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a book about Harrisburg...

by George F. Nagle

 

Table of Contents

Study Areas:

Slavery

Anti-Slavery

Free Persons of Color

Underground Railroad

The Violent Decade

US Colored Troops

Civil War

 

Chapter Seven
Rebellion

Men of God

Wesley Harris was saved from a return to bondage by servants at an inn. These workers were under no obligation to help him, and they risked everything by arranging his escape. The story of his flight follows him to Gettysburg and then on to Philadelphia and freedom, but it is silent on the fate of those servants whose role in the operation must have been evident to the local authorities. It is not known if they suffered any retribution or punishment because of helping him. If they were connected to his escape, a harsh punishment would not have been looked upon as unusual or cruel by local authorities. In 1843, as noted above, Archibald Smith led a group of fugitive slaves out of Maryland into southern Adams County, only to be tracked down and surrounded in a barn outside of Harrisburg. Smith was returned to Maryland in irons, tried, found guilty and sent to prison for five years.

An even more horrendous fate met a husband and wife team in northern Maryland, in 1860, on the eve of the Civil War. Thomas and Harriett Pinkney lived in an African American neighborhood in Frederick, Maryland, about twenty-five miles south of the Pennsylvania border. They were free African American residents of Maryland, both born in an age when slavery was the norm for blacks in that state. Neither of them were young, idealistic activists. She was fifty years old and he was forty-eight, and he was also a laborer, earning his wages by performing the harshest, most backbreaking work for the least amount of money. But they were also involved, at some point, in helping a fugitive slave escape from bondage.

Details are sketchy, but in 1860, Thomas Pinkney and his wife were charged in Frederick County Court with "assisting a slave to run away.” They were tried and found guilty in late October, and a motion for a new trial failed in late November. Thomas seemed to carry most of the guilt in the case, as he was convicted of “assisting runaways.” When Thomas Pinkney's guilt was not overturned in a new trial, the judge sentenced him to be sold as a slave.

The sale was apparently carried out by the County Sheriff on 7 December 1860. Harriett’s freedom, unlike her husband’s, was not taken away, but her marriage was effectively ended and her life irrevocably ruined. No longer able to live independently, Harriett was forced to take work as a servant in the home of a local white family. Her change of status and loss of independence effectively reduced her to bondage as well. Thomas’ whereabouts after his sale into slavery remain undiscovered; he simply disappeared from local records.92

These and many other African American Underground Railroad operatives risked their freedom, some almost daily, so that others could escape the inhumane system of chattel labor. Many, as seen from the examples above, paid a heavy price when that risk failed. Although Archibald Smith’s actions may have been somewhat motivated by personal gain, the actions of the unnamed servants who freed Wesley Harris, and the actions of Thomas and Harriett Pinkney appear to be motivated by a basic need to take action against injustice. The action they chose was an extreme act of disobedience, one that was looked upon by the local authorities and their white neighbors as traitorous, dangerous, and destabilizing to their communities.

Yet this same spirit of humanitarianism that drove them to break the law, to commit felonies, to put their property, freedom, and even their lives on the line for strangers, was largely inspired by the Sunday sermons preached at their local churches, and by the jubilant exhortations of summer camp meeting ministers. These were not acts born of hatred, or militancy, or even rebelliousness (although they were acts of profound rebellion), but rather of love and duty. As a result, many African Americans living in communities through which fugitive slaves passed could no more turn away these distressed wayfarers than they could shut the door to their own brother.

It was this concern for a fellow traveler that led to the creation of African American churches in Pennsylvania. Both the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, headed by Reverend William Allen, and the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, headed by Reverend Absalom Jones, grew out of the Free African Society of Philadelphia, which had been created by those two men as a way for African Americans in that city to care for each other in time of need, rather than having to depend upon the charity of whites. The black churches carried forth this integral message of mutual aid and brotherly love, and their congregants, regardless of their degree of removal from bondage, could not escape the obvious conclusion that resistance to slavery was not just an avocation, it was a duty.

In Harrisburg, the African American churches eagerly took up the anti-slavery banner. As in Philadelphia, they were preceded by beneficial societies and organizations, the earliest documented effort being the African Methodist Episcopal Society, begun in 1817 and discussed earlier, from which the first African American school and the first African American church in Harrisburg were founded. The first leaders of that church, Reverend David Stevens, Reverend Jacob D. Richardson, and Deacon Edward Bennett, were also anti-slavery leaders, but each went well beyond political activism to oppose the hated institution.

Edward Bennett, the successful chimney sweep and community leader in the neighborhood of Judy’s Town, was also an Underground Railroad captain, regularly arranging for the safekeeping and forwarding of incoming fugitives. Although specific details of his work in the network have never been documented, his broader role as a network leader and organizer have been cited by local persons who were personally acquainted with him.93

Ministers Jacob D. Richardson and David Stevens were both quite vocal and public in their denunciation of slavery, and allowed use of the church for anti-slavery meetings and events. In 1841, they joined with several other African American Wesleyan church leaders to launch a newspaper, Zion’s Wesleyan Connection, which stumped for subscribers in the pages of William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator.

Garrison noted, “In the columns of the Wesleyan, the cause of Emancipation, Temperance and Education will be heartily espoused.”94 Although the newspaper did not attract enough subscribers to get off the ground, Stevens and Richardson continued their anti-slavery activities in connection with the church.

It was under the ministry of Jacob Richardson that Harrisburg’s African American citizens met in his church, then only two years old, to create a response to the growth of colonization sentiment in Harrisburg. Richardson himself chaired the meeting and signed his name to the resulting resolutions, which began “That we hold these truths to be self-evident, (and it is the boasted declaration of our independence,) that all men (black and white, poor and rich) are born free and equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This is the language of America, of reason, and of eternal truth.”

 

Jarena Lee:
" Your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions."

There was a distinct history of such sentiment among the black circuit preachers who visited Harrisburg. The anti-slavery message of Harrisburg’s African American churchmen, conveyed weekly to their flocks, was being preached to black Harrisburg congregations even before the official establishment of their own churches. Though African American citizens could attend church services in certain local mainstream churches, they would be hard pressed to hear an anti-slavery sermon, or detect biblical references to equality of the races, from established white preachers. In fact, the mantra of colonization was heavily favored by almost all of Harrisburg’s white ministers, who regularly endorsed the African emigration schemes to their congregations, a stance that Richardson found reprehensible. Instead, Harrisburg African Americans had to attend special events arranged just for them, often in outdoor venues, or sometimes in established church buildings after the white congregation had cleared out.

Jarena Lee, the first female African Methodist Episcopal preacher and an itinerant minister, preached at a Methodist Episcopal house of worship in Harrisburg on New Years Day in 1826, five years before the founding of Wesley Union A.M.E. She stayed with a Mr. Williams, and preached to African American audiences at sites in the borough for several days before continuing on to Carlisle. Lee paid several more trips to Harrisburg over the next few years. Her sermons frequently included anti-slavery messages. This passage from her autobiography, though written some time after her Harrisburg visits, shows some of the passion that infused her appearances:

The Scriptures are fulfilled as spoken of by the Prophet Joel, Chap. 27th, 2nd verse. "Ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord, your God, and none else, and my people shall never be ashamed. And it shall come to pass afterwards, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall Prophecy. Your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions." In 1831, a young man who professed to be righteous, says he saw in the sky men, marching like armies, whether it was with the naked eye, or a Vision by the eye of Faith, I cannot tell. But the wickedness of the people certainly calls for the lowering Judgments of God to be let loose upon the Nation and Slavery, that wretched system that eminated [sic] from the bottomless pit, is one of the greatest curses to any Nation.95

Jarena Lee interpreted biblical verses on ancient slavery as being pertinent to modern American slavery, and she linked the evil inherent in such slavery to American society. This was a twist on the nod given by many white preachers to the idea that slavery was a trial through which slaves must pass to achieve entrance into Heaven. That view was particularly common in areas where slavery was tolerated or condoned, places such as Harrisburg. Those preachers had always highlighted biblical passages that trumpeted the obedience of slaves as a virtue.

Lee, quite contrarily, preached about visions of armies marching in retribution for the wickedness of a people who allowed slavery to exist in their country. One can imagine the effect such emotional imagery had on the black citizenry of Harrisburg, who eagerly listened to this fiery female preacher link the slaves of the Old Testament with the slaves of America, uplifting each with the verse that told them “my people shall never be ashamed.” After enduring decades of total dependence on whites, and witnessing their brethren run down in the streets like animals, tied, beaten, and hauled back to slavery, they were starved for the empowerment offered in her message.

Implicit in Jarena Lee’s sermons was a signal: the time had arrived for Harrisburg’s old men to dream dreams, and her young men to see visions. That call to action, those dreams and visions, were embodied in Harrisburg’s early black churches, and found a voice with its black ministers.

Dreams and visions, however, were not enough. Nor was it expected they would be. The reality of regular raids by arrogant slave catchers moved the African American people of Harrisburg to action, all the while keeping their dreams and visions intact. That action took the form of organized help for fugitive slaves. Such help had been given freely and without obligation for generations before Jarena Lee preached here, but it took on renewed vigor and urgency not long after, with the founding of Wesley Union A.M.E. Church in Judy’s Town. Harrisburg’s African American community now had a place that belonged to them, a spiritual center, and a rallying spot.

The wooden church building standing on the corner of Third and Mulberry streets was a daily visual reminder not only of the Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity—virtues which were also the underlying philosophies behind the Underground Railroad movement—but it was also the physical embodiment of the community’s dreams, and their visions. From out of those simple pews came women and men, “marching like armies,” in defense of their brethren, “let loose upon the Nation and Slavery.” It would take organization and planning to make effective use of this force for change, and that was the role taken up by the church.

As noted, Deacon Edward Bennett, the “athletic and stately” King Bennett, as he was known by the town’s white residents, took on much of this responsibility. The nickname, however, was a misnomer, and probably was bestowed upon Bennett by Harrisburg whites in a condescending nod toward the old and outmoded holiday known in the Middle Atlantic States as Pinkster Day. This festival day, popular in New York and New Jersey, but also celebrated in eighteenth century Philadelphia, allowed slaves and free blacks to enact a role reversal, during which time they took on the personas of upper class citizens, complete with costumes representing fine clothing and high social status. At the end of the day, a king or governor was elected, who was empowered to mediate disputes and dictate rules or laws to the local black community. The person elected was usually a locally respected or revered person, so being elected to this post was an honor and a tribute to his or her status in the community; however, the elected “king” had no influence or power outside of that community.

