William Still.

The underground rail road. A record of facts, authentic narratives, letters, &c., narrating the hardships, hairbreadth escapes and death struggles of the slaves in their efforts for freedom online

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Online LibraryWilliam StillThe underground rail road. A record of facts, authentic narratives, letters, &c., narrating the hardships, hairbreadth escapes and death struggles of the slaves in their efforts for freedom → online text (page 67 of 93)
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was owned by George Brown, who resided at Deep Creek. Isaac testified
that said Brown had invariably treated him cruelly. For thirty years
Isaac had hired his time, found himself in food, clothing, and everything,
yet as he advanced in years, neither his task, nor his hire was diminished,
but on the contrary his hire of late years had been increased. He winced
under the pressure, and gave himself up to the study of the Underground
Rail Road. Wiiile arrangements for fleeing Avere pending, he broke the
secret to his wife, Polly, in whom he trusted ; she being true to freedom,
although sorrowing to part with him, threw no obstacle in his way. Besides
his wife, he had also two daughters, Amanda A. and Mary Jane, both
slaves. Nevertheless, having made up his mind not to die a slave, he re-
solved to escape at all hazards.

Henderson belonged to the estate of A. Briggs, which was about to be
settled, and knowing that he was accounted on the inventory as personal
property, he saw that he too would be sold with the rest of the movables,
if he was not found among the missing.

He began to consider wiiat he had endured as a slave, and came to the
conclusion that he had had a " rugged road to hoe all the way along " and
that he might have it much worse if he waited to be sold. The voice of
reason admonished him to escape for his life. In obeying this call he suf-
fered the loss of his wife, Julia, and two children, who were fortunately
free. Henderson was about thirty-one years of age, stout, and of healthy
appearance, worth in cash perhaps $1200.

Wii.LiAM was thirty-four years of age, of a chestnut color, substantial
physical structure, and of good faculties. The man who professed to own
him he called William Taylor, and "he was a very hanl man, one of the
kind which could not be pleased, nor give a slave a pleasant answer one
time in fifty." Being thoroughly sick of William Taylor, he fell in love
with the Underground Rail Road and Canada.

Mrs. Walker, the big fat woman, was thirty-eight years of age, and a
pleasant-looking person, of a very dark hue. Besides the struggles already

I "1



alluded to, she was obliged to leave her husbaud. Of her master she de-
clared that she could " say nothing good." His name was Arthur Cooj)er,
of Georgetown ; she had never lived with him, however; for twenty years
she had hired her time, paying five dollars per month. When young she
scarcely thought of the gross wrongs that were heaped upon her ; but as she
grew older, and thought more about her condition, she scouted the idea that
God had designed her to be a slave, and decided that she would be one to
leave Dlxey in the first Underground Rail Road train that might afford
her the chance. She determined not to remain even for the sake of her
husband, who was a slave. With such a will, therefore, she started.
Upon leaving Philadelphia, she went with the most of her company to
Boston, and tlience to New Bedford, where she was living when last heard

Rebecca Lewey was the wife of a man, who was familiarly known by
the name of " Blue Beard," his proper name being Henry Lewey. For a
long time, although a slave himself, he was one of the most dexterous
managers in the Underground Rail Road agency in Norfolk. No single
chapter in this work could be more interesting than a chapter of his
exploits in this respect.

The appearing of Mrs. Lewey, was a matter of unusual interest.
Although she had worn the yoke, she was gentle in her manners, and
healthy-looking, so much so that no life insurance agent would have had
need to subject her to medical examination before insuring her. She was
twenty-eight years of age, l)ut had never known personal abuse as a
slave; she was none the less anxious, however, to secure her freedom. Her
husband, Blue Beard, judging from certain signs, that he was suspected
by slave-holders, and might at any time be caged, (indeed he had recently
been in the lions' den, but got out) ; in order to save his wife, sent her on
in advance as he had decided to follow her soon in a similar manner. Re-
becca was not without hope of again meeting her husband. This desire was
gratified before many months had passed, as he was fortunate enough to
make his way to Canada.

Mary Knight was a single woman, twenty-six years of age, dark, stout,
and of pleasing manners ; she complained of having been used hard.

