• Judith Wellman

Listen to Their Voices: Farmington and the Underground Railroad


Introduction


What was the Underground Railroad? Many people think of it as a network of safe houses in the North. That is certainly part of the story.


But the Underground Railroad is also much more. It is part of a relentless resistance to slavery that began the decisions of enslaved people themselves to escape bondage. Their stories lie at the heart of the first epic movement for civil rights in America. Recognizing this, the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom defines the Underground Railroad as “resistance to enslavement through escape and flight through the end of the Civil War.”[1]


As the 1998 legislation establishing the Network to Freedom noted, freedom seeking people initiated a national grassroots effort that “bridged the divides of race, religion, sectional differences, and nationality, spanned State lines and international borders, and joined the American ideals of liberty and freedom expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to the extraordinary actions of ordinary men and women working in common purpose to free a people.” It also led directly to the Civil War.


Farmington was an integral part of this movement. It was the center of a transnational network of Quakers from all over central and western New York, Upper Canada (now Ontario), and Michigan. Advocates for equal rights associated with Farmington came from Quaker meetings not only in Farmington but also in Macedon, Palmyra, Williamson, Rochester, Waterloo, and Michigan. This network was easily adaptable to Underground Railroad activity. Some freedom seekers settled in the Farmington area, but most went on to Canada through ports at Pultneyville, Rochester, Lewiston, or Niagara Falls.


The Western New York Anti-Slavery Society, formed at Farmington in 1840 and led by both women and men, Black as well as White, many of them Quakers, created a strong network for Underground Railroad activity. It also laid the foundation for the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848.

[1] National Park Service, Network to Freedom, https://www.nps.gov/places/crnurr.htm




Notice of Western New York Anti-slavery Fair, held in the Talman Building in Rochester on February 22, 1843 (George Washington’s birthday).

At least eight of the twelve organizers listed here were Quakers.


We present here a few of several first-person accounts by and about African Americans who traveled on the Underground Railroad through Farmington or who worked with them, either as freedom seekers, keepers of safe houses, or observers. Click on the links below to view these accounts. We invite you to meet these remarkable people.


Listen to their voices.

Austin Steward, Twenty-Two Years a Slave and Forty Years a Free Man (Rochester: William Alling, 1857), Frontispiece

1815: Austin Steward (1793-1869). Born in slavery in Virginia, Austin Steward was brought about 1800 to New York State by his enslaver Captain William Helm, to help operate plantations near Bath and Sodus, New York. When Helm hired Steward to work for another farmer, Steward discovered that, according to the laws of the State of New York, he was technically free. He contacted Quaker Darius Comstock, a member of the Ontario County Manumission Society, only the second manumission society formed in New York State. Steward escaped to Farmington and lived with the Quaker family of Otis Comstock from about 1815-17. While in Farmington, Steward narrowly escaped re-capture when Captain Helm devised a plan to recapture all of those who had escaped from him and sell them in a southern state. In 1817, Steward moved to Rochester. He moved to the Wilberforce Colony in Canada in 1831, returned to Rochester in 1837, and later moved to Canandaigua, where he died in 1869. His gravestone is in the Canandaigua Cemetery. Because Steward was in Farmington when the 1816 Farmington Quaker Meetinghouse was constructed, it is very likely that he helped build it. Steward’s sister Mary Steward Jenkins moved with her husband Shadrach Jenkins to Victor Road, Macedon. Steward told the story of his life in his own words in Twenty-Two Years a Slave and Forty Years a Free Man, published in 1857.


As soon as I thought it prudent, I pursued my journey, and finally came out into the open country, near the dwelling of Mr. Dennis Comstock, who, as I have said, was president of the Manumission Society. To him I freely described my situation, and found him a friend indeed. He expressed his readiness to assist me, and wrote a line for me to take to his brother, Otis Comstock, who took me into his family at once. I hired to Mr. Comstock for the season, and from that time onward lived with him nearly four years.


When I arrived there I was about twenty-two years of age, and felt for the first time in my life, that I was my own master. I cannot describe to a free man, what a proud manly feeling came over me when I hired to Mr. C. and made my first bargain, nor when I assumed the dignity of collecting my own earnings. Notwithstanding I was very happy in my freedom from Slavery, and had a good home, where for the first time in my life I was allowed to sit at table with others, yet I found myself very deficient in almost every thing which I should have learned when a boy.


These and other recollections of the past often saddened my spirit; but hope, - cheering and bright, was now mine, and it lighted up the future and gave me patience to persevere.

In the autumn when the farm work was done, I called on Mr. Comstock for some money, and the first thing I did after receiving it I went to Canandaigua where I found a book-store kept by a man named J. D. Bemis, and of him I purchased some school books.

No king on his throne could feel prouder or grander than I did that day. With my books under my arm, and money of my own earning in my pocket, I stepped loftily along toward Farmington, where I determined to attend the Academy. The thought, however, that though I was twenty-three years old, I had yet to learn what most boys of eight years knew, was rather a damper on my spirits. The school was conducted by Mr. J. Comstock, who was a pleasant young man and an excellent teacher. He showed me every kindness and consideration my position and ignorance demanded; and I attended his school three winters, with pleasure and profit to myself at least.