Pinkster Day, with its mock finery and elections, was regarded by local whites with considerable amusement as a harmless and temporary escape for African Americans from the realities of enslavement and of being relegated to the lowest levels of society.96 Though it had not been celebrated in Pennsylvania for many generations, Harrisburg whites still seemed to view African American community leader Edward Bennett’s status in a similar light.

In reality, Edward Bennett earned his status and influence in the black community from his work in the church and his role as a successful businessman, and not from an eighteenth century fantasy ritual of status-reversal. Bennett’s success at directing Underground Railroad activities was grounded in solid people-management skills, organization, and foresight—the same talents that made him a good church officer and entrepreneur.

When fugitive slaves arrived or were guided into Harrisburg during the early days of the Underground Railroad network, possibly as early as the 1820s, Edward Bennett was one of the principal persons contacted to make a decision regarding their care. Bennett’s neighborhood of Judy’s Town was probably the first area in Harrisburg to be a regular Underground Railroad stop.

It had the advantage of having numerous African American households, which allowed freedom seekers to blend in with the local residents easily. Because it had developed on the southern edge of the borough, it was therefore more remote than the busier central community that had developed around the African American boarding houses along Strawberry Alley, north of Market Street. The relatively isolated nature of its location meant that the daily activities of its residents attracted less unwelcome scrutiny from neighboring whites.

Its residents were also supportive of local matriarch Judy Richards and her new son-in-law Edward Bennett. The hard-working African American chimney sweep, who was born about 1805, and his wife, Mary Ann, were already married and raising a family there before census takers found them living in Judy’s Town in 1830. The marriage had a galvanizing affect on the otherwise poor community. As the daughter of Judy Richards, for whom the neighborhood at Third and Mulberry was named at least a decade before, Mary Ann Richards brought her family connections to the marriage.

The young and ambitious Edward Bennett, for his part, established his reputation not only through his vocation, but also through his membership in the African Methodist Episcopal Society, and later through the Wesley Union A.M.E. Church. As a married couple, their combined youth, social connections, and community organizing skills made them logical choices as stationmasters and leaders of the local Underground Railroad network. Although Edward is the person mentioned as a “principal director” of the network in Harrisburg, there is little doubt that Mary Ann was equally involved and committed.

Their home was a station, used to conceal and shelter fugitives until they could be safely led further along the route, but it was not the only home in Judy’s Town so used. The Bennett family lived very near to George Galbraith and Reverend David Stevens, both high-ranking church officials. Reverend Stevens, in addition to being a circuit minister and leader of Wesley Union church at various times, was a strong anti-slavery activist who may have been involved in the planning and execution of schemes to hide freedom seekers. By the time that the new church was built in this neighborhood, in 1829, Judy’s Town was the center of Harrisburg’s fledgling Underground Railroad network.

Edward Bennett and his lieutenants saw to the intake, quartering, feeding, and disposition of the fugitive slaves that entered town. If pursuit was expected, the fugitives, after their basic needs were addressed, might be quickly sent to the next station in the care of several trusted guides, but if pursuit was not imminent and the fugitives felt reasonably safe, they might be sent two-and-a-half blocks north to find more permanent housing and perhaps a job with Zeke Carter, John Battis, or James McClintock.

Many refugees from southern plantations started new lives in Harrisburg, putting down roots that kept them in place for ten, twenty, even forty years or more. They could do this because the growing town was drawing in large numbers of African Americans from the Pennsylvania countryside—freeborn people who were attracted by the jobs, but perhaps were attracted more to the blossoming free black community in town, with its welcoming cultures, foods, social connections, potential marriage partners, and church.

So many new African American faces began appearing on the streets of Harrisburg that local whites passed ordnances restricting travel and even organized a band of ruffians under the guise of a “citizens’ patrol” to keep blacks cowed. The patrol, described by one historian as a “banditti or mob,” cleared the streets of “troublemakers” of all kinds in one riotous night, causing no little consternation on the part of local citizens who witnessed the excessively violent episode. Many blacks left town after being targeted by this mob. The extreme measures failed to stem the influx of immigrants, however, and the African American population of Harrisburg continued to increase at a significantly faster rate than the European American population. Freedom seekers found plenty of opportunities for work and housing, and easily blended in among the newly arrived country folk.

There were many other fugitive slaves who did not intend to make Harrisburg a permanent home. They stayed in town only for several weeks or months, long enough to rest, reflect on their options, and make future plans. For those who desired to travel further north, plans were made to conduct them further along the route.

The water route was popular, as many paths and roads followed along the shores of the Susquehanna as it flowed through the center of the state from New York. By following the waterway north to Muncy and Williamsport and taking advantage of the water gaps, freedom seekers could traverse much of the distance to the New York line and bypass much of the difficult mountain terrain. Active communities of Underground Railroad sympathizers also existed in those areas and stood ready to lend a hand.

After 1828, another waterway offered a northern escape from Harrisburg: the canal. The State Works canal system extended from south of Harrisburg northward, along the eastern edge of town, to the Juniata River, where a major branch ran west all the way to the Ohio River. Another branch ran parallel to the Susquehanna until it reached Sunbury where it split again, with the West Branch Canal following the West Branch of the Susquehanna to Williamsport and Bellefonte, and the North Branch Canal following the main body of the river up past Wilkes-Barre to New York.

Escape northward via the canal could be accomplished two ways. Fugitives could travel by land along the well-maintained and level towpath, or they could hitch a ride in the canal boat itself and travel with the crew. Walking the towpath involved the usual risks associated with traversing long distances by foot: hostile residents, dogs, and the exposure that could lead to capture.

The men who crewed the canal boats were a rough lot, and because they made a habit of helping themselves to produce growing in farmer’s fields along the right of way, and of capturing the random stray chicken, they were not at all popular with the people who lived along the towpath. Fugitives traveling north along the towpath aroused the same distrust in these folks, and even risked tangling with the crews of the canal boats if the boatmen were in a quarrelsome mood.

Travel along the towpath by foot was slow, but it was still quicker than actually riding in the canal boat, as some freedom seekers did. Early Harrisburg Underground Railroad stationmasters sometimes put escaped slaves on friendly northbound canal boats when available, thus allowing them to travel all the way to New York without having to stop at various stations and constantly change guides. The preferred craft was a freight barge—a long narrow flat boat pulled through the channels by a single horse or mule at an average speed of two miles per hour.

One story tells of two fugitives who were taken at night to the canal lock south of Harrisburg at Lochiel, an area that lies in modern-day Harrisburg below the Penn-DOT building, and were put on a northbound freight barge whose captain was friendly to the cause. Freight barges had only a three-man crew, so it was viewed as a relatively safe venture because few people were privy to the operation. They were hidden inside the cabin on the boat and told to keep out of sight until the boat had passed all the way through Harrisburg. Unfortunately, the slaves failed to remain hidden well enough and they were spotted on the boat’s deck by their pursuers as it passed under the bridge at Market Street. The slave catchers, who had been watching the canals as a possible escape route, stopped the freight barge and took the fugitives off.

The planning and intelligence that led to the use of this freight barge to transport fugitive slaves to freedom along the canal, and the fact that the slave catchers were watching the canal boats, indicates that it was not an unusual mode of escape.

Canal freight barges were the means of transport used by noted Williamsport lumberman Daniel Hughes to hide and move fugitive slaves from the south to his home in Loyalsock Township, Lycoming County. Hughes, whose ancestry was a mix of African American and Native American Mohawk, originally piloted rafts of rough-hewn logs down the Susquehanna River to Havre-de-Grace, Maryland, where the rafts were broken up and processed into lumber at the local sawmills.

Facing a long trip back to Lycoming County, a return journey that most raft men undertook on foot, Hughes was forced, because of his race, to find special accommodations for shelter and food. Because most inns would not have rented a room or fed a black man in the late 1820s and early 1830s, Hughes probably cultivated friendly connections at key stops on the road back, and Harrisburg was a notorious stop for river raft men. It was probably at this point that Hughes became familiar with the African American community in this town.

Once the West Branch Canal reached Williamsport and lumber sawmills began to operate in that area, Hughes apparently made the switch to canal boat captain, which gave him the means to help escaping slaves by hiding them in the cabin of his canal barge, on the return trip up the river. His barges would have passed through Harrisburg both ways, southbound with a cargo of lumber, and northbound with other freight, and the occasional fugitive slave concealed in the cabin. It is even possible that the captain of the canal boat in the story above was none other than Hughes himself.97

Freedom seekers that were to be moved by land could be sent by Harrisburg’s Underground Railroad stationmasters over a variety of routes. The earliest routes utilized probably made use of the roads and trails that, like the canal towpaths, generally followed the Susquehanna River north. It was a logical choice, with plenty of small villages and towns along the route, many of which had a few African American residents or families who would provide aid.

North of Harrisburg, in the area that is now Susquehanna Township, there were numerous free African American families, including several families at or near Fort Hunter, the estate of the McAllister family. Local lore says that an Underground Railroad station existed in that area, despite the fact that local sentiment was decidedly anti-abolitionist, as evidenced by the Hailman School House resolution mentioned earlier forbidding use of public facilities for the discussions of emancipation, which community leaders characterized as “wicked and dangerous.” Any Underground Railroad station operating in that area must have done so with great stealth.

Farther upriver, in the town of Dauphin, some abolitionist sentiment could be found among local residents, as American Anti-Slavery Society agent Jonathan Blanchard delivered successful lectures there before respectful audiences in November 1836. Mr. Blanchard also talked to receptive crowds of people in Halifax and Millersburg later that month.

The free African American community of Halifax, in particular, grew considerably between 1820 and 1830. Two families of six persons each, one headed by James Brown and the other by Magdalena Keller (or Kelly), were enumerated there in 1820. Ten years later the census takers recorded thirty-two African American residents in five independent households, an increase of 267 percent.

