Underground Railroad: Dabbs Family
During the original migration, four former slaveholding families trekked alongside recently freed African Americans to the Miller Grove settlement in Pope County, Illinois, in today’s Shawnee National Forest. Joseph Dabbs headed one of the four White families. With the help of Henry Sides, a fellow former slave holder, Joseph purchased the $1,000 bonds to bring each of his manumitted slaves to Illinois as free men, women, and children. Edward (Ned) Dabbs was one of Joseph’s manumitted slaves (it was common for free Blacks to keep the names of their former white slave families). Ned married Dolly Sides in April, 1848, and the couple continued to live in the community. Unlike a majority of the adults at Miller Grove, Ned was literate. The community cherished his skills and his service as a reader and disseminator of information throughout the settlement. Ned also became involved in the abolitionist movement with the American Missionary Association (AMA). In 1864, he submitted a handwritten request for AMA’s antislavery literature. The literature, along with letters left by James West, imply that members of the community - possibly including Ned himself - were active in the Underground Railroad. Joseph Dabbs left one-third of his estate to Ned in his will. When Ned died in 1866, his personal effects included a large collection of books and farm animals. However, Ned acquired these belongings himself - they were not inherited from Dabbs - and attest to the life he lived after gaining his freedom. Sources: Cheryl LaRoche, Free Black Communities and the Underground Railroad: the Geography of Resistance Vickie Devenport and Mary R. McCorvie, “Dear Brother Tappan: Missionaries in Egypt and the Underground Railroad in the Shawnee Hills of Southern Illinois.” This information about the Underground Railroad is part of a geo-located multi-forest interpretive program. Please contact the U.S. Forest Service Washington Office Recreation, Heritage, and Volunteer Resources program leadership with any questions or to make changes. SGV – Recreation Data and Information Coordinator.