When I had been with Mr. Comstock about a year, we received a visit from my old master, Capt. Helm, who had spared no pains to find me, and when he learned where I was he came to claim me as "his boy," who, he said he "wanted and must have."


Mr. Comstock told him I was not "his boy," and as such he would not give me up; and further, that I was free by the laws of the State. He assured the Captain that his hiring me out in the first instance, to Mr. Tower, forfeited his claim to me, and gave me a right to freedem, - but if he chose to join issue, they would have the case tried in the Supreme Court; but this proposition the Captain declined: he knew well enough that it would result in my favor; and after some flattery and coaxing, he left me with my friend, Mr. Comstock, in liberty and peace!


As soon as I thought it prudent, I pursued my journey, and finally came out into the open country, near the dwelling of Mr. Dennis [Darius] Comstock, who, as I have said, was president of the Manumission Society. To him I freely described my situation, and found him a friend indeed. He expressed his readiness to assist me, and wrote a line for me to take to his brother, Otis Comstock, who took me into his family at once. I hired to Mr. Comstock for the season, and from that time onward lived with him nearly four years.

When I arrived there I was about twenty-two years of age, and felt for the first time in my life, that I was my own master. I cannot describe to a free man, what a proud manly feeling came over me when I hired to Mr. C. and made my first bargain, nor when I assumed the dignity of collecting my own earnings. Notwithstanding I was very happy in my freedom from Slavery, and had a good home, where for the first time in my life I was allowed to sit at table with others, yet I found myself very deficient in almost every thing which I should have learned when a boy.

These and other recollections of the past often saddened my spirit; but hope, - cheering and bright, was now mine, and it lighted up the future and gave me patience to persevere.

In the autumn when the farm work was done, I called on Mr. Comstock for some money, and the first thing I did after receiving it I went to Canandaigua where I found a book-store kept by a man named J. D. Bemis, and of him I purchased some school books.

No king on his throne could feel prouder or grander than I did that day. With my books under my arm, and money of my own earning in my pocket, I stepped loftily along toward Farmington, where I determined to attend the Academy. The thought, however, that though I was twenty-three years old, I had yet to learn what most boys of eight years knew, was rather a damper on my spirits. The school was conducted by Mr. J. Comstock, who was a pleasant young man and an excellent teacher. He showed me every kindness and consideration my position and ignorance demanded; and I attended his school three winters, with pleasure and profit to myself at least.


When I had been with Mr. Comstock about a year, we received a visit from my old master, Capt. Helm, who had spared no pains to find me, and when he learned where I was he came to claim me as "his boy," who, he said he "wanted and must have."


Mr. Comstock told him I was not "his boy," and as such he would not give me up; and further, that I was free by the laws of the State. He assured the Captain that his hiring me out in the first instance, to Mr. Tower, forfeited his claim to me, and gave me a right to freedom, - but if he chose to join issue, they would have the case tried in the Supreme Court; but this proposition the Captain declined: he knew well enough that it would result in my favor; and after some flattery and coaxing, he left me with my friend, Mr. Comstock, in liberty and peace! (Austin Steward, Twenty-Two Years a Slave and Forty Years a Free Man (Rochester: William Alling, 1857), 113-115).


1842: “A fugitive from Virginia”: J.C. and Esther Hathaway. In May 1842, Quaker J.C. Hathaway, whose house still stands about half a mile from the Farmington Quaker Crossroads HistoricDistrict, reported to the National Anti-Slavery Standard an account of his family’s experience with a person who had escaped from slavery in Virginia:


A few days ago, a fugitive from Virginia gave me a call, on his way to a

free country. He is no doubt safe, ere this, from American kidnappers. He

arrived about 10 o’clock, and remained until after dinner; during which

time, we had an opportunity of making many inquiries relative to the

condition of our southern brethren in bonds. We urged him much to

remain over night with us; but he was impatient to set foot upon a soil

where he could feel assured he was free. He was a fine-looking fellow,

of about nineteen, evidently possessing much native shrewdness. The

Virginian, whose victim he was, staked him against $1000 in a cock-fight;

and for fear his master might lose his wager, and he be sold to the South,

he thought best to use the physical and intellectual powers God had given

him, in finding a country where an immortal being is considered of too

much value to have his destiny hang upon a chicken’s foot. (J.C. Hathaway to National

Anti-Slavery Standard, May 5, 1842.)