Free and independently living African American families could also be found in Jackson Township (two families, including Magdalena Kelly, and Pompey Moore, who lived alone), Millersburg (the Stephen Murray family), and Middle Paxton Township (three independent families and a number of free African Americans living with white landowners). Although it is not known which, if any, of these free African American residents or families actively aided runaway slaves, their presence in increasing numbers made the area potentially more hospitable for runaways. Regardless of their level of involvement, news items and local stories document the use of this route by fugitives.98

Another popular route out of Harrisburg was more rigorous and came into regular use not long after the river route was established. This route followed the old settler trails through the mountain gaps and along the ridges of the mountains to Wilkes-Barre.

Agents in Harrisburg guided or sent fugitives out of town following the turnpike road to the east, to farms in present day Paxtang and Swatara Township. Stationmasters at those locations in turn forwarded fugitives to a farm just outside of Linglestown, from which they were later guided or taken to Harpers Tavern. The stationmaster at Harpers Tavern arranged to have the freedom seekers sent to a station at Lickdale, on the Swatara Creek, from where they followed the creek through Blue Mountain at Swatara Gap, to arrive at Pine Grove. From Pine Grove, a guide took the fugitives along the southern side of Second Mountain to Pottsville, where a major Underground Railroad station was located.

The trek from Pine Grove to Pottsville where it traversed the mountainous terrain was rough and circuitous, making this route less desirable during very cold or wet weather. The next leg of the journey, from Pottsville to Wilkes-Barre, was equally arduous. Only fugitives who arrived in Harrisburg during the summer or fall months were sent this way. In later years an African American conductor in Harrisburg, Dr. William Jones, carried fugitives in his wagon from Harrisburg as far as Wilkes-Barre, helping to make the trip more bearable during wet and cold months.99

Although African American agents could be found in or near all these locations, the route from Harrisburg over the mountain to Wilkes-Barre was either originally developed around stations maintained by white agents, or more likely it began as a route favored by slaves escaping north along the ridges of the Appalachian range and evolved to take advantage of the farms of white sympathizers.

 

Harrisburg Operations

Chief among the white agents in the Harrisburg area was William Rutherford, at whose farm in Swatara Township the 1845 incident described earlier occurred. Rutherford family lore says that William “for fifty years sheltered and assisted every poor slave who knocked at his door.” If this statement is true, Rutherford, who died in 1850, was hiding fugitive slaves as a young newlywed farmer as early as 1801.

This behavior would not be out of character for a man who held the office of Director of the Poor, in 1816, and served several non-consecutive terms representing Dauphin County in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1810 through 1831. In addition to his strong sense of service to his fellow residents and to the disadvantaged, William Rutherford cultivated a talent for leadership during his periods of military service, where he held the rank of an officer, but he left the military, declining a colonel’s commission, to continue his life as a farmer in the Paxtang Valley. He would put to use all of those talents as an Underground Railroad stationmaster during his long and productive tenure at that post.

How he became connected in such an early year to the African American agents in Harrisburg is not known. It is possible, as mentioned earlier, that the route over the mountains was established first by African American fugitive slaves as early as the eighteenth century. The area around Pottsville had been attracting fugitive slaves since the late 1700s, in an area of West Brunswick Township known as Long Swamp. True to its name, it “provided, in its environments, a marshy fastness that few whites cared to penetrate.” Fugitive slaves “felt secure” there, and established small outposts, many of them staying on for many years and attracting others.100

It is possible that this little-known maroon community was the reason fugitive slaves from Harrisburg originally undertook the rigorous mountain route, which set out eastward from Harrisburg, passing through the Paxtang Valley and the Rutherford homestead. As one of the few houses in that area, lying a little more than five miles from town, it was a likely stopping point for those in need of water or rest. William Rutherford’s willingness to supply aid and comfort soon became known, and it was not long before the Rutherford farm became the first regular stop on what was to be a principal Underground Railroad route.

One advantage to using the Rutherford farm was the ease with which fugitive slaves could be directed to it. The farm entrance, a small lane connecting with the turnpike road, was well marked by the presence, according to the family, of “a large locust tree; the peculiarity of which was its being the only tree of any kind that grew in the road between Harrisburg and Hummelstown. It therefore served as an unmistakable guide post to Mr. Rutherford’s house.”

Upon reaching the locust tree, fugitive slaves were instructed to turn left into the lane and follow it for a quarter mile, until it led up a hill to the farm. There they would find the shelter and food that they sought, and the chance to rest for several days or more, if needed. This last option was particularly valuable for slaves who had been closely pursued prior to reaching Harrisburg, and were worn out from the journey.

Rutherford’s farm was seldom visited by slave catchers, the earlier related story being a notable exception, and was considered a reliably safe haven. During the first few decades, slave catchers “seldom ventured this far down the valley,” according to family historians, making it safe for fugitives to stop longer than just overnight. Providing for these unexpected visitors, who often arrived with no supplies and usually in great need of care, was a considerable undertaking. William Rutherford relied initially on his wife, Sarah Swan, and then on his children, as his family grew. Also available were numerous brothers, nephews, and nieces, most of who lived in the area. Within a few decades, the farms of his sons Abner and John, and nephew Samuel, were available to lend aid. Together, the farms of the Rutherford family effectively covered the entire valley, providing help to fugitive slaves from Paxtang to Shank’s Hill.

Another son, William Wilson Rutherford, lived in Harrisburg, where he had a successful medical practice. As one of Harrisburg’s active white abolitionists, Dr. William W. Rutherford was instrumental in making arrangements for fugitive slaves to be sent eastward out of the borough to the farms of his kin. Before he became established in town in the 1830s, however, that decision was probably made by the leading African American agents—persons with local authority, such as Edward Bennett.

Bennett would have chosen the route, either directly along the river northward toward Williamsport, or cutting across the mountains to Pottsville and Wilkes-Barre. Although conductors would later be used to guide the fugitives along to the next stop, there is little evidence that they were used in the early decades, before the 1830s. Both the river route and the first leg of the mountain route were straightforward enough that freedom seekers could be sent on their own with simple directions to their next stop. Northward to Susquehanna Township or Fort Hunter required only keeping the river to their left.

Presumably, there were telltale geographical signs, warning that they were approaching a friendly house or settlement, for which they were to keep watch. For example, travelers heading eastward from the borough simply needed to follow the rough turnpike road straight through the countryside, until they encountered the distinctive locust tree that marked the Rutherford homestead.

Despite having directions and an unmistakable landmark, fugitive slaves who followed the road east from Harrisburg did not have an easy journey. Because of the need for stealth, the trip began after nightfall, so a pair of fugitive slaves leaving Harrisburg for the Rutherford farms set out east along Market Street in absolute darkness.

 

Leaving Harrisburg

Prior to 1812, they would have had only the moonlight or starlight as illumination. In 1812, the borough council authorized the installation of street lamps on the main thoroughfares of the town. However, these lamps, which were fueled by whale oil, were at first used only during the months when the State Legislature was in session and the town’s hotels were filled with visiting legislators who were unfamiliar, particularly at night, with the town’s uneven streets.

The borough also hired four night watchmen to light the lamps and patrol the streets, beginning at ten o’clock, but again, these men worked only during the few months that the legislators were in town. Fugitives who were making their way east out of town would have had to avoid the night watchmen, which was easier than might be expected as the watchmen cried out the time and local conditions from the corner at every hour. Fugitives had only to listen on the hour for the location of the watchmen, who, instead of patrolling the dark streets, had a propensity to retreat to their “little round house by the curbstone to snooze until the great bell on the old Capitol dome sounded the next hour.”

Moving east along Market Street, the fugitives would have passed the thin line of houses and lots that dotted the street up to Third Street. At Third Street, the thoroughfare sloped noticeably toward the low and often marshy ground that surrounded Paxton Creek. Here, the houses along the street were small, scattered, surrounded by animal pens and vegetable gardens, and were occupied by the poorer residents of Harrisburg, including many African Americans. One-half block north of this area was the African American neighborhood that developed along the eastern half of Strawberry Alley. It was out of that neighborhood that Zeke Carter would build his boarding houses at Fourth and Market Streets.

The entire nature of this area changed drastically by 1826, when construction began on the canal lock at the end of Walnut Street. The Eastern Division of the Pennsylvania Canal was laid out from Middletown, where it connected with the Union Canal. It then ran north along the east bank of the Susquehanna River through Harrisburg to the Juniata River. The canal ran roughly parallel with the edge of the borough of Harrisburg, following the swampy lowland to the east. In order to raise the water level enough to permit navigation through this area, a canal lock and considerable fill were required, which changed the look of the land considerably. After the middle 1820s, fugitive slaves traveling east on Market would notice a more gradual and level descent from Third toward the newly constructed canal.101

Even after the canal was completed, and for years later after the railroad lines were laid next to the canal, marking the establishment of an industrial corridor on Harrisburg’s eastern border, Market Street effectively ended at the canal. The last cross street before the canal was a small farm road called Meadow Lane, which cut diagonally across the east-west thoroughfares of the borough, and was a boundary of sorts between the developed town lots to the north and west and the meadowlands to the south and east.

Meadow Lane was distinctive for its border of post and rail and pine board fences, which kept the pastured livestock out of borough streets. The railroad tracks were eventually laid parallel to Meadow Lane, which became Canal Street north of Walnut. Market Street gently descended to Meadow Lane, where it turned to the northeast to cross the canal at a right angle on a high wooden bridge. This bridge marked the exit from Harrisburg for travelers bound for the turnpike road.

A fugitive slave leaving Harrisburg and crossing this bridge, having a temporary vantage point, would be able to “ ‘view the landscape o’er’ down to the Paxton Creek, and out into the dark recesses of Allison’s hollow, where the bone boilers of the day pursued their odiferous calling.” Visible in the canal would be a number of merchant barges and passenger packet boats, tied up at the wharves for the night. To the north, on the town (western) side of the canal, were a few wooden structures, built by local merchants to cater to the canal traffic. To the south of the bridge, on the western bank of the canal, were lumberyards and other areas where freight was deposited. Beyond this and to the east, on both sides of the bridge, were meadows and fields, which extended to the south all the way to Paxton Street. At one time, the meadows were also home to large Pennsylvania German bank barns, which were removed with the construction of the canal and the leveling of the land.

