Caroline Quarlls is the name that Professor Larry McClellan wants every child, especially those in the Midwestern region of the United States, to know as well as that of easterner Harriet Tubman. “We know so much about her that we must tell her story,” he says.
She was born in 1826 in St. Louis, Missouri USA, in the American heartland. In the early 1800s, blue-eyed, enslaved Caroline often played in the house with her “pure” White and free cousins. Her great grandmother was Native American. “Caroline came into the hands of this aunt on the death of her father,” wrote Underground Railroad conductor Lymon Goodnow in “Caroline Quarlls 1842 Journey on The Underground Railroad” (circa 1880). This aunt was also her mistress, Mrs. Hall.
“Whatever may be said against the Quakers by those who do not like them, I must say I never saw or heard of one who was not an Anti-slaveryite. The same may be said of the Germans, except of some of them who had become Yankeefied.”
The duplexities in her life must have been challenging. On July 4, 1842, the then 16-year-old had enough of those duplexities and her second-class status and decided to escape slavery.
“She was so White that she went openly by steamboat to Alton, Illinois mingling freely and unsuspectedly with some White girls who were on their way to an academy or school of some kind in Alton,” John Nelson Davidson noted (circa 1897) in “Negro Slavery in Wisconsin and the Underground Railroad.” Just as contemporary African Americans often “detect some Black” in various persons, a Black man in 1842 used similar instincts. “There she met a Colored man who suspected her to be a fugitive and told her Alton was not safe and led her to a stagecoach headed for Milwaukee,” Davidson continued.
While in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Titball, a Negro barber, sheltered her, then betrayed her.
While in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Titball, a Negro barber, sheltered her, then betrayed her. Quarlls would later tell this story to Goodnow, who would even later confront the barber about his actions.
She met Goodnow in Wisconsin and became the first to travel with him on Wisconsin’s developing Underground Railroad. They journeyed by horse and carriage. “Whatever may be said against the Quakers by those who do not like them, I must say I never saw or heard of one who was not an Anti-slaveryite. The same may be said of the Germans, except of some of them who had become Yankeefied,” wrote Goodnow.
Though her bounty was soon raised to $300 (about $11,000 in 2022 dollars), she and Goodnow managed to stay ahead of the bounty hunters.