Sarah Saunders had been claimed as the property of Richaixl Gate-
M'ood, a clerk in the naval service. According to Sarah ho was a very
clever slave-holder, and had never abused her. Nor was she aware that
he had ever treated any of his servants cruelly. Sarah, however, had not
lived in Gatewood's immediate family, but had been allowed to remain
with her grandmother, rather as a privileged character. vShe was young,
fair, and prepossessing. Having a sister living in Philadelphia, who was
known to the agent in Norfolk, Sarah was asked one day if she would not
like to see her sister. She at once answered "Yes." After further conver-


sation the agent told her that if she would keep the matter entirely private,
lie would arrange I'or her to go by the Underground Hail Road. Being
wiilin;'- and anxious to go, she promised due obedience to the rules; she
vas not told, however, how much she would have to pass through on the
way, else, according to her own admission, she never would have come as
she did ; her heart Mould have failed her. But when the goal was gained,
like all others, she soon forgot her sufferings, and rejoiced heartily at
getting out of Slavery, even though her condition had not been so bad as
that of many othei-s.

Sophia Gray, with her son and daughter, Henry and Mary, was from
Portsmouth. The mother was a tall, yellow woman, with well cut features,
about thirty-three years of age, with manners indicative of more than
ordinary intelligence. The son and daughter were between twelve and four-
teen years of age ; well-developed for their age, modest, and finely-formed
mulattoes. All the material necessary for a story of great interest, might
have readily been found in the story of the mother and her children.
They were sent with others to New Bedford, Massachusetts. It was not
long after being in New Bedford, before the boy was put to a trade, and
the daughter was sent to Boston, where she had an aunt (a fugitive), living
in the family of the Hon. George S. Hilliard. Mr. and Mrs. Hilliard were
so impressed by Mary's intelligent countenance and her aj^pearance gene-
rally, that they decided that she must have a chance for an education, and
opened their hearts and home to her.

On a visit to Boston, in 1859, the writer found Mary at Mr. Ililliard'sj
and in an article written for the " Anti-Slavery Standard," upon the con-
dition of fugitive slaves in Boston and New Bedford, allusion was made
])articularly to her and several others, under this hospitable roof, in the
following paragraj)h :

"On arriving in Boston, the first pei*sons I had the pleasure to converse
with, were four or five uncommonly interesting Underground Kail Road
j)assongers, who had onlv been out of bondage between three and five year?.
Their intelligent appearance contradicted the idea that they had ever been
an hour in Slavery, or a mile on an Underground Rail Road. Two of them
were filling trustworthy posts, where they were respected and well paid for
their services. Two others were young people (one two, and the other three
years out of Slavery), a girl of fifteen, and a boy of twelve, whose interest-
ing appearance induced a noble-hearted Anti-Slavery lady to receive them
into her own family, expressly to educate them ; and thus, almost ever since
their arrival, they have been enjoying this lady's kindness, as well as the
excellent equal Free School privileges of Boston. The girl, in the Gram-
mar School (chiefly composed of whites), has already distinguished herself,
having received a di])lorna, with an excellent certificate of character; aad
the boy, naturally very apt, has made astonishing progress.


jli The "boy of twelve," alluded to, was not Mary's brother. He was quite
a genius of his age, who had escaped from Norfolk, stowed away in a
schooner and was known by the name of " Dick Page."

■ On arriving in Philadelphia, Dick was delivered, as usual, into the hands
of the Committee. The extraordinary smartness of the little fellow (only
ten years old), astonished all wiio saw him. The sympathies of a kind-
hearted gentleman and his wife, living in Philadelphia, had been deeply
awakened in his behalf, through their relative and friend, Mrs. Hilliard,
in whose family, as has been already stated, the boy's aunt lived. So much
were these friends interested to secure Dick's freedom, that they often con-
templated buying him, although they did not like the idea of buying, as the
money would go into the pocket of the master, who they considered had no
just right to deprive any individual of his freedom. So when Dick arrived
the Committee felt that it was .as little as tliey could do, to give these friends
the pleasure of seeing the little Underground Rail Road passenger. He
was therefore conveyed to the residence of Prof. J. P. Lesley. He could
not have been sent to a house in the great city of Brotherly Love, where he
would have found a more cordial and sincere reception. After passing an
hour or so with them, Dick was brought away, but he had been so touched
by their kindness, that he felt that he must see them again, before leaving
the city; so just before sundown, one evening, he was missed; search was
made for him, but in vain. Great anxiety was felt for him, fearing that
he was lost. During the early part of the evening, the writer, with a bell
in hand, passed up one street and down another, in quest of the stranger,
but no one could give any information of him. Finally about ten o'clock,
the mayor's office was visited with a view of having the police stations
telegraphed. Soon the mystery was solved ; one of the policemen stated
that he had noticed a strange colored boy with Professor Lesley's children.
Hastening to the residence of the professor, sure enough, Dick was there,
Ihappy in bed and asleep.