The fugitive slaves, turning east to continue their journey, faced the bluffs of Allison’s Hill, the massive landform that hindered the development of Harrisburg eastward beyond this point. So imposing were these hills that old time Harrisburg residents referred to them as “mountains.” The turnpike road out of Harrisburg climbed these hills in a sharp ascent that, despite deep cuts through the rock, had been only slightly altered by the planning of engineers and the sweat of road crews.

 

Following The Turnpike Out of Town

During the day, all travelers walking on the turnpike would have had to move off to the side or step out of the road for the passage of the massive Conestoga wagons, pulled by six stalwart Conestoga horses, each with a loop of bells attached to his head. The Conestoga wagon, which was in heavy use during the period of Underground Railroad activity on the roads to and from Harrisburg, would have been a familiar sight to all fugitive slaves who traveled the interior roads of Pennsylvania. It stood out because of its size and unique shape: it was four feet wide and deep and sixteen feet long, mounted on three-and-a-half foot front wheels and four-and-a-half foot rear wheels. It sloped up at each end with a dip in the center that kept loads from shifting on steep hills.

The entire wagon was covered by a white canvas or sailcloth that arched out at each end, giving the vehicle an effective length of nearly twenty-four feet and the appearance of a small ship sailing through the Pennsylvania woods. The body of the wagon was made of strong oak, and it could easily transport several tons of freight. The drivers usually walked along the left side of the wagon, and presented an appearance as imposing as their vehicle, being dressed in leather and homespun and often smoking large cigars. They were a tough lot, almost always as belligerent as they appeared, and they seldom yielded the road to anyone. The distinctive loop of bells served not only as a pleasant accompaniment to the steady clip-clop of the team, but also warned of the approach of this heavy freight wagon with its often cantakerous driver.

Another vehicle encountered frequently during this period on the turnpike was the stagecoach, carrying passengers and mail between Harrisburg and Reading. Several companies ran stage lines in and out of Harrisburg, and the turnpike road over which fugitive slaves traveled to reach Swatara Township saw heavy use by these stage lines. Despite the heavy spring system built into the coaches themselves, travel by stage was uncomfortable due to the rutted and uneven roads. Once railroad travel became more common, however, the stage lines declined in popularity and use. As with the Conestoga wagon, fugitive slaves would have had to move off the road or even hide during the passage of a stagecoach on the turnpike. Fortunately for them, such encounters were probably rare, as the wagons and stagecoaches did not travel at night, which was the preferred time of travel for freedom seekers sent out of Harrisburg.

Fugitive slaves who set out along the turnpike from Harrisburg, bound for William Rutherford’s farm in Swatara Township, would have traveled a little more than five miles, over a relatively direct but rutted and uneven road. Although the road was laid out to be fairly straight, it was not level. Allison’s Hill was named for a leading citizen of the borough, William Allison, who owned a large amount of property close to the bluff. It undulated in a series of small ridges and valleys that radiated along its length away from town.

After reaching the top of the bluff immediately outside of town, the turnpike ran relatively level for only a third of a mile before dipping down through a shallow ravine and then quickly climbing again to a high point at about one mile out. From there it rose and fell more gently, as the hills spread out away from Harrisburg. Fugitive slaves would have seen few farmhouses for the first two miles on this largely undeveloped hill, although they might have noticed a few cultivated fields or meadows enclosed by fences that ran along the road.

Walking east, much of the land they passed on their right was owned by Robert Harris, who allowed it to be worked by tenant farmers. Another large plot of land at the top of the hill and south of the turnpike was in later years owned by the Catholic Church, and was intended for future use as a large burial ground.

Overall, fugitive slaves walking along the turnpike would have passed through sections of open countryside interspersed with thick stands of native trees and shrubs. The Mountain Laurel plant grew wild along the bluff and throughout the western portion of the hill, and if the runaways were traveling in May or June, they probably would have noticed its abundant pink flowers. Once past the wilder areas close to the bluff, the fugitives would have noticed a more settled look to the countryside that bordered the road.

At a little more than a mile from the borough of Harrisburg, the turnpike road cut through the land of the Elder family. The sons Robert and Joshua occupied the farms then in operation by the early 1800s. Travelers might have been able to catch a glimpse through the trees and across the fields of the gray fieldstone Elder family mansion, which was built in 1740 by Parson John Elder, the Pastor of Paxton Presbyterian Church, while still newly installed in his post. Although they did not know it, the road over which they traveled to attain their freedom was initially forged through the hills so that the citizens of Harris’ Ferry could attend services at the church, located about one mile further on.

The road also connected with the Derry Presbyterian Church, a dozen miles further, but it was the Paxton Presbyterian Church that could claim the Rutherford family as members. Although many members of the Paxton Presbyterian Church had been slaveholders a generation or more before, the Rutherford family apparently never owned any slaves. This set them apart from many of the other wealthy and established Scots-Irish families who had settled the region. The family patriarch was Thomas Rutherford, who immigrated to Donegal Township, Lancaster County from County Tyrone, Ireland, as part of the great Scots-Irish move to Pennsylvania in the early decades of the eighteenth century. He met and married Agnes Murdock in Donegal, and together they moved to the Paxtang Valley to start a new life.

They worshipped in the newly constructed Paxton Church, and worked their land diligently, building up wealth. Unlike many of their fellow congregants, however, they purchased no African Americans to work their fields or clean their house. They apparently did not believe in the concept of human slavery, being strongly influenced by the ideals of the Enlightenment.

What they did believe in, was education. Thomas Rutherford gave a portion of his land for the construction of a small schoolhouse for the edification of local children, his own in particular. This belief in education and moral improvement—using both school and church—was the same strategy adopted by Harrisburg blacks as a means to stabilize and strengthen their community several decades later. In both instances, it produced staunch abolitionists who drew from their church the strength to take action in defense of their beliefs, and who depended upon education as means to defend and justify those beliefs to their neighbors.

At a mile and three-quarters, the turnpike dipped to cross a small run that feeds into Spring Creek. Here, in later decades, some fugitive slaves were taken in by Samuel Rutherford, whose farm was located a short distance south of the road, on a hill above the creek. This station of the Underground Railroad was used more in the later stages, as most fugitives continued on to the Rutherford family homestead still three miles distant.

One of the reasons this creekside station was not more frequently utilized was due to the presence of a well-known spring on the property, marked by a small stone springhouse, built over the spring in the middle 1700s by Thomas Rutherford. It was a favorite stopping place for Conestoga Wagon teamsters, who in mild weather simply stopped to refresh their horses and themselves at “Rutherford’s Spring,” then bedded down in the open air for the night.102 The chance that unfriendly wagon drivers could be present on any given evening was often great enough to keep the Harrisburg stationmasters from recommending that fugitives stop there.

Some fugitives may have been given refuge in that springhouse, although it is believed that the barn once located on that property was more likely the place of refuge provided by the family on the occasions when runaways were sheltered there. There are no stories that document the use of the farmhouse at this location as a place where fugitive slaves were quartered.

Instead of sheltering fugitives, though, this farm seems to have been important to the operation of the local Underground Railroad for other reasons. The Spring Creek farm happened to be the Rutherford property located closest to the town of Harrisburg, and it provided a valuable communications link between Dr. William Rutherford, who resided in Harrisburg, and his brothers and father, who lived in the valley. This farm, like all the Rutherford farms, was known to employ free African Americans as farm hands, and they may have also fulfilled the role of conductors for fugitives who came to this location.

Passing the first Rutherford farm, the fugitives would have come shortly to the first tavern located along the route from Harrisburg. The solid log tavern, known as the Green Tree, and later the Swatara Inn, was owned by various innkeepers and catered to the wagon drivers and the farmers herding livestock to market. It provided meadow and watering areas on the southern bank of Spring Creek, and after the turnpike was completed in 1819, the owners added a blacksmith shop and a brick residence.

Conestoga wagons and stagecoaches made stops here, in part for the hospitality, and also to take advantage of the blacksmith and repair shops that sprang up around the location. Not far from the Green Tree tavern, on the north side of the road, stood the tollhouse with its tollgate hanging across the road. The toll keeper, for a long period of years, was an “eccentric genius” named Conrad Peck, who could make or mend anything, according to local historians, but who enjoyed equal fame for his violent temper “which sometimes carried him to extremes, more or less amusing to the neighbors.” In addition to collecting tolls and mending whatever needed repair, Peck also sold beer and ginger cakes to travelers.103

Between the refreshments, repair and blacksmith shops, inn, houses, and toll gate, this portion of the turnpike road enjoyed considerable fame and traffic, which for fugitive slaves meant it was a spot to be passed quietly and with care, preferably in the dead of night.

Once past the tavern and tollgate, freedom seekers had another two miles to walk before striking the looked-for locust tree in the road, which marked the entrance to the old Rutherford farm. The countryside bordering the turnpike along these last two miles was under cultivation as grain fields, committed to use as pasture, or was still under the wild influence of nature. The closer to Shank’s Hill they got, the more apt they were to travel through dense forest, which in some places grew right to the road.

Altogether, they would have covered a little more than five miles since leaving the safety of an Underground Railroad station in Harrisburg. The walk might have taken about two hours on a good, level surface during the day, but these travelers were journeying in the dark of night, over muddy, uneven roadway, taking their time and listening for trouble, which could take the form of an approaching wagon, a ferocious farm dog, a suspicious local resident, or another traveler who would tell others of their passing.

There might be times when they had to hide in a field until trouble passed, or make their way through woods to get around an obstacle. They had to use care in creeping by the tollhouse, the inn, and the other inhabited places, all so that their passage would not be noticed. If they left Harrisburg shortly before ten o’clock at night, when the watchmen started their rounds, it was not likely that they would be knocking on William Rutherford’s door before two or three in the morning.

