The Underground Railroad (Chautauqua County, NY)

From: History of Chautauqua County
New York And Its People
Editors: John P. Downs and Fenwick Y. Hedley
Published by: American Historical Society, Inc,
Boston, New York, Chicago 1921

By Albert S. Price.

Slavery was an institution which, we would think, must always have been far removed from the life of Chautauqua county; a matter for those distant Southern States whose prosperity depended on slave labor; or at least for those "Border" States which were of necessity more or less controlled by the institutions of their near southern neighbors. In general this is quite true. Yet even this distant community had some connections with that great national problem. And these connections, constituting picturesque exceptions to the ordinary course of life here, stood out by bold contrast.

Many of these incidents resulted from the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 one of the legislative compromises demanded by a powerful and aggressive South, resisted by an anti-slavery North, and found to be not easily enforceable. The quiet but stubborn resistance of the English Puritans to the tyranny of James I. and Charles I. found itself repeated in the resistance of their American descendants in the North to this law, regarded by them as unjust and tyrannical.

Upon its enactment, numbers of escaped slaves who had lived unmolested in the North fled in terror to Canada. Others stayed and took the risks of being captured. Under the operation of the law many were

captured and returned to slavery in the South. These captures invariably aroused intense excitement and opposition in the communities concerned, with the result that North and South became more and more estranged and antagonistic by this irritating friction.

This law did not, however, prevent the slaves from attempting in considerable numbers to reach Canada and freedom. The northern people, smarting under what they chose to regard as the insult heaped upon them by the enforcement of the odious law, cooperated for a deliberate evasion of the law and for a determined opposition to its enforcement They worked secretly and quietly, without any disturbance of the ordinary course of community life. This secret coOperation became known in the expressive phrase of the day as the "Under Ground Railroad," some times referred to by the initials U. G. R. R. The shortest routes from the South to Canada became known as the several "lines" of this railroad; and, in carrying out the technical terminology, those who assisted the fleeing slaves were dubbed conductors, engineers, and trainmen.

Several of these well-established routes led through this county. A "trunk line" ran along the Lake Ene shore from Cleveland to Buffalo. Another began at the Ohio river near Marietta, Ohio; ran thence along the eastern border of Ohio through several counties to the village of Jefferson, the county seat of Ashtabula county. This county was the home of Joshua R. Giddings, Benjamin F. Wade, and several other strong antislavery leaders. From this point the "hill division" of the line passed through Monroe township, Ohio; across the State line and through the townships of Conneaut, Elk Creek, Franklin, McKean, Summit, Greene and Greenfield iu Erie county, Pennsylvania; thence through the townships of Mina, Sherman, Chautauqua, Stockton, Pomfret, Sheridan, and Hanover in this county; and on to Buffalo and Canada.

Still another branch came into the county from the south by way of Sugar Grove, passed through Jamestown, Ellington and Sinclairville; and thence apparently on to the north to join the other route.

In every centre there were brave men and intrepid women who at a large risk assisted the dusky fugitives, and so struck, as they believed, an effective blow for freedom. The runaways were hidden from sight during the day, fed, and often clothed. Under the cover of night they were silently and secretly carried forward to the next "station," where word of their coming had preceded them. The new hosts often indicated their readiness to receive the fugitives by previously arranged signals of lights in the windows, and other readily discernible signs. The transfer from wagon or sleigh, to house or other hiding place, was accomplished as quickly and as quietly as possible to avoid the undesirable attention of any unsympathetic or even hostile neighbor. Authorities have estimated that by these secret operations not less than thirty thousand slaves were helped to reach Canada. The determined efforts of the slaveholders to follow and recapture their valuable slaves (a perfectly natural desire) served by aggravation to further the growing sentiment against slavery in the North, and to develop rapidly the activities of the Under Ground Rail Road.

In Jamestown there was a settlement of free colored people in the district on North Main street and West Seventh street which was familiarly known as Africa. In this settlement one of the well-known and respected women was Mrs. Catherine Harris. Her house was one of the stations, where she harbored many escaping slaves during the troubled years, at one time secreting as many as seventeen. Many of the county's well known men received, harbored and then forwarded these fugitives. Silas Sherman of Jamestown was certainly one of the most active. In Jamestown Dr. Hedges and Phineas Crossman, too were leaders, in the work Others who assisted in this vicinity were Addison A. Price and his brother Wilson A. Price. of Jamestown; Frank Van Dusen, of Jamestown; Dr. Brown, of Busts; Dr. Catlin, of Sugar Grove; Mr. Page and Mr. Nessel, of Ellington, Benjamin Miller, of Stockton; Joseph Sackett, near Cassadaga; Levi Jones of Busti; and Henry H. Jones of Kiantone. Many other helpers whose names have never been recorded took an active part in this dangerous work. Money was freely given by many anti-slavery people. Among those in Jamestown whose purses were always open, are remembered Alonzo Kent, Orsell Cook, Lewis Hall, Albert Partridge, and Madison Burnell. We should all like to pay equal tribute to those many conscientious patriots who with quiet consecration helped with money, time and steady effort, this great cause of freedom, whose names most unfortunately, have not been preserved in any written record.. In all of these there survived the spirit which has made the Anglo-Saxon, at any cost, always stand against what he regarded as tyranny and injustice.

Among the runaway slaves was Harrison Williams, who escaped from Virginia, arriving foot-sore and exhausted at the farm of William Storum, a free colored man, in Busti, in February or March of 1851. Storum kept him several months, supplying his wants and helping him back to health. He was a mere boy of seventeen. Early one morning in September he was kidnapped by his former master, who had learned his hiding-place. This man and some others, dressed as women, drove to the farm, went around to the rear of the house where Williams was milking, seized and bound him, and put him in the bottom of their wagon. They drove rapidly north through Jamestown by way of Forest avenue, Roosevelt Square and North Main street, to Fredonia, and thence to Buffalo. The alarm quickly spread, and a man on horseback, outspeeding the captors, arrived before them in Jamestown. A crowd quickly gathered in the Square, but there was no time to organize any effort, and the captors dashed through the crowd and up Main street without being stopped. "Guinea" Carpenter addressed the excited crowd, urging action, and a pursuing party was quickly made up. But valuable time had been lost, and the captors, with relays of fresh horses, got safely to Buffalo. Here the owner established a legal claim. In the crowded court room a lane was opened through the crowd, and an effort was made to induce Williams to make a dash for liberty. The crowd intended to close behind him until he should reach the carriage which was waiting at the door to take him to a place of safety. Either he failed to understand, or lacked the necessary courage, for he didn't make the effort, and was taken back to Virginia

James W. Broadhead, of Busti, whose farm was next to the Storum farm, and who knew all the circumstances of the capture, enlisted m the 112th N. Y. Regiment in the Civil War. On Christmas Day in 1863 at Culpeper, Virginia, Mr. Broadhead saw Harrison Williams in camp. After being taken back to Virginia he had been sold to Georgia, and went as servant to his new master in the Confederate army. With his master he was captured by the Union army near the Rappahannock station in the fall of 1863, and became hostler for Gen. Slocum. Mr. Broadhead talked with him and verified his identity. This capture deeply stirred the county and is said to have stimulated the activities of the Under Ground Rail Road.

Authorities: Contributed articles and news items published in the "Jamestown Evening Journal" on the following dates: July 21. July 22, 1896; Sept 27, 1901; May 10, May 17, May 24, 1902; December 26, 1905; April 21, July 14, 1910.

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