Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dad's College Paper Part 3

In part 1 of this series of posts I included an introduction on my Father's college paper on the Underground Railroad in Massachusetts, written in 1954.  In Part 2 I included a few scanned images from the paper, with some explanations regarding the Jenkins station house in Andover, Massachusetts.  Here, in part 3, is a transcript of the college paper, submitted to Northeastern University in Boston, on 18 March 1954.


John W. Wilkinson

Northeastern University
History 23-18
Professor Wallace Bishop
March 18, 1954

I’ve served my master all my days
Without a dime reward,      
And now I’m forced to run away 
To flee the lash abhorred.
The hounds are baying on my track- -
The master’s just behind,
Resolved that he will bring me back
Before I cross the line.
                Farewell old master,
                Don’t come after me,
                I’m on my way to Canada
                Where colored men are free. 1

The loosely knit organization by which fugitives made their way to Canada was spread throughout the North from Kansas to the east coast.  It was secretive in nature usually working during the night through local groups that passed the runaways from house to house.  The knowledge of freedom in Canada was probably spread by Southern soldiers returning from the War of 1812.

In New England the fugitives arrived by the sea as stowaways or befriended by a negro hand on board.  They sailed usually from New Orleans, Mobile, Savannah, and Norfolk, Virginia arriving at such ports as Portland, Salem, Marblehead, Boston, New Bedford or New Haven.2

Many found jobs here and lived undisturbed.  Not until the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was there great migration to Canada.  In the Quaker town of New Bedford about 600 were In residence in 1851.  When news was received that slave hunters were headed there from Boston, measures were taken to protect the, however the danger never precipitated.3

Frederick Douglas, who escaped through Baltimore in a sailor’s garb, was an inhabitant here.  At an anti-slavery meeting in Nantucket he made a deep impression by a speech and thus became a leading orator for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society.4

North from Fall River and Norwich, routes led to Worcester County, an ardent anti-slavery area where aid could always be found.  In 1847 Stephen Foster and his wife ran a station on the outskirts of the city at their home which came to be known as “the Liberty Farm”.  His cellar contained a vault with no opening except by a trap door from above.  Here slaves were hidden in their stop overs. 5   After the capture of Anthony Burns in 1854, a meeting was held by ardent abolitionists in Concord, resolving to aid any escapee making his way from Boston.  Among the notables present were Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Mr. and Mrs. John Thoreau. 6


Aided by both whites and Negroes in the South, more slaves made their way to Boston than any other port on the Atlantic coast.   Most came as stowaways, others traveled there after landing at other ports.  The anti-slavery movement made it a famous place of refuge from 1830 on.  In 1831 the first issue of the Liberator had appeared.  Of this occasion James Russell Lowell wrote:
                In a small chamber, friendless and unseen,
                                Toiled o’re his types one poor,
                                Unlearned young man;
                The place was dark unfurnished and mean;
                                Yet there the freedom of a race began. 7

In 1847 a famous slave was caught by the name of George Lattimer.  A group of determined men met and planned his rescue from jail by force.  His master finally sold the slave to the group rather than have the jail stormed.  The money was raised by soliciting and George became a free man.  His fear of kidnapping caused him to hide out in Underground retreats for many years.

Sometimes the runaways did not quite make it to Boston and were returned South.  In 1846 such an incident took place.  Within view of shore a slave made a plunge to freedom.  To the outrage of those watching on shore, he was caught and hauled back aboard.  A committee was put into operation at the time making resolutions to protect and aid those seeking refuge.  Before anything could be decided however, the ship had sailed to the South.  Regarding this incident Emerson wrote that he “felt the irreparable blame to Boston for the abduction.” 8

This first committee was important in being the forerunner of the much more important Vigilance Committee.  One of the main activities of this new organization was the use of Captain Austin Bearse’s yacht the Moby Dick.   Bearse was a principal agent and his duty was the collection of fugitives from ships in Boston Harbor.  Later, the members pooled their money and bought the Wild Pigeon  also managed by Bearse.  Upon the disbandment of the committee the money from the sale of the vessel was returned to the contributors.  Most of the slaves of the early period were congregated in the section of colored people who inhabited the north side of Beacon Hill on “Nigger Hill”. 9

A reproduction of the map in Mr. Siebert’s book is hardly complete.  Many operators knew the danger of discovery by written records.  There was drastic punishment for their midnight jaunting.  At least five routes have been traced as radiating from Boston.