1842: “A fugitive and her two children.” In 1842, Richard Valentine, an African American working for Colonel Blossom, landlord of a hotel in Canandaigua, enlisted the help of Lazette Worden, sister-in-law of William Henry Seward, Governor of New York, to help a woman and her two children escape from slavery through Farmington. Valentine had himself been enslaved by Mr. DeZeng in Geneva, New York, before 1827, when slavery was still legal in New York. He had escaped with the help of DeZeng’s wife. Richard Valentine married a Seneca Indian woman whom people called Mrs. Valentine David, who worked in the Worden household. Frances Worden Chesboro, then a young daughter of Lazette Worden, later recalled the ways in which people of African, European, and Native descent all helped a young mother and her children get to freedom:


It was a bitter cold morning, when Richard Valentine appeared in our kitchen

looking for everything he considered necessary to the comfort of a fugitive

and her two children, my Father, Mother, our faithful Elsie and I eagerly

listening. Elsie from the kitchen stoves soon supplied sufficient to satisfy the

hunger of a trio that seemed to have dropped from the clouds in the night

and during the day my mother shaped out innumerable garments and though

I was but a child I was kept sewing far into the night to furnish warm

clothing for this family. Before Spring I heard Richard tell my Father the

woman had heard her Master was in pursuit and the order given to procure conveyance and take the family to Farmington, a Quaker settlement north of

us in the direct road of “The Underground Railroad” leading into Canada. By

the time the Master reached Canandaigua the good Quakers had his prey safe

over “the line. (Frances Worden Chesbro], untitled manuscript, Seward Collection, Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester, 4-8. Thanks to Kate Clifford Larson for finding this.)



1848: Edmondson sisters, the Smith family, and the Bird’s Nest School. On April 13, 1848, an event occurred in Washington, D.C., that reached directly to the heart of Farmington. A ship called the Pearl was captured in Chesapeake Bay as it tried to sail with seventy-seven enslaved African Americans to freedom. William Chaplin, who had worked closely with Farmington abolitionists when he was a western New York agent for the New York State Anti-Slavery Society, had organized this escape effort, and Farmington Friends rallied to his aid. African Americans on the Pearl were sold into slavery. Most were never heard from again. Two teenage girls, however, Mary Edmondson and Emily Edmondson, became celebrities when their father Paul Edmondson successfully raised funds, with the help of churches in New York City (including Henry Ward Beecher of Plymouth Church, Brooklyn), to buy them out of slavery.


Upon their release from slavery, the Edmondson sisters came directly to Farmington. According to the 1850 U.S. census, at least one of them most likely lived with William R. Smith and Eliza Smith in Macedon. A twenty-five-year-old woman of color was listed in the Smith household as “Sarah Chaplin.”


On October 26, 1849, five women from Farmington (four of them Quakers and one married to a Quaker) announced in the North Star that they had created a school for African American girls who wish to become teachers, starting with the Edmondson sisters. That school building still stands on Victor Road.


October 26, 1849

THE NORTH STAR

Courtesy Accessible Archives

CIRCULAR

Of the Provisional Committee, for the Promotion of Education among the

Colored People, in such of the Slave States are, or may be accessible.

-------

The organization of this Committee, is the work of necessity. It grew out of the consideration, that the labors and prayers of the friends of the slave had been blessed in the deliverance of many thousands from the fetters of legal bondage. But their condition, when thus emancipated, suggests the important inquiry, that how glorious soever may be our success in the future, whether the consummation we so ardently desire would not bereft of half its interest and importance if we were denied the reasonable anticipation, that a blow so well aimed and effective, would be followed by a ready zeal, fidelity and insight, in ample preparations to impart the rudiments of sound knowledge, with healthful moral discipline, to the youthful masses just escaped from legal bondage. What is true of our slaves and colored people, is true of every people, long outcast and degraded. Such can secure the recognition of their rights, only through an intellectual and moral regeneration. They must burst the fetters of ignorance, and vanquish the dominion of low, sensual passions, or live and die in a condition, in no way more exalted, or worthy of a divine manhood, than that of the veriest slaves!

The time has fully come in our judgment, when a well advised and effected plan may be vigorously prosecuted for the enlightenment and elevation of our colored people, who are at least nominally free, though in the Slave States. In some of those States they are not seriously interrupted in the pursuit of knowledge. They may be reached in either of two ways, to wit: by establishing schools directly among them, or by selecting young persons of good morals, and endowed with active, strong powers of mind, who, when sufficiently trained under good teachers and the best social influences to be found at the North, may return to labor in the department of instruction, among their friends and the people of their peculiar class at the South. This latter is the idea which strikes us forcibly, and which, for the present, we shall seek to make available by our efforts. Through the events of Providence we have it in our power, just now, in an easy, quiet way, to make an experiment in the direction alluded to, and under the most agreeable and gratifying circumstances. The Edmondson Sisters, Mary and Emily, you know by reputation. Their brief history is singular and affecting. It is enough to say, that they were for seven months in the hands of slave-traders, in Washington, Baltimore, Alexandria, and New Orleans - that their virtuous and christian character afforded them a shield of complete defence - That by a rare impulse of social sympathy, twenty-two hundred and fifty dollars were raised for their redemption! They are of a good family - are now in this neighborhood, under the most favorable circumstances to be thoroughly taught, possessing highly respectable capacities, with most exemplary industry, and a rare deportment for propriety; they are anxious to acquire information that will, in every way, render them competent and effective, as teachers and examples among their people in the District of Columbia. This Committee propose to take charge of them - to advise them, and to raise whatever means may be required in the course of their education. Others of equal promise will, no doubt, soon offer themselves. Indeed, we are well informed, that any number of persons adapted to the object we have in view, can at any time be selected at Washington or Baltimore.[i]


Allow us to say, that it is not our purpose to make pets of our beneficiaries - to spoil them by indulgence, or by superficial, shallow views of the relations and duties of life. It shall be our aim to foster and assist their own exertions, and by no means to supersede them. Nor is it our design, in any way, to build up schools exclusively for colored children. We shall place them where the chances for sound instruction, exact discipline, and real elevation of character, are the most completely satisfactory.


