DELAVAN, Ill. (WMBD) — Community leaders honored five Underground Railroad Conductors at Delavan’s Prairie Rest Cemetery, Monday, Sept. 6, recognizing their brave efforts in helping lead slaves to freedom during the 1800s.
The abolitionists — William and Rachel Brown, father and son Daniel and Daniel Cheever, and George Tefft — were part of a 200-person group that helped 800 enslaved people travel through Tazewell’s Underground Railroad.
Their heroic deeds are memorialized with a metal marker placed in the ground next to each grave, indicating their role as a conductor. These will be permanent, historical fixtures.
Tazewell County Clerk John Ackerman said he hopes the markers continue to help tell the history of the Underground Railroad in Tazewell throughout generations.
“Ten, 20, 30 years from now, individuals will still be able to come to this cemetery, see that marker, find the research that we’ve done and the heroic deeds these individuals have performed,” Ackerman said.
Ackerman said Delavan was vital to the Underground Railroad in Central Illinois and said it was one of the only places that slaves could safely cross the Mackinaw River at that time.
“What we know today as Springfield Road, was the main wagon trail, one of the first major north-south routes through the state of Illinois,” Ackerman said. “William Brown held that, a quaker family held that crossing, so it was friendly to slaves, keeping it a secret.”
The event is the fourth Underground Railroad Conductor recognition out of five across Tazewell County in the past year. Along with Ackerman and the Tazewell County Genealogical and Historical Society, the event was sponsored by Peoria’s N.A.A.C.P. Branch and Delevan Community Historical Society.
Ackerman said the next event will be in April at Five Points in Washington.
To learn more, visit the Tazewell County Genealogical and Historical Society website.