One route strangely enough traveled some 40 miles southeast to Plymouth.  Fugitives were also sent to Boston along the same route from this port.  Another more important trail followed the tracks of the Boston to Albany Railroad to the before mentioned Worcester territory.  From there a Mr. Israel Howe Brown used his wagon filled with vegetables under which the passengers hid on their journey north to Fitchburg.  10

The next route led through Medford.  Here it split and steered either through Reading and Andover, or more westerly up to Dracut.  In Reading, Jonas Parker once frequented slaves at the corner of Ash and Cross streets.  While making a personal investigation of this station, a Mrs. Berle, who lives across the street, told me of Mr. Walter Garritson whose age dates him back to the era.  His answer to my letter for information is the following:

                                                                                    179 Ash Street
                                                                                    Waltham 54
                                                                                    March 12, 1954
Dear Mr. Wilkinson

Yours recieved and I wish that I could answer all the questions but I'll do the best that I can.

What I learned was from Cyrus King Littlefield.  We always called him King.  He lived on Ash St. and he told me that about dusk some times he would see two or three negros come crawling out from under the barn and they would travel with the North Star to guide them.  All was kept as secret as possible and among as few as possible.  These things King learned as he grew older.

The barn where they were hidden day times had only a cellar under the cows and horses on the South side of the barn so the negros would have a large space on the dirt under the barn floor.  There they would find food.  The few who were running this would be notified at the next station ahead and know when to look for the new comers.  Some times there were men around trying to capture the escaped slaves.  And so there could be no traveling until they were told that the coast was clear.

I don't know [who] was the owner of the barn but it was built by Jonas Parker who lived up Ash St.  I tried to make a drawing of the barn and every one looks worse than the one before it.

There were directed where the next stopping place would be.  And who would be on the look out for them. Some times they would be fortunate to ride some of the way.  King said that they would have a stick over their shoulder with a little bundle on it.  Probably clothing and perhaps food.

                                                        Hoping that [I] may be some [help]
                                                        I am with best wishes
                                                        Yours respectfully
                                                        Walter Gerritson
Aged 93 years
                              [sketch of barn in Reading, Massachusetts]

A fourth itinerary went through Saugus, Danvers, and passed through Newburyport on the way to Exeter, New Hampshire.  Mrs. Elizabeth Bradstreet recalls her mother and father caring for several refugees.  One evening she helped her mother boil brown sugar to smear on the back of an old negro “still raw from the whippings he had received”.  Her father escorted one slave to the Canadian border and remarked “he never saw anything run so fast as that slave in his dash for freedom!”  11  At Newburyport one slave was unusually transported in a coffin.  The baggage master  set it on end and the occupant was not relieved of his head down position until an Underground agent picked it up. 12   The final route, known as the shore line, ran by means of Lynn, Salem, Beverly, Marblehead, and converging with the fourth route at Newburyport.  After this city, the slaves were forwarded to Amesbury.  John Greenleaf Whittier wrote to a friend saying he had collected money to help transport a family of four fugitives. 13  [Whittier was a resident at Amesbury]


In order to observe an Underground hostel, I made a circular trip along the routes in Essex and Middlesex Counties.  Several old buildings used in the period have been torn down.  Both the house at 307 Main Street in Stoneham and the Ingalls Kitteridge’s home at the corner of Federal and Cabot streets in Beverly, mentioned in Mr. Siebert’s book, have given way to modern establishments.  By a piece of good fortune, I discovered at the Andover Historical Society that the Jenkin’s place on the old Boston to Haverhill turnpike was still occupied.  It might be noted that this is the next stop after Reading from where Mr. Garritson has mentioned slaves were sent north.

