Ohioan Richard Willingham was a conductor on the Underground Railroad.
Willingham was born on June 18, 1823, in Morrow County, Ohio. He was a member of the Society of Friends. He strongly opposed slavery and actively assisted fugitive slaves along the Underground Railroad. Dillingham earned a living as a school teacher.
In late 1848, several African Americans contacted Dillingham, seeking help in freeing family members still held as slaves in Nashville, Tennessee. Dillingham agreed to help these African Americans and proceeded to Nashville. Authorities arrested Dillingham and charged him with "Negro stealing." Although associates tried to secure Dillingham's release, including raising money for his bond, Dillingham refused to accept their assistance, remaining in jail until his trial, which occurred on April 12, 1849. Found guilty, Dillingham was sentenced to three years in the Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville, Tennessee. He died in prison, on June 30, 1850, from cholera. Fellow abolitionists Harriet Beecher Stowe and Levi Coffin proclaimed Dillingham a martyr of the anti-slavery cause.
Dillingham represents the growing tensions over slavery between Northerners and Southerners during the early nineteenth century. While many Northern states had provisions outlawing slavery, runaway slaves did not necessarily gain their freedom upon arriving in a free state. Federal law permitted slaveowners to reclaim their runaway slaves. Some slaves managed to escape their owners on their own, while others sometimes received assistance from sympathetic Northerners, such as Dillingham.
- Benedict, A.L. Memoir of Richard Dillingham. Philadelphia, PA: Merrihew & Thompson, Printers, 1852.
- Howe, Henry. Historical Collections of Ohio in Two Volumes. Vol. II. Cincinnati, OH: C.J. Krehbiel & Co., Printers and Binders, 1902.