnapping. However, in communities with considerable support for abolition, the laws had little effect. Before the repeal of acts in 1864, only a little over 300 people were returned to slavery while it is estimated that from 1,000-5,000 slaves escaped yearly from 1830-1860.    

 The Africa community continued to be active in the underground railroad in the years to come. Those freed slaves who had settled there opened their homes to help others escape. Additionally, according to Cynthia Vogel, "At least six and as many as ten Alum Creek residents served as Underground Railroad station keepers. Stops in the settlement included the Alum Creek Friends Meeting Church and the residences of Cyrus Benedict, William Benedict, Reuben Benedict, Aaron L. Benedict, Daniel Benedict, Daniel Osborn, and Aaron Osborn. Of these structures, only the Aaron L. Benedict house is still standing". Vogel explains that three generations of Benedicts were active in the Underground Railroad, and the activity in the area continued until the Emancipation Proclamation.   

While the Africa community disbanded after the Civil War, some of the homes remain standing. The powerful history of the area permeates Alum Creek and should be celebrated for the incredible difference these Ohioans made for the many passengers that moved through.  


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