The house was built ten years before the Revolutionary War.  Handed down from his father, William and Mary Jenkins, ardent Abolitionists, used it for a station and meeting place for the Anti-Slavery Society.  George Latimer spent a long period working there as a farm hand.  In 1843 Wendall Phillips, having visited there, gave such a zealous speech on his behalf that the uproar resulted in the passage of the Personal Liberty Act of Massachusetts. 14

On one evening the house was so crowded that Mr. Jenkins was worried where he could bed Frederick Douglas.  When Mr. William Lloyd Garrison heard of the trouble he announced “I would be proud to sleep with Fred.”  Later, Fred remarked he would gladly be skinned alive if he could come out white. 15

The house is set back about three hundred yards from the turnpike connected by a long dirt driveway.  The road winds around the property past the barn and numerous chicken coops.   By construction, the rooms in the two sections surround the chimneys.  In the attic, where the chimney (at the left in the photograph on page 13) slants and grows smaller before protruding through the roof, was recently discovered a secret niche beneath some loose boards which are easily removable.  Here fugitive slaves found a safe hiding place.

Not having a flashlight, I descended into the gap with a candle, probably in the same manner as many Negroes had done over a hundred years before.  Within the space, I estimated the length at then feet with a depth of two feet back from the chimney.  In the rear, behind a corner of the brickwork is a set of shelves on which provisions could be stored in case a long stay was necessary.  Five men could stand comfortably or two men could stretch out on the floor without cramping excessively.  Although I am six feet tall, I could not touch the ceiling when standing on my toes.  (See picture page 13.)

On the roof by this chimney is a skylight from which an excellent view of the neighboring countryside can be obtained.  Thus it was that in the dusk of the evening someone would signal that the road was clear and the fugitives would make their way north to Haverhill and another station on the Underground Railroad.


1  Wilbur H. Siebert, The Underground Railroad in Massachusetts, Worcester, 1938, p. 4, A slave song.

Ibid, pp. 3-4.

3  Special to the Commonwealth, Mar. 16, 1851; History of New Bedford, Mass., 306.

4  Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglas, 59 – 60,  63-65, 70, 72.

5  Scrapbook in Library of the Bostonian Society, Old State House, Boston

6  John Weiss, Life and Correspondence of Theodore Parker, 11, 142.

Boston Evening Transcript, Sept. 1, 1897; Henry F. Jenks, Scrapbook, in the Library of the Bostonian Society, Old State House, Boston.

8  Siebert, op. cit., p. 19.

Ibid, p. 24.

10  Letter from Miss Marion Le Mere, March 15, 1935; Letter from Mrs. Grace M. Richard, March 1935; letter from Mrs. Diaz, n. d.; Natick Herald, March, 1930; Wellesley Townsman, same; letters from Mrs. Florence Lovell Macewen, Aug. 10 and 16, 1935; letter from Percival William Jones,  Jul. 27, 1935.

11  Historical Collections, Danvers Historical Society, Vol. 4, pp. 129 – 30.

12  Ibid, p. 37 Letter from Teresea S. Castle, of the Newburyport Public Library.

13  Siebert, op. cit., pp. 37 -38, Letter of John Greenleaf Whittier in the Public Library of Haverhill, Mass.

14 Fair and Warmer, Andover, 1928, pp. 1 -2.

15 Ibid, p. 2.


Fair and Warmer, Andover, April, 1928
Siebert, Wilbur H., The Underground Railroad in Massachusetts, Worcester, 1936.

Washington, Booker T., Frederick Douglas,  Philadelphia and London, 1907.


  1. Thank you so for sharing this, Heather. I found your father's description of the attic hiding spot so moving.

  2. Your series on your father's college paper on the Underground Railroad is fascinating. So wonderful to find first hand accounts of a time that has so much mystery surrounding it!

  3. This is so fascinating! Thanks so much for sharing it. I'm going to link it to my genealogy blog even though my family didn't live in Andover at this time. Seems they were Loyalists who had flown to Canada. But we are Patriots who love this type of history. Thanks again.