Eber M. Pettit.

Sketches in the history of the Underground Railroad comprising many thrilling incidents of the escape of fugitives from slavery, and the perils of those who aided them online

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Online LibraryEber M. PettitSketches in the history of the Underground Railroad comprising many thrilling incidents of the escape of fugitives from slavery, and the perils of those who aided them → online text (page 1 of 12)
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Underground Railroad







u. G. R. R. lixp: from slavery to frp:ed().m.


Fredonia, N. Y. :



Copyright, 1S79,


Ebeb M. Pettit.








in behalf of an

Afflicted and Despised People,

and as a sincere friend of


this volume is

Respectfully Dedicated.

Eber M. Pettit.
Fredonia, N. Y.


Introduction 9

Preface 18


The Slave Coffle at Wheeling, Va.— The Kind Hearted Landlord— The
Good Samaritan — The Hunters Misled — The Escape 17


Dan's Trip from Dunkirk— Sees his Master in the Car — R. R. Conductor's
Advice — Friends in Need— Safe arrival in Canada 34


Tom Stowe — His Value to his Master — His Boy Sold and his Wife Dies —
He Finds his Boy — His Escape to Pittsburg, and thence to Canada. 1'7

Origin of the U. G. R. R. — Jo Norton. - _ . 34


Jo Norton, continued— Making their way from Washington to Albany-
Jo goes to School— Lectures to buy his Wife and Child— Succeeds—
The Happy Meeting - - - - 41



Jo Norton, continued — His Quickness at Repartee — Lectures in Ville-
nova— Settles in Syracuse— Enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law — The
"Shadi-ach" Case in Boston — Effect on Syracuse and the Empu-e
State. - .: - 46


The " Jerry Rascue " — Jo Norton Heads the Party that Rescues Jerry —
Exciting Times in Syracuse — The Fugitive Slave Law in Contempt —
Jo goes to Canada 50


G-eorge and Clara — They reach Obarliu— Hotly Pursued — Take Passage
with Capt. Titus — Recognized by thwU- Owner — Capt. IIlus' Experi-
ence — An Incident of the Burning of the Erie — Escape of the Fugi-
tives - - 66


An Old-fashioned Democrat — The U. G. R. R. Business a means of
Political Conversion (53


Two Democratic neighbors vote for James K. Polk and have a visit the
evening after election — They become U. G. R. R. agents — The
escape of Robert. 69


True Democrats versus Copperheads— The escape of Static and Lila —
From Washington, D. C, to Warsaw, N. Y., in a box — Pursuers
foiled... - - - - 74

Margaret — Bom on a slave ship — ChUdhood in a kind family — Another
master, wicked, cruel, and a coward — Her husband sold and she
escapes — Hunted with blood-hounds and rescued bj' a mastiff — Ar-
i-ives in New York — Her son, Samuel R. Ward Su



The Escape of Jim and bis Companions — Night Meetings among the
Slaves — An Angi y Southerner in Fredouia 89


Blacksmith Henry — Works his way from New Orleans to Baltimore —
Writes his own Pass and gets en to Sf ringville, N. Y.— Falls into
Good Hands and gets Safely Through— Seme Account of his Early
Life — A Christian Lady in Kentucky — A Preacher in a Tight Place. HI


Joe and Rosa— Sold — The Escape — They reach the Scuthern Terminus of
the U. G. R. R. — Danger Signals — The Quaker Friend — The Master on
the track —Outwitted by the Quaker— Safe in Wilberfcrce Colony.. . 105


Cassey Escapes from Baltimore — Returns for her Child— Escapes again
in Sailor Costume — Eludes the Slave Catcher, Cathcart — Goes to
Canada— Pietums to Niagara Falls, N. Y. — The Slave Catcher finds
her — A Long Ride and how it came out — An Intelligent Irishman—
What Margaret did for him 11 ;j

Tom Hawkins— Negroes and Poor Whites in Kentucky — Tcm runs his
own train — Sells his shirt to pay his fare attbe Ferry— Is born into
Grod's free air almost as naked as he was born into Slavery— His
Modesty, Industry, Intelligence and Prosperity - - 122


William and Margaret — Seventy Years Old and Determined to be Free
— Half Brother to a U. S. Senator— Argument in a R. R . car I3ii


