Wheaton College, founded by Wesleyan Methodist abolitionists, was long rumored to be a stop on the Underground Railroad, though precise documentation was lacking. At last the rumor was verified in 2009 by historian Dr. David Maas while reading a regimental history noting that freed slaves were, indeed, aided and assisted on the college campus by friends before quietly moving on to the next station. The following entry from Ada Douglas Harmon’s The Story of an Old Town, Glen Ellyn (1928), a history of Glen Ellyn, adds a few intriguing details:
1853: Illinois Institute (Wheaton College) founded, first president, Prof. Lucius Matlack. It was one of the underground railway stations for runaway slaves, as well as the old Barnard or Filer home. Also Israel P. Blodgett’s home in Downer’s Grove. Mr. Blodgett would often conceal as many as eleven slaves in his attic, feed and clothe them and send on to the next station, the Illinois Institute. Here they were again hidden in an attic by President Matlack, till it was safe to send them on, perhaps to the Filer house on Crescent, where they were hidden in the barn. From there the slaves were taken to Chicago, one of the stations being the old Tremont House, and from there to Canada and safety. The slaves were transported in farm wagons loaded with produce under which they were concealed. All those local links with the past give a reality to the thrills Uncle Tom’s Cabin used to send quivering through one’s system.
Clarification: John Cross was likely the first president of the Illinois Institute, rather than Lucius Matlack.