Newspaper Clippings for
from the Lake Villa - Lindenhurst Review 17 February 2000
Lake County church active in anti-slavery movement
BY KENNETH L R. PATCHEN
In a darkened room, the Rev. Paul Meltzer struck a match,
then lit a candle. In the 1800s, he said, abolitionist
meetings were held in quiet places among trusted allies.
And in 1859, the Millburn Congregational Church, tucked
into the northeastern corner of Lake County, was the
perfect venue for such a meeting, he told members of the
Lakes Region Historical Society in Antioch a few years ago.
By recreating a scene from that year, Meltzer seeks to
evoke the church's history wearing 19th century clothing
and using a few small props to assume the role of the Rev.
William Bradford Dodge, an abolitionist.
Early Lake County abolitionist history, in fact, was
established upon the church's grounds. The gathering of the
congregation on Dec. 12, 1859 recorded their commitment to
abolishing slavery, something rarely done anywhere in the
"Dodge had a long history of involvement in the anti-
slavery movement," said Meltzer. Four years ago, a teacher
at Woodland School in Gages Lake asked Meltzer to discuss
the Underground Railroad with students.
"I decided I'd do a living-history presentation, pretending
I was Father Dodge," said Meltzer.
Through his presentation, Meltzer explains the Underground
Railroad was a secret network of people, places and forms
of transportation to help enslaved people reach freedom in
Canada. Illinois was a major route for slaves from Kansas,
Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. The
goal was to reach Milwaukee or Chicago to use Lake Michigan
for the final stage of the journey. Lake County was the
land passage to Wisconsin.
Abolitionism was a social reform movement, assuming its
most radical form in 1830 when members uncompromisingly
opposed slavery. They set the terms for the on-going debate
about slavery and made it a compelling moral issue. Few
people in the northern United States, were abolitionists
and many of those were regarded as dangerous fanatics. It
was not a cohesive movement, but instead consisted of many
local, state and national groups working generally for the
Abolitionists active in the 1800s set the ground work and
established the ideas used by slavery opponents in the
1900s. Their sentiments had emerged from the early
opposition to slavery in the 1750s by the Society of
Friends, or Quakers. The underground railroad was an
important example of direct action against slavery by
abolitionists in the 1800s.
Dodge arrived in Lake County in 1843. He was 61 and an
Born in Salem, Mass., Dodge attended school in the East and
started his ministerial career there. He was described as
"a man of great rectitude and sturdiness of character" in a
1912 Lake County history written by John J. Halsey. "His
influence did much to give Millburn its ancient reputation
for 'plain living and high thinking,"' wrote Halsey.
Historian D. A. Williams, in the same history of the
county, described Dodge as "loved and respected by all who
Meltzer said the reputation of Dodge is closely tied to his
abolitionist views and activities, but he also was a man of
action in other areas. "He had a strong interest in
education," Meltzer said. "He took an interest in creation
of the public school system in the area."
For example, in the middle 1800s, people feared fire.
"People could be just devastated by fire," Meltzer said.
Because of those concerns, Dodge worked to create the
oldest mutual fire insurance company in Illinois.
Dodge also had a reputation for being a skilled mediator.
In September of 1845, barely after he arrived in the
county, Dodge helped organize a meeting of the County
Washington Temperance Society. Then, six months later, word
went forth from Antioch about a mass meeting Feb. 17 to
organize the Lake County Anti-Slavery Society. Dodge was
named President of The Liberty Association, formed out of
Dodge became Millburn Congregational Church's permanent
pastor in 1845. He insisted the congregation build a house
of worship; it was completed within two years. During his
16 years of service, his wisdom and character greatly
influenced the congregation.
Halsey wrote: "In his hospitable home many temperance
advocates and anti-slavery agents found a welcome. From
here started many an oppressed slave on the Underground
Railway for the land of freedom. It is not surprising to
find the church under his leadership giving no uncertain
sound against slavery, and pledging to abstain from
intoxicating liquors, and for many years standing opposed
to secret societies."
In Lake County, in 1844, the center of abolitionist
sentiment was in areas near Millburn, Antioch, and
Libertyville. In large part, it was Dodge who gave form and
action to those beliefs.
"The anti-slavery movement here in Lake County was quite
widespread," said Meltzer. Many people came to the county
from New England and brought their sentiments with them, he
On Dec. 2, 1859, members of the Millburn Congregational
Church gathered at a meeting called in response to the
death of John Brown, a white revolutionary abolitionist. At
the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Va., on Oct. 16,
Brown had led five black and 13 white people on a raid
intended to provoke a general insurrection by enslaved
people. Col. Robert E. Lee and U. S. Marines captured
Brown. He was convicted of treason and hanged Dec. 2.
In the records of the church of the meeting by the Millburn
Congregational Church are written commitments to the
Underground Railroad. "That's the only direct reference to
the Underground Railroad in our records," said Meltzer.
It is also one of few documented records anywhere of a
reference to the railroad. "It was very unusual for people
to put down something (in writing) on the Underground
Railroad because it was very risky," Meltzer said. "It is
one of those rare instances of documentation."
As a way-station, the church and buildings and places in
the area were intended to help people flee to safety.
Written records about locations could create trouble for
the abolitionists, and yet one man, the Rev. Dodge, took
the chance of recording one of Lake County's radical
contributions to race relations history.