Underground Railroad: Shawnee National Forest

The Underground Railroad was a vast but secret network of travel routes and safe havens to help fugitives escape slavery, most heavily travelled between 1820 and 1865.  

Those escaping the slave state of Kentucky likely followed a route northwest by crossing the Ohio River into southern Illinois. Despite its Free State status, there was still hostility toward African Americans in the region, making it dangerous territory for freedom seekers and abolitionists.

To avoid detection, escapees avoided cities and took to the forests and rural routes to reach freedom, some travelling through what is now Shawnee National Forest. Although many continued north, the region of the Shawnee National Forest that lies mostly in Pope County appears to have been a vital point in the Underground Railroad. Here, a free Black community found a home in Miller Grove. 

The pioneers of Miller Grove originated primarily from Tennessee. After they gained their freedom, four families settled the Miller Grove area, some traveling alongside their former masters and their families. The free people of Miller Grove built schools and churches among their homes and carved out a new life. 

Often free communities like Miller Grove became part of the Underground Railroad. Community members of Miller Grove and surrounding towns served as “conductors” and helped runaways make the terrifying escape to freedom.

Today, there is little left of Miller Grove. However, natural landmarks on the national forest - Ox-Lot, Sand Cave, Crow Knob, Brasher Cave, and Fat Man’s Squeeze - remain as markers of the former community and its Underground Railroad activity. The cemetery with over 100 graves is used for ongoing research, along with Pope County tax records and other legal documents. 


Cheryl LaRoche, Free Black Communities and the Underground Railroad: the Geography of Resistance

Mary McCorvie, “Spotlight: the Underground Railroad on the Shawnee National Forest,” http://www.recreation.gov/marketing.do?goto=acm/Explore_And_More/exploreArticles/Spotlight__The_Underground_Railroad_on_the_Shawnee_National_Forest.htm  

At a Glance

Information Center: The U.S. Forest Service has created this multi-Forest interpretive program to highlight people and places along the historic Underground Railroad. Some of these sites are “virtual” locations and are intended to provoke thoughts and conversation but may not have anything physical present on the ground.  These locations are generally relevant to the topics presented on the webpage.  Please use caution when traveling to these remote locations and consult your local Forest Service office for more details. All of the sites highlighted in this program can be seen by visiting https://www.fs.usda.gov/ivm/ and searching within the magnifying glass for “Underground Railroad.”


Interpretive Areas

Recreation Areas

Recreation Activities


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