Skip to main content

Escaping Through Racine's Harbor

“Yes I recollect the underground Rail Road—Racine was a station—I was one of the agents.”

Letter from A.P. Dutton to W.H. Siebert, April 1, 1896

Racine Harbor

Racine's Harbor circa 1870

A.P. Dutton

Undated advertisement for A.P. Dutton's warehouse

During the time of the Underground Railroad, Racine’s harbor was booming. One of the largest ports on Lake Michigan, Racine exported chiefly wheat and lumber to other cities throughout the Great Lakes. Schooners and steamships lined the Root River being loaded and unloaded. This busy harbor offered fugitive slaves an alternative to a difficult overland journey to Canada—an escape to Canada by ship.

An important part of escape from Racine via the Great Lakes was a successful businessman named A.P. Dutton who had a grain warehouse on the harbor. Dutton knew the captains who would be friendly to fugitives, and would secretly arrange for the escaping slaves to take passage aboard a ship. It is believed that Joshua Glover traveled on  ship to his freedom in Canada.

Years after the Civil War, Dutton was questioned regarding his involvement in the Underground Railroad. “We could get free pass on any of Genl Reeds Boats they ran to my dock—Madison Niagari Sultana, Missouri, Keystone State, and others Capt Steel of propeller Galena was our friend in fact We Was Seldom refused a Passage for a fugitive,” wrote Dutton (April 7, 1896). “Capt Applebug of the Sultana and Capt Kilsey of the Chespeake Was among our best Boats.”

Today, a marker recognizing the role that Dutton and Racine’s harbor played in the Underground Railroad has been placed close to the harbor’s entrance.