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Tazewell County Honors Morton's Underground Railroad Conductors

Tim Shelley / Peoria Public Radio
Uriah Crosby's grave marker in Morton Township's Hirstein Cemetery, outside the village.

One of Tazewell County's documented Underground Railroad conductors was recognized Tuesday with a new marker heralding his secret work freeing people from slavery.
Uriah Crosby was honored Tuesday at his grave site in Morton Township's Hirstein Cemetery on what would have been his 210th birthday.

"He was a very outspoken abolitionist," said Tazewell County Clerk John Ackerman, who researched Crosby and other Underground Railroad conductors.

Pam Senkler is Crosby's great-great-granddaughter. She flew to Morton from Naples, Florida on short notice to be present for the ceremony.

"I think it's an important thing for history to remember people who weren't able to be known at the time because their lives were at risk," she said. "They also, if they didn't lose their lives, they were charged $1,000 and a minimum of six months in jail if they were captured."

Senkler says the family stories from those days are still passed down.

"They would hide the slaves underneath the floor of the cabin, and throw a rug on, then the baby's cradle on top," she said.

Credit Tim Shelley/WCBU
A marker much like this one will honor Uriah Crosby and other Tazewell County Underground Railroad conductors in the coming months.

Escaped slaves were transported from Tremont to Crosby's rural Morton farm. He then took them the nine miles to the Kern farm, near the Woodford County line.

Pastor Marvin Hightower, president of the Peoria NAACP, said he'd never heard the story of Tazewell County's Underground Railroad involvement until he was invited to the ceremony by Tazewell County Clerk John Ackerman.

"It's something that we don't normally hear about. We always hear about Abraham Lincoln and him signing the Emancipation Proclamation, which was very significant," Hightower said. "However, there were other people that worked behind the scenes, that risked their life and limbs and families, so that enslaved people could be free. So I believe this is one piece of the history that we have yet to uncover. The tip of the iceburg, I believe."

Hightower said this local history should be researched, then taught to children in school. He said it would give them a sense of pride in American history.

Daniel, Darius, Walter, and John Roberts were also honored in Tuesday's ceremony.

The Underground Railroad entered Tazewell County at Delavan and went up through Circleville, Tremont, and Dillon before entering Morton. It then headed to Woodford County on an elongated loop dodging Washington -- where abolitionists worried people escaping from slavery may be recaptured by bounty hunters.

"We believe that 800 enslaved individuals came through Tazewell County on this route," said Ackerman.

Four more ceremonies are planned in Morton, Tremont, Delavan, and Washington in the coming months.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.