An old time Missionary at the South — Speaks his Mind but Loses his
Shirts— The Slaveholder's Penitent Letter _ . _ 1?A



Rev. J. W. Loguen — His Trial and Release— Lectm-es in Chautauqua
County — Unexpected Corroboration 14o


The Southern U. G. R. R.— It's use during the war— A Union Prisoner's
Experience EscapLag from Andersonville 147

Frightened Moses— Expecting to be Killed and Eaten by Abolitionists.. .154


Oneda Lackow's Flight from Alabama — Capture and Escape — The
Faithful Dog — The Kind-hearted Jailer's Wife — Graduates from a
Seminary and goes to England. 157

Appendix 16»)


Slavery in the United States after the Fugitive Slave law was enacted,
assumed its most hideous aspect. "V\Tien in colonial times it pervaded more or
less all the colonies, it was not i-egarded as a special source of profit, and the
value was but little more than nominal. After the adoption of the Constitu-
tion, State after State provided for its abolition till it was finally limited to the
States south of Mason & Dixon's line and the Ohio river. The invention of
the cotton gin and the j^rofitableness of the culture of cane and cotton en-
hanced the value of slave propei-ty, and so far increased the demand for this
kind of labor that the raising of slaves for the Southern mai'ket became a
large source of income to the northern Slave States. In process of time thej-
were held as mere chattels, without legal rights, and could not make bargains,
marriage contracts, or perform any act whatever in which the law granted
tliem any protection. In the eye of the law they were as much property as
horses and cattle. This legal ownership enabled the masters to supply the
slave auctions with human chattels, and caused great anguish to the poor
wretches who were subject to sale and separation of kindred with no legal re-
dress against any cruelty which might be inflicted. In the District of Colum-
bia was a large slave mart, but it was so repugnant to Northern sentiments
that iinally the traflBc was abolished there, but was continued at Alexandria,
which was receded to Virginia.

At an early date the moral sense of manj- of the people of the North was
aroused to the enormity of the crime of slavery and measures were taken for
its abolition. The ni'st slaves brought to this country were sold from a Dutch
vessel at Jamestown, Va., in 1619. There were twenty of them. From that
time up to 1776 three hundred thousand were imported. In the Continental
Congress it was resolved that no more slaves should be brought to this country,
but on the adoption of the Constitution, Congress was prohibited from abol-
ishing the slave trade till 1808. In the meantime Anti-Slavery Societies were
formed in several States, and Benj. Franklin was Pi-esident of such an organ-
ization. The Quakers persistently protested against human bondage, and


petitioned the Convention to provide in the Constitution for its abolition. It
was supposed at that time that human bondage would cease in a few years.
In this philanthropists were disappointed, as its rapid gro\vth will show . In
1790 as seen by the census the slaves numbered 697,S9T, which ■was more than
double the number at the commencement of the Revolutionary war.

In 1800 there were 893,000. In 1840 there were 2,487,455.

" 1810 " " 1,191,364. " 1850 " " 3,304,313.

"1820 " " 1,538,038.' "1860 " " 3,952,608.

" 1830 " " 2,009,043.

In 1861 the war commenced between the Northern and Southern States,
which resulted in the abrogation of all property title to more than fom- mil-
lions of human beings in the United States and territories

As one after another the Northern States abolished slavery, they became
an asylum for fugitives from the institution in the Southern States. On the
4th of July, 1827, all slaves held in the State of New York were set at liberty
by an act passed in 1817. Thereafter all the States bordering on the lakes
and rivers between the United States and Canada were free States. In all
these States were found friends of the oppressed race, who desired their eman-
cipation, and the fugitives from slavery found assistance and protection
among these philanthropists, a large number of whom were Quakers who
had always earnestly protested against human bondage. Still the refugees
from slavery were not safe in the free States. The Constitution provided for
their smTender, and the U. S. laws designated the manner of proceedure.
Rewards were offered for their return, and many people were found who f oi-
the pecuuiaiy inducements were willing to participate in this business. The
fugitives were not secure till they reached the soil of Canada. An effort was
made for a treaty with Great Britain to secm'e their return from Canada,
but without success.

After the passage of the fugitive slave law, the danger of captm-e was en-
hanced and many left the free States for gi'eater safety who had long been
I'esidents in them.