 

Paxton Valley to Linglestown

Leaving the Paxton Valley, fugitives were typically sent next in the company of an African American guide to a farm near Linglestown. Although the accounts of the Rutherford family do not provide details on the location of that site, the Underground Railroad station was located on the farm of Joseph Meese, which was located east of that village. Historian Nevin Moyer was the first to identify the Meese Farm as an Underground Railroad station. Like the Rutherfords, Moyer had a family connection to the farm, being born there, and gave the following story to a young student who interviewed him in 1945:

I will have to take you to the large 140-acre farm, the first farm east of Linglestown where I was born. There my parents, the B. F. Moyers, as well as my grandparents and great grandparents, Joseph and Henry Meese (Mease, Miese) lived. It was on this farm that Andrew Berryhill lived when he was killed by the Indians, and the rest of the family escaped through the wilderness to Fort Hunter. Andrew Berryhill is buried behind his old house, with others of the family and the graves are not marked. His son, Alexander, became one of the early burgess’ of Harrisburg in which city there are a hill and a street named for this family. We read, in our early history of Dauphin County, of the famous Battalion Drill ground, at Linglestown. The noted drill ground is on this farm. Here, too, was an underground railroad depot, the home of Frances Wenrich and Colonel John Umberger.104

The farm's owner in the period of Underground Railroad activity was Joseph Meese (1810 - 1882), Moyer's grandfather. In 1850, Meese worked the farm with his wife Sarah, four daughters aged three to sixteen years, and two teenaged farmhands.105 It was a large enough workforce to welcome and accommodate the regular visitors sent to him by William Rutherford, in the next township. These travelers would have arrived hungry and thirsty after this next leg of their nighttime journey.

The route from Rutherford’s farm to Meese’s farm probably covered more than eight miles, depending upon the exact roads taken. No doubt the guides were given leave to use the internal farm roads on the Rutherford property as a shortcut, thus saving some time. Once off the Rutherford farmland, however, they probably had to keep to the less used byways of the township and avoid too many shortcuts across the land of those who would not be so sympathetic to their plight.

Guides of some sort, such as the men who appeared in Rutherford’s house “and sat down behind the stove” in the earlier story, were an absolute necessity for this leg of the journey. The road to the Linglestown station was not nearly as straightforward as the one out of Harrisburg, and it would have taken longer to complete. Whereas it might have taken four to five hours to walk from Market Street in Harrisburg to William Rutherford’s farm, it probably took the better part of an entire night to walk from there to the Meese farm.

Like William Rutherford, stationmaster Joseph Meese would have had to assess each situation to determine the best time and route to send the freedom seekers onward. Unfortunately, we do not know much about Meese and his operation. We do know that the African American conductors sometimes stayed with the fugitive slaves for days at a time, so Meese might have been little more than a friend who offered shelter, food and other care, yet left the planning to the conductors themselves, who apparently knew the route at least as far as Pottsville.

 

Linglestown to Harper's Tavern

The next station was located at Harper's Tavern, but the possibility exists that they took a diversionary route, up Blue Mountain to the remote cabin of escaped slave George Washington, before heading to Harper's Tavern. The tales about Washington note that he regularly did business with a farmer near his cabin named Umberger, and, as noted by historian Moyer, the Umberger family had connections to the Meese farm. Local lore also says that the recluse Washington was involved with the Underground Railroad. It is possible that Washington lived like a hermit in a lone cabin far up on Blue Mountain so he could provide a secure way station, or to act as a guide for slaves through the rough foothills.

The journey from the Meese Farm to Harper’s Tavern is nearly ten miles, and it probably took advantage of the fairly straight and direct route via Old Jonestown Road. Like the Downingtown turnpike that led out of Harrisburg, Old Jonestown Road was a heavily used thoroughfare that connected many of the small communities in the area. It was also very rough, pitted, rutted, muddy, and dangerous.

A party of fugitive slaves and guides would have had to stay alert to avoid carriages, farm wagons, stagecoaches, and Conestoga wagons. At least one stagecoach ran regularly from Harrisburg to Pottsville along this road as early as 1800. Much of that traffic would have been avoided by traveling at night, of course, but they also had to take care when passing any of the inns that were located on the pike.

One of the first they would have passed was known as the Halfway House, which was on the north side of the road between Red Hill Road and Manada Bottom Road. True to its name, this old inn was located about halfway between Linglestown and Harper’s Tavern, at about the five-mile mark, and the conductors could assure their charges, as they passed it, that they were halfway to their destination. The tavern began operation in the mid-1790s and was active during the time that fugitive slaves would have passed on the road that ran by it. There were also inns at Shellsville and Grantville, but these villages also had numerous residential dwellings that presented the same danger of discovery, so movement through these small towns had to be accomplished with care.

Not long after passing the Halfway House, the fugitive slaves would have passed Manada Gap Road, which led to the Manada Furnace about three miles to the north. This furnace was built by the Grubb family, of Cornwall Furnace fame, and it began operation in 1841. The Grubbs made extensive use of African American labor at their furnaces, and this one, which used ore from Cornwall to produce pig iron, probably also made use of seasonal African American laborers, particularly in its earlier years.

Free African Americans who lived in the area to take advantage of work at the furnace may have been a resource to passing groups of freedom seekers. Although the fugitives probably encountered few free black families living along the old Jonestown Road between Linglestown and Grantville, that would change as they crossed the line into Lebanon County. There were only two free African American families, comprising a total of thirteen persons between them, enumerated by census workers in the townships of East and West Hanover, Dauphin County in 1850. However, in the township of East Hanover, Lebanon County, there were ten free black families totaling forty-four persons.

 

The Canal and Iron Furnace Connection

Furthermore, six of these ten families were property owners, as opposed to no black property owners in the Hanovers in Dauphin County, suggesting the presence in northwestern Lebanon County of an established community of rural African American families. Five of the families were living in the neighborhood of the Water Works, which pumped huge amounts of water into the canal to keep the Union Canal at sufficient operating level as it served this portion of the county. The men in these families reported their occupation to the census takers as “laborer,” indicating that they probably worked at either the Water Works or elsewhere on the canal, which ran alongside the encircling Swatara Creek. Several of these families would have lived within easy range of the Underground Railroad route than ran west to east through the township.

The connection between the Union Canal, iron ore mining, and African American labor and employment is worth exploring. Harper’s Tavern was located just north of a large bend in Swatara Creek, with a crossing of the Union Canal a little to the south. Two African American families lived in that general area, close to the houses of canal lock tenders. The heads of these two families were from states where slavery was active or strong: Virginia and Delaware. Their presence here, where all but one of the other African American residents reported being native Pennsylvanians, suggests interesting possibilities related to the canal.

The iron ore used at Manada Furnace was brought from Cornwall, a significant employer of African American slave and free labor, in barges on the Union Canal and then loaded into wagons for delivery to the Manada Furnace. This use of the canal suggests another link to the Underground Railroad that must be considered. Because they employed so many African American laborers, Pennsylvania’s iron furnaces were frequently used as havens for fugitive slaves, who sometimes stayed for a day or two with furnace workers in their nearby houses before moving on. The heads of the two families living near the canal might have been fugitives who took refuge at Cornwall, then walked the towpath or rode a canal boat north, finally stopping near Harpers Tavern to settle down and establish a life in this quiet and relatively safe area of Pennsylvania.

 

Union Deposit

It has already been established that the canals provided a means of escape to fugitive slaves, whether as passengers in the barges or as hikers on the towpaths. The canal junction known as Union Deposit has been mentioned as a suspected Underground Railroad site. At little more than five miles distance from this point on the Old Jonestown Road, the village of Union Deposit is well within range of this leg of the network. The canal connection to this village would have started when the canal came through in 1828, connecting Middletown with Union Deposit and later, Pine Grove to the north.

This link becomes even more intriguing when one remembers that Middletown had an active Underground Railroad operation through its A.M.E. Church, as well as an Anti-Slavery Society that was formed in 1837, when the canal was most active. The nearby village of Portsmouth, which was also served by the canal, had a very large African American community, and enjoyed a degree of support for abolitionist causes from respected community leader George Fisher.

The canal itself, as it wound its way north along the banks of the Swatara Creek toward Union Deposit, flowed through Hummelstown, and came within four miles of William Rutherford’s farm. Although none of the surviving Rutherford stories mention using the Union Canal, the family had no hesitation in using the Pennsylvania Canal, the wharves of which were an equal distance away in Lochiel, south of Harrisburg. It should be considered that Rutherford might have also made use of similar resources on the Union Canal, particularly since it offered a direct link to Pine Grove.106

 

Lickdale and Joseph Johns

The distance to the next station, a small town at the foot of Little Mountain called Lickdale, was about eight miles, which meant another night of travel over unforgiving roads and barely discernable paths. Although the name of the agent in Lickdale in not known, there is another person living nearby who might have offered help to the travelers. Just after Lickdale, the path to freedom took a turn north to follow an old Native American and European settler’s trail along the banks of the Swatara Creek where it cut through the gap in Blue Mountain. When the fugitive slaves emerged from the gap, they were only three miles from the cabin of Joseph Johns, the Virginia-born fugitive slave who took up a solitary residence in the backwoods of Union Township.

It is not know exactly when Johns came to the area, but one story holds that he supposedly worked first in the hills north of Harrisburg before settling down in Lebanon County sometime between the 1820s and the 1840s. The existence of the two fugitive slaves, as well as a few other rural free African Americans, in remote cabins just north of the station at Linglestown, and the remote cabin of Joseph Johns just north of the station at Lickdale may be more than just coincidence.

The African American conductors who guided groups of fugitive slaves along the mountain route had to be intimately familiar with the back woods and paths from Harrisburg all the way to Pottsville, according to the Rutherford family stories. They had to accomplish this during a time when rural African Americans were migrating to large towns and cities in search of work and community, leaving the countryside increasingly in the hands of white farmers. Whereas escaping fugitive slaves in the middle and late 1700s could often depend upon finding help and receiving covert aid from sympathetic slaves on rural farms across the central Pennsylvania countryside, the fugitive slaves crossing this same terrain in the 1820s, 30s and 40s were finding only indifferent or even hostile white hired laborers on these same farms. The remote outposts of people such as Joseph Johns and the pair of fugitive slaves above Harrisburg, then, might have served the Underground Railroad network by providing important wayside stops to rural African American travelers.

