John Van Zandt

Underground Railroad Conductor

A slaveholder who freed his enslaved people, moved to Cincinnati, and became a prominent conductor on the Underground Railroad.

John Van Zandt (1791-1847) was a Kentucky slaveholder who eventually realized his wrongs and freed his slaves. Afterward, he began working as an Underground Railroad Conductor until he was caught in 1842 and subsequently jailed, where he died in 1847.

Connection to Harriett Beecher Stowe
When Harriet Beecher Stowe discovered that her hired kitchen worker was, in reality, a fugitive, she directed her husband and brother to transport the young woman to Van Zandt’s home -- a 12-mile journey from Walnut Hills to Evendale. For his abolition work, Stowe immortalized Van Zandt as the character "Von Trompe" in her famous novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Capture , Case, and Legacy
Van Zandt was apprehended in 1842 when two bounty hunters caught him transporting fugitives in his wagon. The slaveholder (a Kentuckian named Wharton Jones) sued Van Zandt; a case which ultimately reached the Supreme Court in Jones v. Van Zandt. Defended by fellow abolitionist Salmon P. Chase, Van Zandt lost the case due to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, which guaranteed slaveholders the "right to recover their human property". Unfortunately, Van Zandt would not live to see the end of the case. Due to the hefty fines that were imposed on him by previous courts, he died while still in prison in 1847.

Originally buried in Glendale, Van Zandt's remains were eventually moved to Wesleyan Cemetery in Northside, where his tombstone reads "Van Sandt." Wesleyan Cemetery was the first racially integrated cemetery in Hamilton County. 

Preserving History & Sharing Stories
For more on local abolitionism and Van Zandt's legacy aiding in the escape of runaway slaves...

A joint venture by the communities of Glendale, Evendale and Woodlawn, erected a historical marker honoring Van Zandt, located at the intersection of Oak and Chester in Glendale.

In the Urban Roots podcast's "Cincinnati History is Black History" episode on AppleSpotify, or YouTube Kathy Dahl (Hamilton Avenue Road to Freedom) dives deep to tell stories of African American history at Wesleyan Cemetery! **In 2021, the Urban Roots podcast (by Urbanist Media) received an Education Award by the Cincinnati Preservation Association.


Portrait of John Van Zandt
Portrait of John Van Zandt Source: courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe House
tombstone of John Van Zandt ("John Van Sandt")
tombstone of John Van Zandt ("John Van Sandt") Source: Hamilton Avenue Road to Freedom Creator: Kathy Dahl Date: 2014


4003 Colerain Ave. (Wesleyan Cemetery entrance)


Christina Hartleib (Managing Editor), “John Van Zandt,” Cincinnati Sites and Stories, accessed June 15, 2024,