Our limits forbid addition to this hasty outline of our plans. We wish to regard you as a corresponding member of our body, and to look to you constantly for counsel and support, as a cordial and active laborer in a common field of enterprise and responsibility. - Is it not a delightful thought, that by a united effort, the women of New York can, in a brief period, place in the District of Columbia, or the State of Maryland, a dozen intelligent, well-trained colored females, as teachers of schools and models of manners, behavior and character, to exert an influence among those, who are most sadly in need of its quickening power?


You are left free to raise funds and to bring this interesting subject before the community around you, in such way as seems to you most convenient, and at the same time surest to reach a speedy and desirable result. The Committee will take care that you receive frequently a full report of what they design and accomplish, and especially of the manner in which all the money and resources put at their disposal are applied.


Your friends, truly.

P.S. Please to direct your communications to our Secretary, C.G. Hamblin, Farmington, Ontario Co., N.Y.

HANNAH C. SMITH,

PHEBE HATHAWAY,

MARIA E. WILBUR, Com.

ANNA P. ADAMS,

C.G. HAMBLIN


For more on the Pearl, see the essay by Mary-Kay Belant on this website; Stanley Harrold, Subversives: Antislavery Community in Washington, D.C., 1828-1865 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003), 116-145; Josephine Pacheco, The Pearl: A Failed Slave Escape on the Potomac (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2005); Mary Kay Ricks, Escape on the Pearl: The Heroic Bid for Freedom on the Underground Railroad (New York: Harper, rep. 2008); Winifred Conkling, Passenger on the Pearl: The True Story of Emily Edmondson’s Flight from Slavery (Algonquin Young

Readers, 2015).


1848: “The noblest looking Negro that I ever saw.” A few days after the capture of the Pearl, a man whom everyone supposed was a fugitive from slavery appeared in Farmington at Sunday meeting. Quaker Welcome Herendeen noted in his diary:


First day, 4th Mo. 16th, 9 o’clock in the evening: This day has been

above the level for strange occurences [sic]. This forenoon went to

meeting. When I arrived there was a man standing out by the shed, a

very Black Colored man. He was dressed in white calico with a cotten

[sic] handkercheif [sic] tied around his head. He was the noblest

looking Negro that I ever saw. Tall I should think he was 6 feet high well

proportioned and built as trimly as could be. He had on a cotten frock

which made him look better. His walk was strate and graceful his air

lofty and commanding he was not inclined to say much said he did not

feel like talking. The common opinion was that he was a runaway from

slavry. His silence seemed to indicate fear of being captured. There was a

great many conjectures concerning him his actions were so mysterious.

When meeting commenced he walked into meeting, took the second seat

behind the stove. He sat in silence for about 1/2 hour then he arose folded

up his hands and stood silent for a few minuets and then he spoke. He

said that he supposed that his manners appeared strange to most if not

all present. He stated that he was under the influence of the Holy Spiret

which made known to him the states and conditions of all men that he

did not wish to get acquainted with any person by the shaking of the

hand or by conversation. He thought that the Africans were the chosen

people of God. He went to tell where Heaven was situated. He went on in

this strane for about 15 munets when Aser B. Smith requested him to take

his seat. He imeadetly left the house. He was evidently a Reglious fanatic

with a shattered mind. [Thanks to Helen Kirker for sharing Welcome Herendeen’s journal. Spelling as in typescript from original.)


1848: Frederick Douglass, Martin Delany, and others in Meetinghouse. On August 13, 1848, Frederick Douglass visited Farmington and spoke in “the meetinghouse,” although whether this was the Orthodox or Hicksite meetinghouse is not clear. Quaker Welcome Herendeen recorded in his journal:


[1848] First Day, 8th mo. 13. This afternoon attended an Abolition meeting at the

meeting house. It was a spirited one. It was addressed by Frederick Douglas, M.R.

Delainey Glen and John Whitrool. Frederick and Deiny wanted all of those that

voted to vote for VanBuran as the best thing that they could do to stop the

extension of slavery. (Typescript from Journal of Welcome Herendeen, August 13, 1848. Many thanks to Helen Kirker for sharing this reference.)


On August 24, 1848, Douglass commented on the same meeting in the North Star:


If there had been nothing else to contribute to our pleasure,” he noted, “the company of Joseph C. Hathaway, a faithful friend of the slavery and co-laborer in the cause of the oppressed, and his excellent wife (Esther Hathaway) and family of interesting children, added to whom was the noble hearted Anna Adams, these of themselves were sufficient.


