MCKAY -- Robert Wilson, of McKay, was a conductor along the Underground Railroad.
Wilson was a farmer who built a two-room log cabin south of McKay in 1831. He was believed to join the Underground Railroad effort in 1850, stowing runaways in his barn underneath the hay.
The first runaways to arrive at the Wilson home included 10 men, women, and children with an additional runaway arriving the next night. At first, the rest of the Wilson family was scared of the runaways hiding in the barn, for they had never seen anyone so dark before. But soon they began helping their father.
The job was full of risk: threats from neighbors, risk of slave catchers, and most importantly it was a federal offense to aid runaway slaves.
The Marshman family of Nashville, Ohio would bring runaways to the Wilson household, where Robert would feed them and hide theme in the barn during daylight.
At night he would then quietly take them north. At first Wilson took the runaways to farmer John Wood of Hayesville, but he soon grew intimidated by threats so Wilson then began taking them to Methodist minister John Talentine of Ashland. At times he took them to Reverend McIntyre, who lived eight miles southeast of Hayesville.
As the tension between North and South grew in the years leading to the Civil War, many stations were dissolved. Eventually, Wilson was forced to take the runaways as far north as Savannah, where the Free Presbyterian congregation led by Pastor George Gordon cared for them.
Gordon was eventually arrested for his involvement, but Wilson continued working with Ezra Garrett, an associate of Gordon's.
Eventually, Wilson grew so bold as to allow his neighbors to visit and meet the runaways hiding in his basement. It is reported that the former slaves would even sing for the visitors.
Wilson later began transporting the runaways to Savannah during daylight despite many spies being known to patrol the paths.
Federal officers, acting under the Fugitive Slave Law, suspected Wilson as being part of the escape routes and conducted searches of his property. But the officers failed to discover the two slaves hiding in the hay mow of the barn and three more hidden in the sugar shack.
Wilson's involvement in the Underground Railroad dwindled as he aged and his children moved away. But ultimately, the conclusion of the Civil War meant the Underground Railroad was no longer necessary.
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