Notwithstanding the rewards and penalties of the law, fugitives still con-
tinued to escape, and endured untold suffering in pursuing their trackless
coui-se, often through an unbroken wilderness, guided by the north star to the
land of freedom beyond the dominion of the stars and stripes.

For some fortj" years these pUgrims to the land of liberty made theii- waj-
through the Northern States and across the border. Scattered through the
countrv were humanitaiian people who believed in the " higher law," and


that the complexion of the individual should not exclude him from the en-
joj-ment of his " inalienable rights." These people protected the ileeiug fug-
itive, seci-eted him from his piu-suers, and conducted him from station to
station till he was landed in Canada. The secrecy with which they managed
the matter and the certaintj- of the delivery of the passengers on their line,
gave by common consent the name of the Underground Railroad. The
number of those who escaped is a wonder, in view of the difficulties encomit-
ered. It is estimated by a prominent refugee from Kentucky, who made his
escape in lSo6, that fully thirty-Jive thousand fugitives have reached Canada
from the Slave States. As would be expected, only the shrewdest, able
bodied and most enterprising would succeed. They secured land in the home
of their adoption, became successful farmers and mechanics, and an import-
ant acquisition to the Queen's dominions.

The success of the Underground Railroad in tiansporting colored men to
Canada presents a striking contrast with that of the African colonization
scheme. The Colonization Society was organized in 1816— many yeai-s before
the Underground Raih'oad was instituted. From the time of that organiza-
tion to 1S57, a peiiod of forty years, there were 9,502 emigi'ants sent to Africa,
of whom 3,G7(i were born free, o2G purchased their own liberty and 5,500 were
emancipated on condition of being sent to Africa. It will thus be seen that
nearly four times as many emigrated to Canada as to Liberia, and in develop-
ing the soil, building churches, schoolhouses, manufacturing establishments,
and the surroundings of comfortable homes, and the facilities for the enjoy-
ment of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," the WUberforce Colon j'
will compare favorably with Liberia and Siena Leone, though it is not doubt-
ed that African colonization has exerted a beneficial influence on the dai'k
shores of the Afiican continent. The Underground Railroad, it will be seen,
has done much the greatest work in behalf of human liberty*.

The conductors on this I'oute were some of the noblest, self sacrificing men
the world ever saw. l\o civil penalties dismayed them. They boldly pio-
claimed by deeds of moral heroism and self-sacrifice their faith in the highei-
law, before which human statutes were impotent when human libei'ty was at

The remarkable exodus now in progress, vrhich thi-eatens to depi'ive the
cotton States of a considerable portion of their laboring population, notwith-
standing the sufferings of the i-efugees, presents a striking contrast with that
under the management of the Underground Raih'oad. in the present case
the philanthropist can exei'cise his charity toward the suffering, and nt) la^^


cau interfere witli its penalties, while then, as will be seen by the sketches

herewith presented, all acts of kindness to the fleeing fugitive, exposed those

who aided them to the penalties of the tugitiA'e slave law. The " higher law'

has become pi'actically national in its application to the colored people of the


The writer of the following sketches is well known throughout the region

where the fugitives found their way to the Lakes, and was one of the most

self-sacrificing and eflBcicnt of the conductors of the U. G. R. R. He is an

earnest laborer for Him who "came to preach deliverance to the captive and

to set at liberty those who are in bonds." In every good work for the benefit

of humanity he has always borne a part when oppoitunity has offered.

The thrilling adventm-es nariTated mostly occurred on his portion of the

route, and within his personal knowledge. Many of the active participants in

the service of the great line of travel from Slavery to l*^'eedom, have already

passed away. The author of these sketches is now in his 78th year, and can

look back on a life of usefulness and good will to men far brighter than falls

to the usual lot of mankind. The sketches were first published in serial

numbers at the solicitation of the Editors of the Fredonia Censor, with a

view to the perpetuation of the pei-sonal recollections of a period in our histoi-y

which, thanks to the Proclamation of our martyred President, can never in

the history of this country be repeated. Knowing so well the author, and the

entire reliability of the narratives, and the deep interest whicl^ was t^aken in

them when they were first given to the public, we have ventured tQ»|[ive them

the permanent form in which they are now presented to the relft^er. They

constitute an incomplete, but interesting record of " the times which tried

men's souls." It was some ten years ago that these sketches were written.