By being located near to, but not directly on the main route, these mountain men may have been able to gather intelligence, provide advice, and offer their huts or cabins as emergency shelters. Such behavior would not be out of character on the underground network in Pennsylvania. Stories abound of help being tendered to weary or beleaguered fugitive slaves by rural African Americans who took the freedom seekers to remote cabins, which were often described as being hidden in woods or swamps. Further proof that such a “maroon network” existed to bolster the established Underground Railroad mountain route out of Harrisburg can be seen in a similar arrangement near the next stop at Pine Grove.

 

Through the Gap to Pine Grove

The route from Lickdale tracked north along the Swatara Creek as it ran through the Swatara Gap, following a trail that had been used by humans for several centuries to get through the mountains. Native Americans had used this same trail as a trade route, and later, as a means by which they could sweep out of the mountains to raid white settlements during the French and Indian War. These Indian raids were so destructive that the colonial government financed a series of forts, one of which, Fort Swatara, was established solely to guard the mountain gap. Fugitive slaves leaving Lickdale would have passed very near to the site of the fort as they approached the mountain gap north of town.

After 1832, a feeder line from the main line of the Union Canal wound along the bank of the Swatara Creek through this same gap. The canal connected the town of Pine Grove to the Union Canal Water Works in East Hanover Township, and its towpath provided a convenient and level surface along which they could travel all the way to Pine Grove, a distance of more than thirteen miles.

Once out of Harrisburg, this was the longest distance yet between stations. Freedom seekers needed to get an early evening start in order to reach Pine Grove before dawn. Even following the relatively clear and level canal towpath, the journey might have been more than was possible in a single night, particularly if the group of fugitive slaves included women, children, or elderly persons. If aid, rest, or shelter was needed along the route, it is possible that groups of fugitives found it at the abode of one of the few free African American families who lived in this remote and mountainous area. One possible resource was the Isaac Bow family, who lived near one of the locks of the Union Canal in Pine Grove Township. They were located in an area filled with families in which the breadwinners represented a mix of farmers, laborers, boatmen, and craftsmen.

Two boarding houses, home to a number of Irish-born laborers, as well as a hotel, were situated nearby, and next to those was the home of canal lock tender John Snyder. The Irish workers, all young men who ranged in age from twenty to thirty-five years, the boatmen, the hotel keeper, and the craftsmen (a boat builder, a stone mason, a shoemaker, a tanner and a carpenter) all most certainly derived their employment from the canal and its needs. The Bow family was a part of this small community, which appears to have been strung out for some distance along the canal.

Isaac Bow, like the local laborers, was a young man of twenty-seven years, living with his wife, Jane, and four children. All were freeborn Pennsylvania citizens, according to the census taker who visited them in 1850. He noted that Isaac and Jane were illiterate, and their four children, who ranged in age from nine years down to three years, were also lacking in education. Unlike the similarly aged children of the neighboring white farmers and laborers, the Bow children had not attended school that year.107 This situation may have isolated the Bow family from their white neighbors somewhat, making their rural house a potential stopping place for freedom seekers.

 

Pine Grove to Pottsville

After reaching Pine Grove, freedom seekers were then put on the road to Pottsville. The stationmasters in Pine Grove are not known, but the town had a few free African American families, including William Woodyard, and another member of the Bow family, Michael, who lived there with his wife and two children. A relative, Israel Bow, lived independently with a number of boatmen in town next to the canal. Finally, just outside of town lived the Israel Bow family. The identical names and similar ages, one was twenty-one and the other twenty-four, suggest they might have been cousins. Elizabeth Bow, age seventy-four, lived with the older Israel Bow and his wife, in the area northeast of town. The connection of this extended family to the canal merits further research and may be significant if it is shown that they were involved in any capacity with Underground Railroad activities, since the canal towpath was probably used as part of the route.

The journey from Pine Grove to Pottsville was unusually long, at seventeen miles, and it led freedom seekers through countryside that was considerably rougher and wilder than any they had seen since leaving Harrisburg. The length of the trip and the increasingly difficult terrain suggests that there should have been an intermediary resting point or a station between Pine Grove and Pottsville, but no accounts of rest stops, Underground Railroad sympathizers, or stations along the way are documented.

The logical route would have been via the road that ran alongside the Upper Little Swatara Creek, where it entered the northern limits of Pine Grove and ran east, through Washington and Wayne Townships toward Cressona. Just after the waters of the Little Swatara narrowed to a trickle, the freedom seekers would have found themselves within a short march of the West Branch of the Schuylkill River, a navigable river by means of the canal, which would have led them north through the gap in Second Mountain to Pottsville.

Two items about this possible route deserve mention. The first is that the Israel Bow family lived in an area close to where this road exited Pine Grove, further suggesting that they were a possible source of aid for fugitives starting out on this leg of the journey. The second item of interest is the Schuylkill Canal itself, which allowed for navigation along the Schuylkill River from Pottsville south to Reading and beyond. As with the Union Canal, free African Americans were heavily involved with the canal business, supplying labor and other services to keep the canal running. Although there were very few African Americans documented in 1850 by census takers in the townships of Washington and Wayne, through which this possible route ran, there were two established free black families in the town of Schuylkill Haven, a canal town.

Farther south, in Port Clinton, where the river and canal exited Schuylkill County from Berks County through a water gap in Blue Mountain, there was a well established but small free African American community of ten families. Another three families lived a short distance to the north.108

 

The Long Swamp Maroons

Between Port Clinton and Orwigsburg lay a marshy area known locally as the Long Swamp, which appears to have harbored a considerable maroon community within a few miles of the canal and Port Clinton. Writing in 1906, folklorist and local historian Ella Zerbey Elliott used the disparaging language of her time to describe the inhabitants of Long Swamp as “A motley crew of a mongrel type of Indians, Negroes, and bad whites, some of them criminals, intermarried and living mainly by their wits.”

Elliott noted that, in addition to helping with harvests and taking occasional work, the swamp inhabitants engaged in reed basket making and fortune telling. As with other swamps previously mentioned that sheltered runaway slaves, Long Swamp “provided, in its environments, a marshy fastness that few whites cared to penetrate.” In addition, tales of witchcraft, sorcery and ghosts bolstered the solitude that fugitives found in the otherwise forbidding terrain. By carefully cultivating the stories about supernatural occurrences, and by having only minimal contact with neighboring farmers, the inhabitants guaranteed their independence, privacy, and freedom of movement. In this way, the “Long Swampers” were able to extend aid to fugitive slaves throughout the region.109

When all the locations of these independently living free African American families are taken into consideration, the journey from Pine Grove to Pottsville becomes potentially less arduous, as many of these families were in positions to lend aid or provide a stopping point, and thereby lessen the miles that had to be covered in a single night. The trip from the Israel Bow Family household, just outside of North Pine Grove, to the outskirts of Cressona, where they could have been intercepted by local agents to guide them to a home near the canal, is only a little more than eleven miles—much less arduous than the entire seventeen-mile trip from central Pine Grove to central Pottsville. If they had to go into Schuylkill Haven to find rest, that added another mile or so to the journey. By this time, however, they were certainly within range of aid either from African American canal workers, or even from the “Long Swampers,” who were about five miles further east.

 

Pottsville

Pottsville was the first location after the Harrisburg area to have a documented white stationmaster providing aid to arriving fugitive slaves. James Gillingham was born into a Bucks County Quaker family. He married in Chester County and at some point relocated with his wife to Pottsville. As an Underground Railroad agent and stationmaster, Gillingham received fugitives from the Rutherford family in Harrisburg, routed by way of Pine Grove, as well as from stationmasters in Reading. He reportedly hid them in the basement or crawlspace under his Mahantongo Street home. At a safe time, he would then forward them on toward Wilkes-Barre, possibly to William Gildersleeve.

The heart of Pottsville’s Underground Railroad operation, though, was provided by its local African American community, which, like Harrisburg’s black community, was large, relatively independent, and growing, largely due to the presence of such social institutions as African American churches and schools.

Pottsville's Northwest Ward had the largest concentration of African Americans, numbering one hundred and forty-nine men, women, and children, living in thirty-nine separate dwellings. Two of the dwellings were shared by two distinct families, as determined by the census enumerator in 1850. Twenty-four of those dwellings had at least one person with a surname different from the head of the household, indicating the presence of a possible blended family, extended family members, servants, apprentices, or boarders. In comparison, the Northeast Ward had less than one-tenth the black population--fourteen African American citizens in four dwellings. The South Ward had forty-seven African American residents, eleven of whom lived with their employer in either a private home or at a hotel; this was also the location of James Gillingham's home.

In all, Pottsville was home to more than two hundred African Americans in 1850, three-quarters of whom were living relatively close together in the Northeast Ward. This concentration allowed fugitives to blend in with the local population, particularly if they were sent to the neighborhoods in the northeastern portion of the city. The town also offered work to fugitive slaves, who occasionally labored in the coal mines alongside free African Americans as well as miners of other nationalities.110 Because the work was so hazardous, coal mine operators asked few questions of prospective workers when seeking to fill out a work crew.

The African Americans living in Pottsville were quite active in anti-slavery activities, even though it was a highly unpopular stance with the towns’ white residents. This did not stop them from taking public action when circumstances required it, however. The Liberator reported on a scene of unrest in the spring of 1844 that took place after several fugitive slaves were arrested in town:

A Small Riot.
A number of colored persons in Pottsville, Pa. stoned the house of a person by the name of Johnson, on Negro Hill, beating in the windows, doors, &c., on Sunday night of last week, alleging that he had betrayed two slaves, man and wife, who had resided in this neighborhood for some time past, which led to their arrest, and subsequent delivery up to their masters.
(21 June 1844)

One African American anti-slavery advocate who appeared in Pottsville, at least briefly, was David Roach. Little is known about Roach’s activities other than his support for anti-slavery publications. As a resident of Williamsport, Roach wrote letters to the Liberator in the early 1830s, but, like George Chester in Harrisburg, did not see any of them published. He made his living as a barber in that town, and enjoyed enough success that he could take on an African American apprentice to the business, but the apprentice skipped out on his indenture in October 1832, leaving Roach, obviously perturbed, to post an insultingly low one-cent reward for his apprehension.

