Ozem Gardner was a conductor on the Underground Railroad in Franklin County, Ohio.
Gardner came to Franklin County from Ostego County, New York in 1817. He first worked as a brick mason, helping to construct many of the early buildings in Columbus, Ohio and Worthington, Ohio. Gardner eventually accumulated enough wealth to purchase sixty-five acres of land in Sharon Township, in Franklin County. Gardner continued to work as a brick mason, as well as farmed his land. Gardner continued to live on this land until his death in 1880.
Besides his brick work, Gardner was also active in the anti-slavery movement. He was a member of the Worthington Anti-slavery Society and also opened his home to fugitive slaves seeking freedom on the Underground Railroad. Purportedly more than two hundred runaway slaves found safety under Gardner's care. Gardner housed the slaves in a small dugout enclosure in the bank of the creek that flowed through his property or in his actual home. The infant child of one of his wards supposedly died and was buried in the basement of Gardner's home.
Gardner 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 Gardner.
- Siebert, Wibur H. The Underground Railroad: From Slavery to Freedom. New York: Russell & Russell, 1898.