With others they are now presented to the public in a more enduring form,

with the hope that the respect for the memory of those engaged in the self

sacrificing work of befriending fugitives from slavery, may be more highly

. cherished. Surely when they shall "rest from their labors," and " their works

shall follow them," they will be welcomed by Him who said, " Inasmuch as

ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye havedone it unto me."

* W. McK.

Fredonia, May, 187'J.


In 1619 slaves were introduced into the colony of Yir-
ginia — they were Africans of pure blood, jet black, thick
lips, flat noses, flat feet and crooked shins. The Virgin-
ians would have scorned the idea of enslaving a white
man or woman, but the time came when the bluest blood
of Virginia betrayed itself in the blush on the cheek of
beautiful women standing on the auction block in Rich-
mond, Charleston and New Orleans. Beauty of face and
of- form had a market value ; a beautiful woman would
sell for the price of ten able bodied men, and even Chris-
tianity was an article of commerce. A man stands upon
the block, dignified in manner, serious countenance, and
silent. ^"IkNow, gentlemen and ladies," says the auctioneer,
•' I offer you a first class servant. He is honest and faith-
ful, and moreover he is a Christian; no sham I tell you,
but a genuine, conscientious Christian man. He would
die rather than commit a wrong act or betray his master.
How much do you offer for a servant that you can depend
on every time ?"

Good men in the Slave States were silent, having no
means of redress ; the laws and public opinion were on
the side of the slave holder. The free States remonstrat-
ed and petitioned Congress to adopt measures for eman-
cipation. The South assumed the political doctrine of


State rights, which means that State laws are paramount
to U. S. laws. But when the northern States enacted laivs to
'protect their own citizens against kidnappers, it luas fonnd that
" State Rights" applied only to slave States. As the free States
persisted in protecting their citizens the slave States de-
manded the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Law, which
was passed in 1850, establishing commissions and courts
unknown to the Constitution, and was undoubtedly the
most barbarous law enacted by any civilized nation in
the 19th century.

The most simple act of charity to a fugitive must be
kept a profound secret or a felon's cell was the penalty.
The result was a spontaneous combination of multitudes
of men and women, extending from Maine to Kansas,
with many a station south of Mason & Dixon's line,,
which on" account of its harmony of action, rapid transit
and secret operation, came to be known as the " Under-
ground Rail Road." ,

The Underground R. R., extending from the interior
of the slave States to Canada; and to liberty, wherever
human liberty could be found, had four main lines across
the State of New York, and scores of laterals. It has
finished its mission, closed its operations, settled its ac-
counts and divided the proceeds among the passengers.
The immense wealth thus accumulated was invested in
the purchase of large tracts of land in Canada, clearing
up, stocking and cultivating farms, building dwellings,
barns, churches and school houses, mills and factories.

No institution has ever existed in this countrv, whose


business was transacted with more perfect fidelity, more

profound secrecy, more harmony in the working of its

complicated machinery and yet with such tremendous


It had, like all other rail roads, its offices and stations,
engineers and conductors, ticket agents and train dis-
patchers, hotels and eating houses. The fugitive slave
law passed by Congress in 1850, imposed a penalty of
11,000 fine and imprisonment for selling or giving a
meal of victuals to one of the passengers on this road,
or for helping them on their way. Disregarding these
penalties, the eating houses were open day and night,
and well supplied with the best food the country afforded.

The business was conducted in silence and harmony,
consequently but few of the employees suffered the afore-
said penalties ; yet some of the noblest and purest men
that ever suffered as martyrs were victims of that horrid
fugitive slave law. Rev. John Rankin, of Ohio, was
fined $1,000 and imprisonment. Wm. L. Chaplin, Esq.,
of Mass., was imprisoned in Virginia, released on nine-
teen thousand dollars bail, which was paid by his friends
to save his life, and Rev. C. T. Torry died in a Virginia

The managers availed themselves of all manner of
facilities for traveling ; rail roads and steam boats, canal
boats and ferry boats, stage coaches, gentlemen's car-
riages and lumber wagons were pressed into active
duty when needed. The large rivers were the chief ob
stacles in their way when not bridged with ice. In 1858


it was asserted that the slave holders had employed
Douglass, (not Fred,) to advocate in Congress a bill to
abolish the North Star and make it a penal offence for
the Ohio river to freeze over. I do not think Douglass
ever introduced such a bill, but such a proposition was
no more absurd than the indirect attempt to abolish
Christianity, by enacting the Fugitive Slave Law.