1849: “a fugitive slave and his wife, all in women’s attire”: Lorenzo Mabbett and Anna Griffen Mabbett. Lorenzo Mabbett and Anna Griffen Mabbett were lifelong abolitionists affiliated first with Farmington Meeting and then with the Quaker meeting in Collins, New York. With several other Quaker families affiliated with Farmington (Fish, Hurn, and Cooper-Capron), they lived for a time in an intentional community the Sodus Bay Phalanx in Sodus Bay. In They were also active workers in the Underground Railroad. In 1849, Frederick Douglass published a letter from Mabbett describing an incident with two freedom seekers and his wife Anna, highlighting a connection with Seneca Indians and the use of Quaker garb as a disguise:

A few hours since Anna G. Mabbett was seen upon one of our back roads with a horse and wagon containing besides herself a fugitive slave and his wife, all in women's attire. The slave was about to commence school on the Reservation with the Indians, when his friends learned that the base ministers of Slaveocracy were on his track and close upon him, but being put upon the route to Canada--and not in this instance the right route--he is safe. . . . The people of this place and vicinity are giving such indications of their love of Liberty, that we may safely conclude the time is near, if not already at hand, when this region of Western New York will be a safe retreat for the poor panting fugitive. (North Star, September 29, 1849. For more on the Mabbett family, see “Sodus Bay Phanlanx,” in Judith Wellman, Marjory Allen Perez, with Charles Lenhart and others, Uncovering the Underground Railroad, Abolitionism, and African American Life in Wayne County, New York, 1820-1880 (Lyons, N.Y.: Wayne County Historian’s Office, 2007), https://web.co.wayne.ny.us/483/Uncovering-the-Underground-Railroad.)


1850s: Frederick Douglass and the Underground Railroad in New York State


Douglas worked with local abolitionists of both African and European background, including Friends associated with Farmington, to make Farmington a regular stop on the Underground Railroad, a welcoming refuge for freedom seekers as well as abolitionists. Douglass described his work in his 1892 autobiography as “like bailing out the ocean with a teaspoon,” but it was also “congenial, attractive, fascinating, and satisfactory.”


The route that Douglass, Amy Post, and others worked with in Rochester and its environs came across New York State from Baltimore, Maryland; Wilmington, Delaware; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Quakers and African Americans formed the majority of agents along this route. Thomas Garrett, Edward M. Davis (Lucretia Mott’s son-in-law), Isaac T. Hopper, and the Mott

sisters were all Quakers. William Still, Robert Purvis, David Ruggles, Stephen Myers, and

Jermain Loguen were all African Americans. The only European Americans who were not

Quakers among this group were Samuel J. May, Unitarian minister from Syracuse, Hiram

Wilson in St. Catharines, and J. Miller McKim, a close friend of Lucretia Mott’s.

Douglass described his work:

One important branch of my anti-slavery work in Rochester, in addition to that of speaking and writing against slavery, must not be forgotten or omitted. My position gave me the chance of hitting that old enemy some telling blows, in another direction than these. I was on the southern border of Lake Ontario, and the Queen's dominions were right over the way--and my prominence as an abolitionist, and as the editor of an anti-slavery paper, naturally made me the station-master and conductor of the underground railroad passing through this goodly city. Secrecy and concealment were necessary conditions to the successful operation of this railroad, and hence its prefix "underground." My agency was all the more exciting and interesting, because not altogether free from danger. I could take no step in it without exposing myself to fine and imprisonment, for these were the penalties imposed by the fugitive-slave law for feeding, harboring, or otherwise assisting a slave to escape from his master; but, in face of this fact, I can say I never did more congenial, attractive, fascinating, and satisfactory work. True, as a means of destroying slavery, it was like an attempt to bail out the ocean with a teaspoon, but the thought that there was one less slave, and one more freeman--having myself been a slave, and a fugitive slave--brought to my heart unspeakable joy. On one occasion I had eleven fugitives at the same time under my roof, and it was necessary for them to remain with me until I could collect sufficient money to get them on to Canada. It was the largest number I ever had at any one time, and I had some difficulty in providing so many with food and shelter, but, as may well be imagined, they were not very fastidious in either direction, and were well content with very plain food, and a strip of carpet on the floor for a bed, or a place on the straw in the barn-loft.

