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Wyandot, Shawnee, and African American Resistance to Slavery in Ohio and Kansas

Diane Miller, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


From the colonial period, enslaved Africans escaped bondage. Colonial records and treaties reveal that they often sought refuge with Indian tribes. This resistance to slavery through escape and flight constituted the Underground Railroad. As European colonies developed into the United States, alliances of subaltern groups posed a threat. Colonizers and settlers aimed to divide and control these groups and arrived at the intertwined public policies of African chattel slavery and Indian removal. Tribal abolitionism and participation in the Underground Railroad was more pronounced than scholars have recognized and constituted an important challenge to the expansion of slavery.Encounters between fugitive slaves and Indians occurred along the frontier of territory settled by whites. In the Northwest Territory, freedom seekers crossing the Ohio River from Kentucky met tribes such as the Wyandot and Shawnee. Sometimes they joined the tribes, and sometimes they passed through on their way to Canada. Historical accounts document Africans living amongst both the Wyandot and the Shawnee and help provided by tribes to escaping bondsmen. The Northwest Territory did not remain the frontier for long. By 1826, the Shawnee removed from Ohio to Kansas. The Wyandot held on longer and were the last tribe to remove in 1843. In Kansas, the tribes were again on the frontier. A familiar pattern developed of fugitives seeking refuge in Indian territory in Kansas.Missionaries and Indian agents assigned to tribes in Kansas facilitated pro-slavery incursions. Methodist Episcopal missionary to the Shawnees, Thomas Johnson, for example, used enslaved labor at the school he established for tribes in the region. Some tribal leaders adopted the practice, but most members resisted. This internal struggle became a major front in the national debate between abolitionists and pro-slavery advocates on whether the federal government could limit slavery in new territories. The Wyandots intensified their opposition to slavery through the period of Bleeding Kansas, joining forces with Free State proponents. Through their activism, the tribes helped exclude slavery from Kansas.

Subject Area

Black history|Native American studies|African American Studies

Recommended Citation

Miller, Diane, "Wyandot, Shawnee, and African American Resistance to Slavery in Ohio and Kansas" (2019). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI27663269.