THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD
I came into your community when the great questions which afterward shook the very foundation of our Nation were beginning to be discussed and agitated. I mean the extension of human slavery and the doctrine of State’s rights.
Reference has been made in your story to the Underground Railroad, but I doubt very much if young people have any adequate conception of what is meant by the Underground Railroad.
Slavery, in some form, existed in all Nations from the earliest dawn of human history, but it is not my purpose in this communication to discuss the different forms of this monstrous and inhuman custom, except in so far as it has affected our political history in the past.
Our English ancestor established Negro slavery in the country in 1620, at Jamestown, Virginia, and at one time it extended throughout the New England states.
It soon found to be unprofitable in New England, and finally found its abiding place in the cotton-growing states, where we find it at the period about which I am writing.
As early as 1807 the great British statesman, Fox, worked aggressively against human slavery in England and her colonial possessions. He was preceded by Wilberforce, Buxton, and Elizabeth Heyrick, a Quaker lady, who wrote a pamphlet entitled ‘Immediate, Not Gradual Emancipation.’
The arguments of this good Quaker lady finally prevailed, and on August 1, 1834, England emancipated her 800,000 slaves and paid their owners $100,000,000 for them. At the same time England emancipated her slaves in her East Indian possessions, making a grand total of 12,000,000 slaves, who obtained their freedom.
I have recited the brief history of England’s emancipation of slaves in order that I may the more easily get the reader to understand what I am going to say in relation to the Underground Railroad and its operations in Fairmount Township, as well as with the political history of our common country.
It will be understood that the United States failed to be impressed by the humane arguments which induced the mother country to give freedom to her slaves. On the other hand, the Southern States, finding slavery very profitable in the growing of cotton and other Southern staples, sought to have this institution extended to newly-formed states, and even succeeded in having this degrading practice recognized in our Federal Constitution.
Canada, lying along our Northern border, was the mecca of bondmen fleeing from slavery in Kentucky and border slave states. As early as 1800 Congress had declared the importation of slaves to be piracy, and had abolished slavery in the District of Columbia. But at the same time the slave power was growing more arrogant and was extending slavery to new states and demanding additional laws to assist in the recapture and return of escaping slaves.
The Fugitive Slave Law, which made every free man in Indiana or any other free State a slave catcher, and provided that anyone who should feed or shelter one of these poor black men fleeing to Canada in order to obtain his liberty should be subject to fine and imprisonment.
This obnoxious law was soon followed by the infamous Dred Scott decision, which declared that the Negro belonged to an inferior race, and had no rights which our Constitution was bound to respect. These two actions on the part of the slave power which was then dominant in our Government fanned to a white heat the flame of hatred against the curse of slavery, which already prevailed in the free states.
As love laughs at locksmiths, so liberty despises and defies oppression. The immediate effect of the laws to which I have referred was to foster the organization of societies in the free states to render aid and comfort to escaping slaves.
The most potent and effective agent in assisting slaves to obtain their freedom by reaching Canada was the Underground Railroad which consisted of organized societies, extending across Indiana and Michigan, with stations at convenient intervals where escaping slaves could be secreted by day and transported by night from one station to another on their way to Canada and Liberty.
This railroad had no track but the rude trail through the wilderness, and no train or trolley car, but the means of transportation was a farm wagon, on horseback, or on foot, as the case might be. The fleeing slave, with the north star as his beacon to liberty, and three or four of these hardy Hoosier pioneers as guides and protectors, made his slow and painful way to freedom.
One of these Underground Railroad stations was in Fairmount, and the Winslows, Wilsons, Baldwins, Rushes, Davises, Henley’s, Stanfields, Richardsons, and many others were active agents on this railroad.
Pendleton, south of Fairmount, and Marion, north, were stations, and when an escaping slave was brought from Pendleton in the night time he was concealed in Fairmount or vicinity until the next night, when he was conveyed to Moses Bradford or Samuel McClure, at Marion, who in turn would convey his charge to Ashland, now Lafontaine. In this way fugitive slaves were housed, fed and conveyed to their destination in Canada.