The underground railroad had many branches; but that one with which I was connected had its main stations in Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, New York, Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, and St. Catharines (Canada). It is not necessary to tell who were the principal agents in Baltimore; Thomas Garrett was the agent in Wilmington; Melloe McKim, William Still, Robert Purvis, Edward M. Davis, and others did the work in Philadelphia; David Ruggles, Isaac T. Hopper, Napolian, and others, in New York city; the Misses Mott and Stephen Myers were forwarders from Albany; Revs. Samuel J. May and J. W. Loguen were the agents in Syracuse; and J. P. Morris and myself received and dispatched passengers from Rochester to Canada, where they were received by Rev. Hiram Wilson. When a party arrived in Rochester it was the business of Mr. Morris and myself to raise funds with which to pay their passage to St. Catharines, and it is due to truth to state that we seldom called in vain upon whig or democrat for help. Men were better than their theology, and truer to humanity than to their politics, or their offices. (Douglass, Life and Times, 328-330)

1850s: Alexander Helmsley. Rev. Alexander Helmsley, who stopped at Farmington on his way to Toronto. When Rev. Helmsley arrived in St. Catharine’s, Ontario, he recounted his escape in an interview with Benjamin Drew for A North-side View of Slavery:


I traveled some two hundred miles, most of the way on foot into Otsego

county, N.Y., where I gave out through fatigue. I was sick when I got

there. Here I was joined by my wife and children. I remained here until

navigation opened,—we were forty miles from the canal at Utica. Then,

from visions of the night, I concluded that I was on dangerous ground,

and I removed with my family to Farmington . . . . From Farmington, I

went on directly to Rochester, where I remained but one night . . . . We

embarked from Rochester on board a British boat, The Traveller, for

Toronto . . . .In a few days, I left for St. Catharine’s, where I have ever since

remained. (Benjamin Drew, A Northside View of Slavery, (Boston: John P. Hewett, 1856),

171.


1850: Jermain Loguen. After the rescue of William “Jerry” Henry in Syracuse in October 1851, Rev. Jermain Loguen, African Methodist Episcopal Zion minister, long-time Syracuse resident, outspoken opponent of the Fugitive Slave Act, and a freedom seeker from Tennessee, fled to Canada to escape prosecution. On the way, he stayed with Thomas and Mary Ann M’Clintock in the village of Waterloo. The M’Clintock family had migrated from Philadelphia to Waterloo in 1836. From 1837-43, Thomas M’Clintock had been Clerk of Genesee Yearly Meeting of Friends, meeting at Farmington every June. Elizabeth Cady Stanton visited their house in July 1848 to finish a draft of the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments, which formed the main topic for discussion at the Seneca Falls women’s rights convention, July 19-20, 1848.


One visitor to the M’Clintock household (probably Thomas Mumford, former editor of the Seneca County Courier) reported that when Jermain Loguen traveled to Canada, he stayed with the M’Clintocks. Loguen was


was a man of noble countenance and gigantic stature, well armed, and determined to die rather than be re-enslaved. He was apprehensive and wakeful, walking in his room during most of the night, and if his pursuers had come, the house of a man of peace would have been the scene of a deadly struggle.[1]


1852: “Three very gentlemanly appearing colored men”: Frederick Douglass, Amy Post, Griffiths Cooper


In 1852, the successful escape of three young men from Maryland, “very gentlemanly appearing,” left an indelible mark on citizens all over the region. It involved Frederick Douglass; Quakers in Rochester, Farmington, and Williamson; and others in Pultneyville. It was so public, so potentially disastrous for the three young men involved, and ultimately so successful that at least four accounts were written about it--from Frederick Douglass, Amy Post, Griffiths Cooper, and one of Douglass’s obituaries.


A) Frederick Douglass, Life and Times (Boston, 1892), 330.


On one occasion while a slave master was in the office of a United States commissioner, procuring the papers necessary for the arrest and rendition of three young men who had escaped from Maryland (one of whom was under my roof at the time, another at Farmington, and the other at work on the farm of Asa Anthony, just a little outside the city limits), the law partner of the commissioner, then a distinguished democrat, sought me out, and told me what was going on in his office, and urged me by all means to get these young men out of the way of their pursuers and claimants. Of course no time was to be lost. A swift horseman was dispatched to Farmington, eighteen miles distant, another to Asa Anthony's farm, about three miles, and another to my house on the south side of the city, and before the papers could be served all three of the young men were on the free waves of Lake Ontario, bound to Canada. In writing to their old master, they had dated their letter at Rochester, though they had taken the precaution to send it to Canada to be mailed, but this blunder in the date had betrayed their whereabouts, so that the hunters were at once on their tracks.


b) In 1884, Amy Post wrote a chapter on the Underground Railroad in Rochester for William Peck’s Semi-Centennial History of Rochester. In it, she estimated that 150 freedom seekers came through Rochester every year. She also gave an account of the same incident that Douglass described.


Frederick Douglass and Amy Post were long-time friends and allies. In 1849, Post hosted Harriet Jacobs, who had escaped from slavery in North Carolina after hiding for seven harrowing years in her grandmother’s porch attic. Jacobs lived with Amy and Isaac Post, while she and her brother worked in the Anti-Slavery Reading Room in Rochester, in the same building as Douglass’s North Star. Amy Post convinced Jacobs to write the story of her life, published in 1861 as Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl under the pseudonym Linda Brent.


Both Post and Douglass retained their connections in Farmington. In 1851, Douglass wrote to Post, “I called to see you while you were at Farmington.” (Douglass to Post, Cazenovia, March 3, 1851, Post Family Papers, University of Rochester.)


