— Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series about the people and events that have shaped the 200-year history of New Albany. Read all installments by clicking on the bicentennial link under the “seasonal content” header at newsandtribune.com
NEW ALBANY — A town’s past can be a tricky thing. It’s easy to think all of New Albany’s history has been documented; every one of its stories has been written and preserved through the years. But some secrets remain as elusive now as they did when they were first whispered decades ago.
For almost 150 years, our city’s involvement in the Underground Railroad had remained such a secret. New Albany resident Pam Peters decided to change that. In her 2001 book “The Underground Railroad in Floyd County, Indiana” — she documented the journey of the slaves who sought freedom and the local men and women who risked their lives supporting them.
“I had a very naïve idea of what the Underground Railroad was until I really started studying it,” Peters said. “It was more of a movement. You have to think of it not in terms of tunnels and hiding places.”
With the Emancipation Proclamation pertaining only to Confederate states, slavery was allowed in Kentucky until the end of the Civil War. Yet only a mile away across the Ohio River, lie Indiana, a free-state since 1816. If Cincinnati had been a portal to freedom, wasn’t it likely New Albany had been a gateway as well?
Little written correspondence has survived of these clandestine activities. Peters found her first documented cases of people in New Albany being arrested for abetting slaves as early as 1821, but she assumes the practice existed long before that instance.
“As long as there has been slavery, there have been slaves running away from it,” she said.