, From that time to this, it has been a mystery to know how a boy, a
iperfect stranger, could make his way alone, (having passed over the route
but once), without getting lost, so circuitous was the road that he had to
travel, in order to reach Professor Lesley's house. Having said this much,
:he way is now ojien to refer to him again, in Boston at school He was
generously assisted through his education and trade, and was prepared to
commence life at his majority, an intelligent mechanic; and a man of




Scarcely had the infamous statute been in existence six months, ere the
worst predictions of the friends of the slave were fulfilled in different
Northern States. It is hardly too much to say, that Pennsylvania was
considered wholly unsafe to nine-tenths of her colored population. The
kidnapper is fully shown in the case of Rachel and Elizabeth Parker as he
api)eared on the soil of Pennsylvania, doing his vile work in the dead of
niglit, entering the homes of unprotected females and children, therefore:

The case of Eupheraia Williams will serve to represent the milder form
of kidnaj>ping in open day, in the name of the law, l)y professed Christians
in the city of Brotherly Love, and the home of William Penn.

February 6, 1851, Euphemia Williams, the mother of six children, the
youngest at the breast, was arrested in the upper part of the city (Phila-
delphia), and hurried before Edward D. Ingraham, a United States commis-
sioner, upon the charge of being a fugitive from labor. She was claimed by
William T. J. Purnell, of Worcester county, Maryland, who admitted that
she had been away from him for twenty-two years, or since 1829. Her off-
spring were born on the soil of Pennsylvania, and the eldest daughter was
seventeen years of age.

EuPiiEMiA was living in her own house, and had been a member of
church, in good and regular standing, for about seventeen years, and was
about forty years of age. When the arrest was made, Euphemia had just
risen from her bed, and was only partly dressed, when a little after daylight,
several persons entered her room, and arrested her. Murder ! murder ! was
cried lustily, and awakened the house. Her children screamed lamentably,
and her eldest daughter cried " They've got my mother ! they've got my
mother!" " For God's sake, save me," cried Euphemia, to a woman in the
second story, who was an eye-witness to this monstrous outrage. But
despite the piteous ai)peals of the mother and children, the poor woman was
hastened into a cab, and borne to the marshall's office.

Through the vigilance of J. M. McKim and Passmore Williamson, a
writ of habeas corpus returnable forthwith was obtained at about one o'clock.
The heart-broken motlier was surrounded by five of her children, three of
whom were infants. It was a dark and dreadful hour. When her children
wt^re brought into the room where she was detained, great drops of sweat
standing on her face plainly indicated her agony.

By mutual arrangement between the claimants and the prisoner's counsel
the hearing was fixed fi)r the next day, at the hour of three o'clock. Accord-


ing to said arrangement, at three o'clock Euphemia was brought face to face
with her claimant, William T. J. Purnell. The news had already gone
out that the trial would come off at the time fixed ; hence a multitude were
on hand to witness the proceedings in the case. The sympathy of anti-
slavery ladies was excited, and many were present in the court-room to
manifest their feelings in behalf of the stricken woman. The eloquent
David Paul Brown (tlie terror of slave-hunters) and William S. Pierce,
Esqrs., appeared for Euphemia, R. C. McMurtrie, Esq., for the claimant.

Mr. McMurtrie in the outset, arose and said, that it was with ext)-eme
regret that he saw an attempt to influence the decision of this case by
tumult and agitation. The sympathy shown by so many friendly ladies,
was not a favorable sign for the slave-holder. Notwithstanding, Mr.
McMurtrie said that he would "prove that Mahala, sometimes called
Mahala Purnell, was born and bred a slave of Dr. George W. Purnell, of
Worcester county, Maryland, who was in the habit of hiring her to the
neighbors, and while under a contract of hiring, she escaped with a boy,
with whom she had taken up, belonging to the person who hired her." The
present claimant claimed her as the administrator of Dr. George W.