One warm and beautiful Sunday morning, three very gentlemanly appearing colored men drove up from the railroad depot to number 36 Sophia Street, in a carriage. They bore no appearance whatever of being fugitive slaves, so different from any we had ever seen before, in dress, language and deportment. We quite readily acceded to their strong desire to stay and abide in Rochester, having but little fear of even their nationality being detected; therefore they freely walked the streets and attended church with the colored people. They soon found employment, which they faithfully and steadily filled. All went well with them for several months, and all concerned were feeling happy over the experiment, when at an evening session of one of our anti-slavery conventions at Corinthian Hall, it was whispered around among us that a Southern slave-master, claiming that these noble, intelligent men belonged to him, was then in the United States commissioner's office (not exactly in the same building, but within a few feet of it), getting authority to drag them back to unrequited toil. Think of it, ye lordly men, who either were silent, or voted for this inhuman law, called the "fugitive slave act." Think, too, of those who bore the persecutions in the form of foul slander against character, bitter denunciations both public and private, and social and religious ostracism. This was our reward for obeying the dictates of common humanity, "and for remembering those in bonds as bound with them."


This was not strange, for the church and the clergy, ministers and elders of nearly all religious denominations, had become the abettors and apologists of slavery.

Those in the hall doubly watched, had to avoid the least appearance of fright or anxiety in countenance or movement, but the time for action was at hand--something must be done, and that immediately, for one of the very fugitives was then in the meeting, listening for the first time to the refreshing national language of "every man's right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness." He seemed to be just realizing this boon of freedom, when Frederick Douglass's tall figure appeared before us. Stepping into the broad aisle, he beckoned the fugitive to him, speaking something, which no one else heard. They quietly left the hall, and the present agony was past. The next day we found they were secreted, separately, though very anxious themselves to be together. I called to see one of the three nearest us and found him just at the top of a flight of stairs, defying the approach of officers or master, with abundant implements of warfare at his command, and he told me, he would never go back alive. I told him I hoped he would not take the life of any one, but his freedom so lately found and enjoyed, seemed to outweigh all things besides. "My old master must not come up those stairs if he wants to live; he is not fit to live, though he is not as cruel as some of them." The three were brought together on the third day of anxiety. Disguised by wearing Quaker bonnets and thick veils, and seated on the back seat of a covered carriage, they were quietly driven to a steamer bound for Canada, a haven they at first so much dreaded, now hailing with joy. They were soon engaged as hack drivers to and from Niagara Falls, but when they last visited us they were going to Australia, hoping for an easier and quicker way of gaining wealth. (Amy Post, “The Underground Railroad in Rochester,” in William Peck, Semi-Centennial History of Rochester (Syracuse, 1884), 458-462.


c) Griffiths Cooper, Quaker affiliated with the 1816 Farmington Quaker Meetinghouse, lived

in Williamson, about halfway between Farmington and the port of Pultneyville, where Samuel C. Cuyler and Julia Cuyler kept many freedom seekers before they boarded a steamboat captained by Horatio Throop for Canada.


Douglass stayed in the Cooper house and often referred to Cooper in print, calling him “the veteran friend of the Indian as well as the African” (North Star, March 3, 1848) and “the man widely known as the self sacrificing friend of Humanity,” (Frederick Douglass’ Paper, December 2, 1853).


In 1852, Cooper wrote a letter to Frederick Douglass Paper, reporting to his “Esteemed Friend” Douglass, that


three emigrants, from the South, via Rochester, left our port for Queen Victoria’s dominions, the 19th inst., at 8:00 p.m., with three hearty cheers for the land of the free, the home of the exile. . . .The underground railroad is in successful operation. Thine for emigration, North.


d) In 1895, at the time of Douglass’ death, an article in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (February 22, 1895) noted that three men escaping from slavery were taken to the home of Griffith Cooper, where they remained in hiding before they were dressed in women’s clothes and then sent to Canada via the port of Pultneyville.


1854: Frederick Douglass and Hathaways. The 1850 U.S. census listed Sarah Woodlin, born enslaved in Louisiana, as living in the Hathaway household, still standing in Macedon. In 1854, Douglass wrote to Phebe Hathaway:


It is too bad that I cannot come to Farmington on the first of April after

that winsome little note of yesterday. But I cannot and cannot now, see

any chance of visiting the kind domicile of the Dear Hathaways this side

the bright Sunshine and bird singing of the bonny month of June. My

hands are full and more than full of work. I have two or three lectures to

prepare for several occasions near at hand, have a long journey before

me to Cincinnati, number meetings to attend in Ohio-Rosetta to take

to Oberlin- Have just been made agent of the industrial School and my

paper to attend to. I am Dear Phebe, an over worked man [.] Still my

heart is warm and my sprit is bright and sure I am that a visit to the house

of your Father would greatly please me but I dare not just now allow

myself even so much leisure. I hope some day and that day I hope is not

very far distant when I can come out to Farmington for more than one

day. Do me the kindness to remember me affectionately to your Father

Brothers- and your Dear sisters- and Believe me now and always most.

(Douglass to Phebe Hathaway, March 28, 1854, sold at auction, http://americana.heritageauctions.com/common/view_

item.php?Sale_No=626&Lot_No=25598. Thanks to Charles Lenhart for finding these.)