The writer of these brief sketches of U. G. R. R.
histor}^ kept a station and eating house at one of the
crossings of the Cattaraugus river, in Cattaraugus Co., X.
Y., though but few of his nearest neighbors knew until
the rebellion ended, its usefulness. Being at the junction
of six laterals with the main line running through Buf-
falo, I heard many thrilling accounts from escaping
fugitives while they were in my charge, and experienced
some exciting times when the slave hounds were almost
within striking distance. I have given comparatively
few of the many incidents which came under my obser-
vation, and these only in outline, yet as giving some con-
ception of the workings of an institution importantly
pertaining to a past epoch in our liistory, the character
of which even now this generation can scarcely realize, I
am persuaded that these chapters may have both value
and interest, and they are therefore respectfully submit-
ted in this form to the pubiic. E. M. Pettit.

Fredonia, N. Y., May, 1870.




Something over twenty years ago, I stopped a few days
at the City Hotel in Wheeling, Va, The hotel was
located on the southern border of the city, adjoining a
small plantation in the rear of the garden. The land-
lord was a pleasant, social gentleman, well informed on
all topics of interest, and preferred hiring his help rather
than be the owner of a human being. Having learned
this, I was less guarded in talking about their institu-
tions than I should otherwise have been. Among the
guests at the hotel was a family of Quakers on their way
from Eastern Virginia to Indiana. One of the young
men told me that he had never been outside of the State
of Virginia ; had long been disgusted with the wicked-
ness and cruelty of slavery which he could not avoid
seeing and hearing every da3\ The horrors of the every-
day life on the plantations as described by him exceeded
everything related in "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and he had
sold out, and the family were going to settle in a free

I was sitting on the piazza talking with this man,
when a coffle of slaves came in front of the house and
were hustled along by the driver ; the men were fine
looking fellows, though they were bare-footed, and most
of them bare-headed ; they were chained by the right


wrist to a long bar of iron. The women were not
fettered, some of them carried infants in their arms, and
some children rode on the wagon with the corn on
which they all were fed. They soon started toward
a steamboat lying at the Icveo, and were shipped for the
New Orleans market. This was the first drove of slaves
[ had ever seen, and being a little excited, I made a
remark to the Quaker which the landlord overheard, and
touching my shoulder, he beckoned me to go with him.
We went aside, and he said to me, " You are going to
Kentucky, and I advise you to beware how you speak of
these things. There are men in this place, who, had
they heard that remark, would have had you in jail in a
hurry. I hope you will heed my advice."

An incident that occurred on the U. G. R. K, not
mam^ months after, brought vividly to my remembrance
the kind-hearted, unselfish landlord of the City HoteHn
Wheeling. It was on a bitter cold day in December that
a sleigh was driven into Fredonia, N. Y. ; the driver had
made some inquiries, (for this was his first trip as con-
ductor,) and turned his team down the creek in search of
a depot. It was late in the evening, and the road was
badly drifted, but the train went through and made con-
nection as usual. The passenger came out from under
the driver's seat, shook off the blankets and Bufitilo
robes that had hid him and kept him warm. He was
not inclined to talk at first, but a hearty welcome, a
warm supper, and the assurance that he was safe from
his pursuers, induced him to give a brief account of his
adventures. He said :

" I have always lived in Loudoun County, Virginia.
My mother was the cook, and I worked about the house,
and sometimes traveled with master, — went to Washing-
ton, Baltimore, Cumberland, and once to Wheeling, on


horseback. One day, when mother gave me my dinner,
she said, ' Charley, all my children gone but you, and
Massa's done gone and sold you, and I'll never see you
'gin.' ' Guess not, mother, he promised you to keep me
always ; ' but she said, ' I heard him tell the trader he'll
send you to town Monday morning, and he must put you
in jail.' AVell, I was afraid to tell mother what I would

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Online LibraryEber M. PettitSketches in the history of the Underground Railroad comprising many thrilling incidents of the escape of fugitives from slavery, and the perils of those who aided them → online text (page 1 of 12)