In order to sustain this claim many witnesses and much positive swearing
were called forth. Robert F. Bowen, the first witness, swore that he knew
both Mahala and her master perfectly well, that he had worked as a car-
penter in helping to build a house for the latter, and also had hired the
former directly from her owner.

Definite time and circumstances were all harmoniously fixed by this lead-
ing witness. One of the important circumstances which afforded him
ground for being positive was, as he testified on cross-examination, that he
was from home at a camp-meeting (when she run away); "our camp-meet-
ings," said the witness, " are held in the last of August or the first of Sep-
tember ; the year I fix by founding it upon knowledge ; the year before she
ran away, I professed religion; I have something at home to fix the year;
she was with me a part of a year. I hired her for the year 1848 as a house
servant ; I hired her directly from Dr. George W. Purnell. When she ran
away I proceeded after her. I advertised, in Delware in written advertise-
ments, in Georgetown, Milford and Millsborough, and described her and the
boy ; her general features. I have not the advertisement and can't tell how
she was described ; Dr. George Purnell united with me in the advertisement.
I followed her to Delaware City ; that's all I have done since, about inquir-
ing after them. I came, after twenty-two years' absence, to seek my own
rigiits, and as an evidence for my friend. I have not seen her more than
once since she ran away, until she was arrested ; I saw her two or three
times in court. I saw her first in a wretched-looking room, at Fifth and
Germantown Road; it was yesterday morning ; it was the evening before at


Congress Hall ; I arrived here last Tuesday a week ; a man told me where
she was " — '* I beg the court/' — here INIr. McMurtrie interposed an objection
to his mentioning the person. The court, however, said the question could
be put.

Witness. — I was pledged not to tell the name; the person signed her name
Louisa Truit ; the information was got by letter ; the reason I did not tell,
because I thought she might be murdered ; I have not the letters, and can't
tell the contents ; the letter that I received required a pledge that I would
not tell : I was directed to send my letter to the post-office without any
definite place ; the representative of Louisa Truit was a man ; I saw him in
Market street between Third and Fourth, at Taylor and Paulding's store,
in the course of last week; I was brought into contact witii the representa-
tive of Louisa by appointment in the letter, to get the information ; I never
heard him tell his name; he was neither colored nor white; we call them
with us mixed blood ; (I should take you to be colored, said the witness to
Mr. Brown.) I suppose he lives somewhere up there; I saw him at my
room the next morning ; I did not learn from him who wrote the letter ; he
did not describe the person of the woman in the letter written to rae, only .
her general aj>pearance ; PurncU said he burnt the letter. )

Mr. Brown demanded the letter, or the proof of its destruction.

I never wrote myself, but my friend, Mr. Henry did ; he said so ; T never
received a letter ; it was written to Robert J. Henry ; part of the letter was
written to me, but not directed to me ; the Louisa Truit, who wrote, stated,
that for the information he wanted $100 for one of the fugitives; he was
referral to the store of Taylor & Paulding, and Mr. Henry would meet him
there ; when I got to the store, some of the concern let Mr. Henry know
that a man wanted to see him; I heard this at the store, the man was there;
he was a mulatto man, middle-aged, and middling tall ; he is not here, that I
know of^; can't tell when I last saw him. His name I understood to be

Under the severe cross-examination that the witness had been subjected to
under D. P. Brown, he became very faint, and called for water. Large
drops of sweat stood upon his forehead, and he was obliged to sit down, lest
he should fall down. "Take a seat," said Mr. Brown tauntingly, "and
enjoy yourself, while I proceed with my interrogations." But the witness
was completely used up, and was allowed to withdraw to another room,
where frosh air was more plentiful. The cause of tlie poor slave woman
was greatly strengthened by this failure.

