Michigan cemetery added to the Underground Railroad system


BIRMINGHAM, Mich. (WOOD) – To mark the 200th birthday of legendary freedom fighter Harriet Tubman, the National Park Service has added 16 more slots at the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, including one in Michigan.

Eleven states are represented at the 16 new sites, including three sites in Maryland and two in Louisiana. In Metro Detroit, the Birmingham Museum has requested that Greenwood Cemetery be recognized within the federal network.

“Like Harriet Tubman, the freedom seekers and allies highlighted in each Network to Freedom list remind us of what can be achieved when people take action against injustice,” said Diane Miller, who leads the National Underground Railway Network to Freedom. “Each listing contains a unique piece of Underground Railroad history, and we look forward to working with members to amplify the power of these locations.”

Elijah Fish’s weathered headstone at Greenwood Cemetery in Birmingham, Michigan. (Courtesy of Birmingham Museum)


Greenwood Cemetery is home to both George Taylor and Elijah Fish. The town museum is responsible for most of the known history of the two men, who are buried in the same cemetery but came there with very different stories.

Fish was a white man and a well-known abolitionist. According to the birmingham museum, Fish was born in 1791 in Massachusetts, but by 1820 he had traveled to Michigan to settle and raise a family. He founded the city’s first Presbyterian church in his barn and became active in the anti-slavery movement. In 1836, a newspaper called the Pontiac Courier reported that Fish founded the Oakland County Anti-Slavery Society and served as its president.

Fish died just weeks after his 70th birthday in 1861. He died before his dream came true, but his family knew his sacrifices would pay off, marking his headstone with: “A useful life and a peaceful death is the quintessence of its history. ”


It’s unknown if Fish and Taylor have ever crossed paths, but their stories do overlap for a short time.

Taylor was born into slavery in 1821 in Kentucky. According to an article published in the Detroit Journal, Taylor’s brother bought him a ferry ticket to cross the Ohio River into Indiana, where he set off on foot, traveling for several weeks at night in an attempt to get to Canada.

In Indiana, Taylor was caught twice. He once escaped his captors. The second time he was brought before a judge, who happened to be an abolitionist, and ordered his release.

An obituary of George Taylor was published in the Birmingham Eccentric in 1901. (Courtesy of Birmingham Museum)

Taylor eventually made it to Niles, Michigan, a popular stop on the underground railway. After weeks on the run, he was finally able to catch his breath before heading east to Canada, which had banned slavery in 1833.

After a year in Canada, Taylor returned to Michigan, eventually meeting the woman he was to marry: Elizabeth Desier. She was born into slavery in Tennessee and was emancipated when the 13th Amendment was ratified after the Civil War. She traveled to Royal Oak, Michigan, where she was reunited with her mother, whom she had not seen for over two decades.

After spending years in Kansas, the Taylors moved back to Michigan, becoming the first African Americans to own property and pay taxes in Birmingham. The Taylors died months apart in 1901 and 1902 and were buried in Greenwood Cemetery in an unmarked grave.

After researching their stories, the Birmingham Museum raised thousands of dollars for a suitable headstone to honor the Taylors. The museum hopes to hold a public ceremony for the headstone later this spring.

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