Captain Thomas McGee House, 1955. Image courtesy of Sandusky Library Archives Research Center

Captain Thomas McGee House

Sandusky was as important as the ports of Toledo, Ashtabula, and Cleveland for Underground Railroad travel.

Captain Thomas McGee, who lived in the house on your right, was a master of several sloops and schooners on Lake Erie. Captains like McGee were instrumental in helping fugitives from slavery escape to the Canadian side of Lake Erie by boarding sailing ships on the Sandusky docks.

Being the captain of a ship carrying fugitives put the captain at risk. According to notes of an Episcopal priest, a ship captain told the story of facing that risk. “Captain George Sweigles at age of 84 told the Rev. H. L. McClellan how Rush Sloane employed him with his two-mast sailboat at times to convey escaped Negroes to Canada. He explained the following:

The Mad River Railroad had brought a number of fugitives from around Xenia and Cincinnati, and the Captain was informed by Sloane to go into Mills Creek for his load… Along came a train of cars on the Mad River [railroad] line. It slowed down and dumped several hogsheads (large casks of 100-or-more gallons capacity) into high weeds beside the tracks. Out crawled some Negro fugitives….Captain Sweigles loaded the fugitives on his sailboat… Along came the Island Queen with Captain Orr on board and a number of slave owners armed to the teeth, with heavy revolvers showing in their belts…. Captain Orr hailed the sailboat, ‘What are you men doing out so early?’ Captain Sweigles remained calm. ‘Fishing,’ he said… Orr then asked… ‘Seen anybody or any boats around?’ Answer: ‘Nope. Not today.’ But the Island Queen moved on to scout some more for the missing salves… Captain Sweigles continued fishing, but as soon as it was safe, he made for the Kelleys Island reefs on his way to later land his human freight at Pelee…”