Roach showed up in Pottsville in the late 1830s, from where he penned letters to the Colored American. Some time later, he moved to the Susquehanna River town of Northumberland and took up support for a third anti-slavery newspaper, Martin R. Delany’s the Mystery, which listed him as one of its agents. This last endeavor put David Roach in league with such anti-slavery heavyweights as the Reverend David Stevens, John B. Vashon, Reverend George Galbraith, William Nesbitt, William Whipper, and Glenalvin J. Goodridge.111

As he moved through these areas over the course of fourteen years, Roach probably spread his views and shared his interest in these publications, and he undoubtedly found sympathetic listeners, as all three towns sheltered Underground Railroad stations supported by active African American communities.

This mobility of free African American families, whether it was forced due to circumstances or was voluntary in order to take advantage of increasing opportunities, appears to have been a boon to the Underground Railroad network in central Pennsylvania. It reinforced ties between interior towns and provided contacts in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. On a local scale, it strung friends and family members out along frequently traveled routes.

After 1850, numerous residents of the Long Swamp moved to Pottsville, adding their independence and defiance of societal pressures to the mix there. They took jobs in the mines, as hotel porters, and as servants in white households, and Ella Zerbey Elliott notes that they also found new homes in Orwigsburg and Reading. The African Americans of the Long Swamp had shown a great facility in language by learning the local Pennsylvania German dialect, enabling them to converse freely with the neighboring “Dutch” speaking farmers and residents, a skill that not only served them well in finding work and bartering goods, but must have proved very useful as an intelligence-gathering tool as they moved farther a field from their cabins in the swamp. The dispersal of this active Underground Railroad community among several towns in Schuylkill and Berks Counties probably had the same effect of strengthening the regional network, despite the loss of a central station in the swamp.

Despite the heavy involvement of free African Americans in the daily operation of the Underground Railroad, it is the white stationmasters whose actions are the ones most often preserved through the stories passed down by their descendants, who contributed the tales to ponderous local history tomes and recorded them with local historical societies. As a result, most of the credit for local operations has historically been credited to them at the expense of black activists.

James Gillingham, whose family lived in a fine brick house on the northeast corner of Mahantongo and Seventh Streets in Pottsville, was one such white operator whose station was genuinely effective. He was a dedicated Quaker anti-slavery activist with strong connections in Bucks and Chester Counties, and in the space of many years, he sheltered numerous fugitive slaves in his South Ward home, but he did not do it alone. As noted earlier in the Rutherford story, Gillingham was aided by African American conductors who brought freedom seekers to him for rest, food, and other necessary aid, and who again took charge of them when it was time to move on.

African American activists probably also supplied news and information regarding the arrival in town of slave catchers or other suspicious persons. A neighbor of the Gillinghams recalled that African Americans “were frequently seen about the Gillingham house. Sometimes they did chores for the family, emptying ashes, chopping wood, sweeping the yard, as if they were hired for the day.” Some of these were local residents, but the neighbors also accepted that some were probably fugitive slaves who were spending time on the property, keeping busy and helping out the family that was supplying their needs on their journey north. The same neighbor observed, “Most of them remained pretty close in hiding or within the yard which had a high board fence.”

Gillingham was fortunate to be on good terms with the neighbors, who “preserved a discreet silence, knowing well what it might mean to the Gillinghams if the matter was made public, for there were Southern slave-holding sympathizers…in Pottsville.” This same neighbor reported that freedom seekers and their guides “came and went through the gate on Seventh Street or the rear gate at the foot of the yard.”112 These routes were most convenient to the large African American community in the town’s Northwest Ward, which probably served as a staging area for the departure of the fugitives from Pottsville to Wilkes-Barre, which was the next major destination.

Getting to Wilkes-Barre required a lot of preparation, due to the length of the trip. That next portion of the road to freedom was nearly as long as the entire journey from Harrisburg to Pottsville, which in itself involved six or seven nights of travel just getting from one station to the next. But it was unusual for the journey to last only a week; the need to maintain secrecy in a potentially hostile land caused delays, as did factors like weather conditions and the general health of the traveling party. For various reasons, travel was not always possible on consecutive nights, lengthening the journey considerably.

Fugitives were often held at one station for several days or even weeks until the stationmaster and conductors were satisfied with the traveling conditions. During this time, they would have to be fed and otherwise cared for. One or two fugitives would have presented a negligible to slight strain on a stationmaster’s resources, but as William Franklin Rutherford observed, “During the summer and fall months, it was no uncommon occurrence for half a dozen negroes to arrive in the night” at his uncle’s farm. In the story he related, the party of fugitive slaves that showed up that October night numbered ten men, and Rutherford sheltered and fed them for three days. Such activities constituted a considerable expense for any farmer or property owner, yet William Rutherford bore the cost without complaint for many years, as did many Underground Railroad Station operators throughout central Pennsylvania.

The reason they undertook such risks and expense can only be explained through a sense of moral obligation to their fellow human beings. Certainly, it was not out of a sense of duty to the state and government, as their actions were illegal. If they had been caught, the potential fines and penalties were severe, and conceivably could have cost them their farms. In Delaware, activists Thomas Garrett and John Hunn were fined $5400 and $2500 respectively, for sheltering and providing transportation to take seven escaped slaves from Newcastle to Wilmington in December 1845.

In Cumberland County, one of the agents who funneled fugitives to the Rutherford family, Daniel Kaufman, was similarly fined. Daniel Kaufman, a Boiling Springs farmer, hid fugitive slaves in his barn and in a swampy, inaccessible location known as "Island Grove," in the Yellow Breeches Creek, over a period of thirteen years beginning in 1835. He was assisted by local men Stephen Weakley, Philip Brechbill, Mode Griffith, and George Sailor.

Kaufman often received fugitives from Chambersburg, by way of Shippensburg and Huntsdale, then would pilot fugitives along the Petersburg Road toward Carlisle and hand them off to African American conductors who would meet them in a woods south of the town. From Carlisle, these same fugitives would be guided across the Camel Back Bridge to William W. Rutherford's house on Front Street.

In 1847, Chambersburg African American agent George Cole helped a particularly large group of slaves that had escaped from Williamsport, Maryland get from Chambersburg to Daniel Kaufman’s farm near Boiling Springs. This was a very difficult group to guide, because it was made up of two families: the two fathers and two mothers, and their two sons and seven daughters. Although the chance of such a large family group making a successful escape was slim, they felt they had to take the chance because their previous owner in Arkansas had died the previous year, and they had been brought to Maryland, they feared, to be separated and sold.

George Cole took them from Chambersburg along a route that ran from one forge or furnace to the next, until he got them to Boiling Springs. Cole left them in Kaufman’s barn as a safe resting spot until he could find other African American helpers at the Forge at Boiling Springs, which was nearby. Then Cole went to the farmhouse to alert Daniel Kaufman. Cole later testified:

I shut the barn door and went to the house and asked for Mr. Kaufman. He came out and went with me to the barn. He asked me what I wanted. While going, I did not tell him, said I would show him. I opened the door. Said he, “What have you here?” I said they were runaways.

When George Cole opened the door to the barn, Daniel Kaufman saw nine scared children and four tired adults staring back at him. He immediately understood that he had trouble, and he asked Cole to take them away from his property, but in the end, he could not send them away. He moved them to a more secure and comfortable spot in his stable, for protection against the cool evening air and fed them.

The plan, ultimately, was to get them across the bridge into Harrisburg. Unfortunately, such a large group was observed by several of Kaufman’s neighbors, and the plot was soon common knowledge. Several days later, the slaveholder’s cousin tracked the fugitives to Kaufman’s barn, where he soon learned the part that Daniel Kaufman had played in their escape. Maryland slaveholder Mary Oliver sued him in civil court in 1847, charging that thirteen slaves who had run away from her plantation were last seen in Kaufman's barn.

The case went back and forth, with legal challenges and considerable notoriety. Thaddeus Stevens was part of the legal team defending Daniel Kaufman. Finally, in 1852, Mary Oliver won her case and a received a judgment of $4,000 from Kaufman.113 The abolitionist farmer was in danger of losing his farm for his act of mercy at not turning out nine children and their parents, but fortunately enough of the fine was donated by abolition societies throughout the state that Kaufman was not bankrupted by the fines. The case did stop his Underground Railroad activities, however.

Kaufman’s actions saved the two families, who apparently were successfully guided to Harrisburg agents, but the Cumberland County farmer paid a heavy price, having to endure lengthy and costly legal battles as well as social disapproval. For him, however, it was a moral issue, as he believed that slavery was simply wrong. This was the same moral stance that drove the actions of the Rutherfords, the Bennetts, the Gillinghams, the Meeses, the Pinkneys, and all of the still unidentified conductors, stationmasters, and helpers who aided freedom seekers along the long and hazardous road. Many, like the Bennetts and Rutherfords, were pillars in their local churches, others were less involved, but all were guided by the strong moral beliefs that could only come from a strong religious faith—a faith that led them to defy the laws of their country to do what they felt had to be done.

 

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Notes

92. Frederick County Court documents, Maryland Manuscripts, ser. 20, “Slavery-related Documents, 1752-1877 and undated,” box 1, folder 1, items 1002-1007, Maryland Manuscripts Collection, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries, http://www.lib.umd.edu/archivesum/ (accessed 21 April 2009); Bureau of the Census, United States Census, 1860, 1870, 1880, Frederick County, Maryland.

93. Historian J. Howard Wert identified Edward Bennett with the epithet “King Bennett,” and notes he was “the leading spirit” of the neighborhood of Judy’s Town, and an “active agent of the celebrated ‘Underground Railroad.’” He also wrote, “Many a poor fugitive was concealed in the houses at Third and Mulberry.” (Barton and Dorman, Harrisburg’s Old Eighth Ward, 36.) In another article in which he described “principal stations” of the Underground Railroad in Harrisburg, Wert identified “King Bennett” as one of two African American stationmasters in town. (Caba, Episodes of Gettysburg, 84.) William Henry Egle also noted Bennett's nickname was "King Bennett," and cited his Underground Railroad activities, saying he "was one of the principal directors and concealers of the fugitive slave on his way to the Northland from the taskmaster's fields in Maryland and Virginia." Egle, Notes and Queries, Annual Volume 1900, 12:63.