Another witness, named Zachariah Bowen, for the claimants, swore pos-
itively that he know the prisoner well, that she had been hired to his
brother for three years by Dr. Purnell, whose slave she was; also he swore
that he knew her parents, who were slaves to the said Doctor P. ; that he
last saw her in 1827, etc. On croas-examination he swore thus : " I last saw


her in 1827, she was about sixteen or seventeen; she was about an ordinary
size, not the smallest size, nor the largest ; she was neither tliiclc nor thin ;
there was nothing re^narkable in her more than is common ; nothing in her
speech ; she was about the same color as the woman here ; I never saw a
great deal of change in a nigger, from sixteen to thirty-five or forty, some-
times they grow fatter, and sometimes leaner. As to recognizing her in
Philadelphia, he had not the slightest difficulty. He went on to swear, that
he first saw her in a cab, in the city ; I knew her yesterday ; if you could
see the rest of the family you could pick her out yourself in thirty : I knew
her by her general favor, and have no particular mark ; I would not attempt
to describe features ; her favor is familiar to me ; I never saw any marks
upon her."

Here Mr. Brown said he would not examine this witness further until he
had concluded the examination of the witness, who had become sick. The
court then adjourned till nine o'clock the next morning.

The avenues to the court were filled with anxious persons, and in the
front and rear of the state house the crowd was very great.

The next morning, at an early hour, the court-room, and all the avenues
to it were densely crowded by people interested in behalf of the woman
whose case was under trial. A large number of respectable ladies formed a
part of the large gathering.

Robert F. Bowen, the witness, who became sick, was recalled.

Witness. — " I saw the colored person, who gave the information, the next
evening ; after I saw him in Market street, at Congress Hall, in our room ;
the gentleman who keeps the hotel we did not wish to place under any
responsibility, as he might be accused of cr.rrying on the business. (Of kid-
napping, suggested Mr. Brown.) No, said witness, that is what you call it;
the woman would have run away if it had gone out ; I heard his natne was
Gloucester, that gave the information ; I saw him three times ; once on the
street ; I have never been in his house ; I have been to a house where I
heard he lived ; I gave a pledge not to disclose the matter ; I made a per-
sonal pledge to Gloucester in our room last week at Congress Hall ; he said
he was afraid of being abused by the population of his own color for telling
that this girl run away from Dr. Purnell ; I understood that Louisa Truit
was Gloucester's wife.

Under this searching cross-examination, Mr. Brown constrained him not
only to tell all and more than he knew in favor of his friend, the claimant,
but wrung from him the secrets which he stood pledged never to disclose.

Witness. — I know no marks; she was in the condition of a married woman
when she left me ; it was the particular fiivor of her father and mother that
made me recognize her ; nothing else ; she was pretty well built for her

While this witness remembered every thing so accurately occurring in re-


lation to the life and escape of the girl of sixteen, and was prepared to
swear to her identity simply *' by her lavor," as he termed it, he was found
sadly deficient in memory touching the owner, whom he had known much
longer, and more intimately than he had the girl, as will be seen irom the
following facts in this witness' testimony :

Witness. — "I don't know when Dr. P. died; I can't tell the year; I
should suppose about fourteen years ago ; I was at the funeral, and helped
to make his coffin ; it was in the fall, I think ; it was after the camp-meet-
ing I spoke of; at that time I went regularly, but not of late; I have no
certain recollection of the year he died; I kept a record of the event of my
conversion, and have referred to it often. It has been a reference every
year, and perhaps a thousand times a year; it was in the Bible, and I was
in the liabit of looking into it ; I was in the habit of turning over the leaves
of this precious book; I think it was eighteen years ago ; can't say I'm cer-
tain ; can't say it was more than twelve years ; Dr. P. left six children ; two
remain in our country, and one in Louisiana, and the one, who is here,
making four; I have no interest in the fugitive; I made no contract in
regard to this case; there was an oifer ; are you waiting for an answer? the
offer was this, that I was to come on after my fugitive, and if I did not get
him they were to pay my expenses; I hesitated about coming; it was a
long time before I made up my mind ; they said they would pay my
expenses if I didn't succeed in getting mine out of prison."

In this way the above witness completely darkened counsel, and added to
the weakness of his cause in a marked degree.


Zachnriah Boioen recalled. — " I didn't come here on any terms ; I hardly
understand what you mean by terms ; I made no contract ; I came upon my
own hook; there was no contract; I have no expectations; I don't know

Online LibraryWilliam StillThe underground rail road. A record of facts, authentic narratives, letters, &c., narrating the hardships, hairbreadth escapes and death struggles of the slaves in their efforts for freedom → online text (page 67 of 93)