1859: Frederick Douglass, John Brown, and John Hurn. John Hurn and Sarah Griffen Hurn were members of Farmington Monthly Meeting of Friends, members of the Sodus Bay Phalanx, and lifelong abolitionists. About 1854, Sarah Hurn relinquished her Farmington membership, and the family moved to Philadelphia, where John Hurn became a telegraph operator. When John Brown attacked Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in October 1859, authorities were certain that Frederick Douglass bore some responsibility. The sheriff of Franklin County, Pennsylvania, telegraphed the sheriff in Philadelphia, requesting him to arrest Douglass. He did not count on the abolitionist sympathies and personal friendship for Douglass of John W. Hurn. Many years later, Hurn remembered the event in an interview with a reporter from the Philadelphia Record:


Yes, sir, I am the man who saved Fred. Douglass' life when "Old John Brown" was

captured at Harper's Ferry.


I suppressed a dispatch addressed to the sheriff of Philadelphia, instructing him to arrest Douglass, who was then in that city, as proofs of his complicity in the memorable raid were discovered when John Brown was taken into custody. . . .


At that time I was a telegraph operator located in Philadelphia, and when I received the dispatch I was frightened nearly out of my wits. As I was an ardent admirer of the great ex-slave, I resolved to warn Douglass of his impending fate, no matter what the result might be to me. The news had just been spread throughout the country of the bold action of John Brown in taking Harper's Ferry. Everybody was excited and public feeling ran high. Before the intelligence came that Brown had been captured, the dispatch I have mentioned was sent by the sheriff of Franklin county, Penn., to the sheriff of Philadelphia, informing him that Douglass had been one of the leading conspirators, and requesting that he should be immediately apprehended.


Though I knew it was illegal to do so, I quietly put the dispatch in my pocket, and, asking another operator to take my place, started on my search for Fred. Douglass. I went directly to Miller McKim, the secretary of the contraband, underground, fugitive railway office in Philadelphia, and inquired for my man. Mr. McKim hesitated to tell me, whereupon I showed him the dispatch and promised him not to allow it to be delivered within three hours. I told him I would not do this unless he agreed to get Mr. Douglass out of the states. This he readily assented to, for it was his business to spirit escaped slaves beyond the reach of the authorities. I returned to the telegraph office and kept a sharp lookout for similar dispatches. None arrived, however, and when the allotted time expired I sent the belated message to its destination.


In the mean time those intrusted [sic] with my secret saw Mr. Douglass and urged him to leave the town as quickly as possible. He was loath to do so at first, but the expostulation of his friends overcame his objections, and in an hour he left on a railroad train. He reached his home in Rochester, New York, in safety, destroying the compromising documents, and then packed his gripsack and started for Canada. It was fortunate for him that he left so soon as he did, for immediately after his departure from Rochester his home was surrounded by officers. (James M. Gregory, Frederick Douglass The Orator (Springfield, Massachusetts: Willey & Co.,1893), 46-48, http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/gregory/gregory.html. Thanks to Christopher Densmore for finding this. Baldwinsville Gazette, August 3, 1882, fultonhistory.com. For more on the Mabbett family, see “Sodus Bay Phanlanx,” in Judith Wellman, Marjory Allen Perez, with Charles Lenhart and others, Uncovering the Underground Railroad, Abolitionism, and African American Life in Wayne County, New York, 1820-1880 (Lyons, N.Y.: Wayne County Historian’s Office, 2007), https://web.co.wayne.ny.us/483/Uncovering-the-Underground-Railroad.)


1885: Selby Howard. At least one freedom seeker, Selby Howard, lived near the Farmington Quaker Meetinghouse and lies buried in the Farmington Quaker cemetery. Born in Maryland in 1801, his gravestone reads:

Selby Howard

Died February 18, 1885

aged 83y, 10m, 23d

husband of Harriet

Born a slave

Lived a freeman

Died in the Lord


For recent secondary writings on Underground Railroad workers in the Farmington area, see:


David Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018).

Ezra Greenspan, William Wells Brown: An African-American Life (New York: W.W. Norton, 2014).

Nancy A. Hewitt, Radical Friend: Amy Kirby Post and Her Activist Worlds (Charlotte: University of

North Carolina Press, 2018).

Milton Sernett, North Star Country: Upstate New York and the Crusade for African American Freedom

(Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2001).

Judith Wellman, Marjory Allen Perez, with Charles Lenhart and others, Uncovering the Underground

Railroad, Abolitionism, and African American Life in Wayne County, New York, 1820-1880 (Lyons,

N.Y.: Wayne County Historian’s Office, 2007), https://web.co.wayne.ny.us/483/Uncovering-the-Underground-Railroad.

Jean Yellin, Harriet Jacobs: A Life (Civitas Books, 2005).

[1][1] Anonymous to the Journal, 8 mo. 30, 1876, reprinted from Christian Register, 3 mo 25, 1876. Thanks to Christopher Densmore for locating this.

53 views0 comments