94. Liberator, 15 October 1841. Harrisburg African American church leader George Galbraith, who lived in the same neighborhood as Reverend Stevens and Deacon Bennett, was also a member of the publishing committee of the Wesleyan Connection.

95. Jarena Lee, Religious Experience and Journal of Mrs. Jarena Lee, Giving an Account of Her Call to Preach the Gospel, Revised and corrected from the Original Manuscript, written by herself (Philadelphia, Jarena Lee,1849), 41-42.
Architectural historian Ken Frew locates the Methodist Church at this time at the southeast corner of Second and South streets “that today, as a restaurant, remains the oldest religious structure in Harrisburg.” (Frew, Building Harrisburg, 65.) This structure is The Quarter restaurant.

96. Berlin, Many Thousands Gone, 191-192.

97. Steinmetz and Hoffsommer, This Was Harrisburg, 84-87; S. S. Rutherford, “The Under Ground Railroad,” 3-4.
Rutherford’s description of the canal boat escape attempt says, “On another occasion there were two husky negroes came to Grandfathers and were secreted in the barn for several days until news came of the moving of a certain canal boat, (whose Captain was one of them) that was about to go north.” By “one of them” does Rutherford mean, an African American, or an Underground Railroad conductor? If the former, this captain could very well have been Daniel Hughes, who was actively taking canal boats of lumber through Harrisburg during this period. Rutherford further mentions that there was at least one other African American helping to crew the barge, giving credence to the belief that this was Hughes’ canal boat.

98. Bureau of the Census, Population Schedules of the Fourth Census of the United States:1820, roll 102, Pennsylvania, vol. 7, Pennsylvania, Dauphin County; Population Schedules of the Fifth Census of the United States: 1830, Pennsylvania, Dauphin County, Microfilm, Pennsylvania State Archives.
For instances of fugitive slaves following the Susquehanna River north of Harrisburg, see the previously cited article by Dick Sarge, “Freedom Quest,” about two fugitive slaves who lived and died on Blue Mountain, north of Harrisburg. This route, though it followed the river, cut across Peter’s Mountain between Dauphin and Halifax to lessen the distance. See also the account of the capture of five fugitive slaves in the village of Matamoras, in Egle, Notes and Queries, 4th ser., vol. 2, 142:249.

99. The route described is from S. S. Rutherford, “The Under Ground Railroad,” 3, 7.

100. Ella Zerbey Elliott, Old Schuylkill Tales: A History of Interesting Events, Traditions, and Anecdotes of the Early Settlers of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania (Pottsville, PA: Ella Zerbey Elliott, 1906), 91-92.

101. Information on the oil lamps and the night watch is from Egle, Notes and Queries, 3rd ser., vol. 1, 12:66, and Annual Volume 1900, 4:17.
The massive State Works project to fill and level the lowlands surrounding Paxton Creek to accommodate the higher canal bed had a stimulative effect on property values along Market Street (and other areas) east of Third. Gradually the poor renters, squatters, and small property holders, including several established African American property holders, were squeezed out as prosperous builders and entrepreneurs moved in. Hamilton, Sanitary Conditions, 5, plate “Profile of Market Street”; Steinmetz and Hoffsommer, This Was Harrisburg, 84.

102. William Franklin Rutherford, “The Taverns of Paxtang Valley,” in Egle, Notes and Queries, 3rd ser., vol. 1, 58:447.

103. Ibid., 58:451; William Franklin Rutherford, “A Ride from Shank’s Hill to Harrisburg,” in Egle, Notes and Queries, 3rd ser., vol. 3, 170:25.

104. "An Interview with Nevin B. Moyer by Galen Frysinger, Paxton Rangers Historic Association, Lower Paxton High School," The Junior Historian 3, no. 3 (February 1946), under "Nevin Moyer, of Linglestown, Pennsylvania, USA," Galen Frysinger, http://www.galenfrysinger.ws/nevin_moyer.htm (accessed 31 July 2005).

105. Lower Paxton Township, Pennsylvania, 1767-1967 (Harrisburg: Triangle Press, 1967), 126, 174.
One of those daughters was Catherine “Kate,” born in 1842 and mother of Nevin W. Moyer. It is likely that Moyer, a respected local historian, learned the Underground Railroad history of the farm from his mother, who probably witnessed, if not took part in, such activities firsthand, lending credibility to Moyer's statement. Bureau of the Census, Seventh Census of the United States, 1850, Lower Paxton Township, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania.

106. For the inns along Old Jonestown Road (so designated to avoid confusion with modern Jonestown Road, which does not follow the historic route), Manada Gap Furnace, and historic road information, see East Hanover Township, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, Bicentennial Celebration, 1776-1976 (n.p., 1976), 96-99, 118-119, 129, 132. The local lore regarding use of the Union Canal House as an Underground Railroad station is documented in Jerry L. Gleason, “Union Deposit,” Patriot-News, East sec., 7 October 2003, East-1, East-6. Information on African American families living in Lebanon County is from the National Archives Microfilm no. 432, "Population Schedules of the Seventh Census of the United States, 1850, rolls 774 and 775, Pennsylvania, Dauphin County," and from examining the East Hanover map in F. W. Beers, County Atlas of Lebanon, Pennsylvania from Recent and Actual Surveys Under the Superintendence of F. W. Beers (Reading, PA: F. A. Davis, 1875).
The Beers map also shows a community on the border between East Hanover Township and Union Township named Africa. It was located south of the Indiantown Gap, and appears to have been located along the road that led to the valley between Blue Mountain and Second Mountain, which was also the road that led to the area where Joseph Johns lived. I have been unable to determine whether it was named for a settlement of African Americans, or whether it was named for the European-American family with the surname Africa.

107. The area in which the Isaac Bow family lived was in Pine Grove Township, between a long string of canal-related workers and a charcoal furnace. Between 2 and 3 October 1850, census taker Israel Reinhard enumerated thirty families between the houses of canal lock tenders Jacob Huber (or Hubly) and John Snyder. These families were a mixture of farmers, tenant laborers, and skilled tradesmen with probable links to the canal, listing occupations of stonemasons, boat builders, and carpenters. Next to the house of lock tender John Snyder, the census taker found two boarding houses of primarily young Irish men, all laborers, and a hotel. This appears to have been in or near the town of Mifflin, near the eastern border of the county. From there, the census taker appears to have headed northeast, at which point he found the Israel Bow family. Just after the Bow family, further northeast, are found listings for many of the workers connected with the Swatara Charcoal Furnace, at Ellwood. This suggests that the Israel Bow family was located just northeast of the canal on the road to the charcoal furnace, which places them about halfway along the path from Lickdale to Pine Grove, an ideal stopping or resting point in the thirteen mile journey. Bureau of the Census, Population Schedules of the Seventh Census of the United States, 1850, Pennsylvania, Schuylkill County, Pine Grove Township.

108. Bureau of the Census, Population Schedules of the Seventh Census of the United States, 1850, Pennsylvania, Schuylkill County, West Brunswick Township.

109. Elliott attributes the founding of the Long Swamp community to “a few runaway slaves” who were joined by other social outcasts. She also places the peak time period during which the Long Swamp maroon community was active as between 1824 “or thereabouts” until it was broken up by local law enforcement officials about 1850. This blossoming of the community corresponds roughly with the building of the Schuylkill Canal nearby, further strengthening the argument that the canal was an escape route for fugitive slaves. (Elliott, Old Schuylkill Tales, 58, 91-93, 135.)
In another work, Elliott refers to this same area as “Pine Swamp.” (Ella Zerbey Elliott, Blue Book of Schuylkill County: who was who and why, in interior eastern Pennsylvania, in Colonial days, the Huguenots and Palatines, their service in Queen Anne's French and Indian, and Revolutionary Wars, etc., [Pottsville, PA: Pottsville Republican, 1916], 447.) Reading, in Berks County, was also a strong Underground Railroad base that fed many fugitive slaves into this route by way of Port Clinton. The city had 285 free African American residents in 1850, some of whom owned canal barges that they piloted between that city and the coal regions of Schuylkill County.

110. Bureau of the Census, Population Schedules of the Seventh Census of the United States, 1850, Pennsylvania, Schuylkill County, Pottsville, 316-404; James Williams, Life and Adventures of James Williams, a Fugitive Slave (San Francisco: Women’s Union Print, 1873), 14.

111. Liberator, 16 June, 7 July 1832, 10 August 1833; Lycoming Gazette, 31 October 1832; Colored American, 25 August 1838; “Agents for the Mystery,” Mystery, 16 December 1846.
The 1850 U.S. Census schedules for West Brunswick Township list an African American family headed by David Roach living on the property of white farmer Solomon Moore, in the area around the Long Swamp. At twenty-eight years of age, however, this person was too young to have been the same David Roach who was corresponding with the editors of the Liberator and running a hair dressing business in Williamsport in 1832. The family name and geographical proximity, however, invite further investigation as to a possible link. Bureau of the Census, Population Schedules of the Seventh Census of the United States, 1850, Pennsylvania, Schuylkill County, West Brunswick Township, 162.

112. Elliott, Old Schuylkill Tales, 254-256. A Pennsylvania state historical marker is located at the site of the Gillingham house, at 622 Mahantongo Street, in Pottsville.

113. Richard L. Tritt, "The Underground Railroad at Boiling Springs," in At a Place Called the Boiling Springs, Richard L. Tritt and Randy Watts, eds., (Lewisberry, PA: Reprographics, 1995), 111-117.

 

Caution: Copyrighted material. Published September 2010.

© 2010 George F. Nagle

 

 

This is the first in a series of books from the Afrolumens Project. Drawing on a large number of sources, and making good use of the treasure trove of information on the pages of the Afrolumens Project, this is the first truly comprehensive history of Harrisburg's African American community.

Pick up your copies at the Mid-Town Scholar Bookstore, Civil War and More Books, the National Civil War Museum,
or at the 2010 Harrisburg History Center.

Both volumes also available on Amazon.

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