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July 26, 2014
The Underground Railroad PDF Print E-mail
From History of Clarion Co., Pennsylvania, edited by A. J. Davis, 1887.

"The Underground Railroad" was the title given by Southerners to the secret organized dispatch of escaped slaves, through the north to Canada, and safe northern points.  Few, even among the oldest citizens, have known that for years there was a systematic transportation of fugitive slaves through Clarion county, in other words, that one of the main lines of the Underground Railroad passed through this county; that there were no fewer than four stations here, and that the conductors were among the most respected and substantial citizens of the county.

The harboring and aiding of fugitive slaves was illegal (penalty by act of Congress, 1850, fine not exceeding $1,000, and imprisonment not exceeding six months, also civil damages), and the greatest care was exercised to conceal the operations of the movement; the conveyance of the slaves from point to point was necessarily done by night, and so circumspectly and secretly was the work carried on that it was rare for those engaged in it to know who the agents were beyond their immediate stations.

The slaves who passed through western Pennsylvania were all from Virginia, and of the male sex.  In escaping from their masters, they would start soon after nightfall, provided with horses whenever possible, and by the time their absence would be discovered they would have considerably handicapped their pursuers.

The first assisted fugitives (six in number) arrived in Clarion county in June, 1847, and from thence to 1855 they came from time to time, in numbers from two to seven.  For our purpose it suffices to trace the links of this mysterious chain back to Armstrong county.

Rev. John Hindman was an Associated (Seceder) minister, resident near Dayton; he received and forwarded the negroes to William Blair, of Porter township, this county.  Mr. Blair in turn sent them on to Rev. John McAuley, a Seceder clergyman, of Rimersburg.  It appears that the majority of active abolitionists in this vicinity belonged to that denomination, a sect whose members, of the old school, were noted as men of strong and decided views, and resolute in carrying out their principles.

Mr. McAuley kept the "contrabands" in his barn, and under cover of darkness generally, sometimes in the twilight -- through by paths -- he, or his eldest son, brought them to the house of James Fulton, a member of his congregation, who lived a little north of Rimersburg.  Mr. Jackson Fulton, his son, in speaking of the first party, says:  "One of these was a powerful man; stood six feet, three or four inches, and weighed 240 or 250 pounds; he told me that frequently when his master would go to whip him, he would catch him and hold him, and thereby he escaped many a whipping."  The last, a twain, came in the spring of 1855.  Mr. Fulton says:  "One of these left a wife; he told me if the Lord spared him to get through he would return and steal her.  I said to him he would certainly be running a great risk.  He said he would risk his life that they might enjoy their freedom together."  Mr. James Fulton fed and cared for the fugitives, and then conveyed them by wagon to Benjamin Gardner, sr., of Licking township, two or three miles north of Callensburg.  Once or twice Mr. Fulton was bold enough to conduct them in daylight.  Mr. Gardner was an ardent abolitionist.

The next station was Elihu Chadwick's, of Rockland township, Venango county, sixteen miles away.  Mr. Chadwick had several rooms in his commodious barn fitted up specially for the reception of his dusky protégés.  The venerable Benjamin Gardner, jr., enables us to follow the fortunes of the last pair, mentioned by Mr. Fulton.  He writes:  "He (his father) concealed them in one compartment until dark, and then escorted them by the underground train to next station, but Mr. Chadwick was absent and father put them through that night to Franklin, twenty-five miles.  He left his passengers at this end of the bridge and went over to see if the coast was clear, and on returning the darkies were missing, but upon reconnoitering the place he found them behind the abutment near the water's edge.  Poor fellows! they thought they were abandoned."

 

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