The writer well remembers the last escaping slaves he saw. It was in August, 1856, and for some reason two runaway slaves had found it necessary to change their hiding place in the day time, which was an unusual and dangerous thing to do. They came to my father’s smith shop about two o’clock in the afternoon, but in a few moments disappeared and were concealed in Dr. Philip Patterson’s hay mow –none too soon. Shortly after their disappearance James Buchanan, who was, I think, the sheriff of your county at the time, appeared upon the scene, accompanied by four or five other men, two of whom were the masters of the fleeing negroes. Inquiry was made as to whether any one had seen the escaping slaves, but, of course, no one had seen them, and in a short time their pursuers disappeared. That night my father, William Hundley, Jonathan Baldwin and Seaberry Lines conveyed them to Bradford’s at Marion.
Many instances of this kind occurred, and men, women and children were conveyed in the above-described manner to Canada and freedom.
I think a large number of your pioneer citizens were connected with the Underground Railroad, and I am sure a very large majority of them were in sympathy with its operation. While many of them came from North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee, they were not of the slave holding class and detested the institution of slavery and loved liberty for all mankind.
I have traced briefly the history of slavery as it affected your community. While I have shown that there was an overwhelming sentiment in your town and Township in favor of human freedom and opposition to the institution of slavery, it is only fair to say that this institution had in your midst a few defenders.
The writer has traced in a hasty manner the action being taken everywhere throughout the North to nullify the odious laws which had been enacted in order to perpetuate human slavery. Nowhere was the feeling against slavery stronger than among the Quakers of your Township, but it was seen that this institution could not be eliminated by compromise or by the assistance of the Underground Railroad. The time was rapidly drawing near when this institution was to be shot to death on the field of battle, and in the accomplishments of this result Fairmount and Fairmount Township were to offer on the bloody field of carnage many of their best and noblest sons, who gave their lives in order that human freedom might prevail everywhere in our fair country, and that the doctrine enunciated in the Declaration of Independence ‘that all men are created equal, endowed with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ might be true, for the first time in our history.
I shall not attempt in this article to trace the formation of political parties or to describe the National campaigns which immediately preceded the Civil War. I want to here advert very briefly to what was know in 1856 as the Know Nothing Party, which made its appearance in Fairmount Township in that year. It was also known as the American party, because of its opposition to foreign influence. This party was characterized by its secrecy and the reticence of its members.
I remember that when this party organization came to your Township there were no secret societies of any kind in Fairmount. As the members of this party held their meetings in secret, and as there were no public halls or lodge rooms the meetings were held at night in barns and shops. The women of the town upon one occasion became greatly excited and pursued their liege lords to Bill Wright’s barn and demanded admittance. This was refused, whereupon the women proceeded to break into the star chamber session and of course broke up the meeting and took their spouses home, where they were taught that they must at least know one thing, and that was that they could not keep late hours in barns without the consent of their wives.
I have been writing much about slavery and the black man, but have failed to say that the first colored man I ever saw was in Fairmount in 1852. His name was Nelson Brazleton, and he was a wagon maker and worked in my father’s shop and lived at our home for some time. He was a sober and industrious man, and was universally respected. I do not know whether he was the first man of African descent to make his home in your Township or not, but he was the first man of that kind that I had ever seen. In 1858 and 1859 Brazleton had a small shop on Jesse Winslow’s farm, east of town, and did wagon repair work and some blacksmith work. I think he died here in 1860 or 1861.
I am sure that I have only touched upon the great subject of the Underground Railroad and have failed to mention scores of your early pioneers who were identified with this cause and did valiant service in advancing human liberty.
February 27, 1917 By J.M. Hundley, Summitville, IN
The Friends everywhere worked by speech and by writings against the institution of slavery. The Underground Railroad became a means of escape for human chattels. Levi Coffin, a Friend, who lived in Cincinnati, was the reputed president. There were hundreds of branch lines running through various section of the free states, reaching northward to Canada, the only territory the runaway slave could flee to and be safe from the pursuit of his master.
The Dred Scott decision covered the entire United States. This decision made it unlawful for anyone to harbor, feed or protect a runaway slave.
The Underground Railroad had one of its best officered organization in Fairmount Township. All the way from Cincinnati there were stations where the slave was befriended. As far back as 1833, there was a station at the farm just opposite the Friends meeting house at Back Creek. It was occupied by Charles Baldwin and family, he having several stalwart sons who were ready, day or night, to give their lives, if need be, for the cause of abolition. I will relate one incident.
Often there were runaways brought in for Baldwin to aid. On one occasion there were nine men brought, and for one week Baldin kept them concealed in a thicket, in a little log cabin which had been built for the purpose, on-quarter mile east of his home. These men were closely pursued by their masters. They belonged to three different owners in Kentucky. Baldwin had brought them to the house with the intention of conveying them on north. Upon looking out toward the road, which is now the tarvia road, he saw three men and two officers stop at the end of the lane. One of the slaves ventured out far enough to look at them and recognized them as their masters. He informed his comrades and they formed a circle in the center of the living room, taking hold of hands, looking upward and in concert they swore:
‘By the God of Eternal Justice we will die in our tract right here before we will go back into slavery!’
And they stood there firm.
After parleying for a half hour the men at the end of the lane turned their horses and went back to Anderson without a single sight of their slaves, after pursuing them to within speaking distance.
The Back Creek neighborhood was wholly one of anti-slavery sentiment, and was always glad to aid in any way it could.
Charles Baldwin often said: ‘I could not do what I am doing if it were not for my kind neighbors. I often have to inform them when I have a consignment. Sometimes I am eaten out, but when we open the kitchen door in the morning there will be great baskets of cooked food, clothing and medicines as our needs may be.’
The kitchen door had not been locked at night.
It was no uncommon thing for the slave owner to follow the track of the Underground Railroad, but it was rare for him to recover his human property. Many were the cunning artifices used to delude him.
On one occasion there were three men to be conveyed to Moses Bradford, three miles north of Marion. The owners were in the neighborhood. It was undertaken by John S. Harvey, my father, and Quincy Baldwin, two young men then about twenty years of age. The work must be done that day. They dared not travel in public road, but walk, and to a round-about way through swamps and a jungle of underbrush. As there had just been a deep ‘thaw out’ and a heavy rain, it was impossible to travel in any other way. They selected a position where there was a thicket on each side, what is now a stone road, in front of where Isaiah Thomas now lives, and every man kept hid while John Harvey crossed the road and reported that nobody was in sight. Then one man would cross at a time, being careful to step in the same track. Quincy Baldwin was the last to cross. By sunset they were at Bradford’s, torn by brush, clothing in tatters, cold, hungry and wet with mud and water above their knees. Oh, what a price for liberty! But that was better than the lash of the whip, or being branded by hot irons, like cattle, as many slaves were.
As well as the writer remembers, until January 1, 1861, the date of his death, at the age of sixty-two years, Aaron Hill lived on the farm now known as the Harvey farm, and his home was another station. For some time after Aaron Hill’s death the business was successfully carried on by his son, Daniel. One Sabbath afternoon Daniel Hill called upon the writer of this article and excused himself for not staying but a few minutes, saying:
‘I took seven runaway slaves to Bradford’s last night. There was the father, mother and five children. I had them four days. I put hay in my deep wagon bed, then had them get in and lie down. Then I put hay over them and ordered them not to speak. The only road was through Jonesboro and Marion, and it was a bright, moonlight night. In driving through these towns I drove slowly, I passed through Marion just at midnight. I had my horses walk through town slowly, but when I got beyond town at a safe distance I whipped them into a gallup and delivered them safely.’
This was the last ‘consignment’ that ever passed over the Underground Railroad through Fairmount Township. Some one calculated that as many as fifteen hundred runaways passed over the road while it existed. Daniel Hill was a frail, delicate-looking man, but it is due him to say he was heroism personified. He, like many others, hoping that the war then raging would end slavery, enlisted in Company C, Eighty-ninth Indiana Volunteer Infantry, and laid down his life at Alexandria, Louisiana, on that fruitless raid up Red River.
By Mrs. Angelina Pearson.
Source: The Making of a Township, Fairmount Township, Grant County, Indiana 1829-1917 by Edgar M. Baldwin, 1917.