Welcome to
History & Genealogy


(Previously Published in 1879 with title: The Underground Railroad)
For many years connected with the Anti-Slavery Office in Philadelphia, and Chairman of the Acting
Vigilant Committee of the Philadelphia Branch of the Underground Rail Road.

Illustrated with 70 Fine Engravings by Bensell, Schell and Others,
and Portraits from Photographs from Life.

Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant that has escaped from his master unto thee. - Deut. xxiii 16.





     The subjoined "pass" was brought to the underground Rail Road station in Philadelphia by Charles, and while it was interesting as throwing light upon his escape, it is important also as a specimen of the way the "pass" system was carried on in the dark days of Slavery in Virginia:

                                                                                NAT. AMERICAN OFFICE.
                                                                                        Richmond, July 20th, 1857.
     Permit Charles to pass and repass from this office to the residence of Rev. B. Manly's on Clay St., near 11th, at any hour of the night for one month.        WM. W. HARDWICK."

     It is a very short document, but it used to be very unsafe for a slave in Richmond, or any other Southern city, to be found out in the evening without a legal paper of this description.  The penalties for being found unprepared to face the police were fines, imprisonment and flogging.  The satisfaction it seemed always to afford these guardians of the city to find either males or females trespassing in this particular, was unmistakable.  It gave them (the police) the opportunity to prove to those they served (slave-holders), that they were the right men in the right place, guarding their interests.  Then again they got the fine for pocket money, and likewise the

[Pg. 147]
still greater pleasure of administering the flogging.  Who would want an office, if no opportunity should turn up whereby proof could be adduced of adequate qualifications to meet emergencies?  But Charles was too wide awake to be caught without his pass day or night.  Consequently he hung on to it, even after starting on his voyage to Canada.  He, however, willingly surrendered it to a member of the Committee at his special request.
     But in every way Charles was quite a remarkable man.  It afforded the Committee great pleasure to make his acquaintance, and much practical and useful information was gathered from his story, which was felt to be truthful.
     The Committee feeling assured that this "chattel" must have been the subject of much inquiry and anxiety from the nature of his former position, as a prominent piece of property, as a member of the Baptist church, as taking "first premiums" in making tobacco, and as a paper carrier in the National American office, felt called upon to  note fully his movements before and often leaving Richmond.
     In stature he was medium size, color quite dark, hair long and bushy - rather of a raw-boned and rugged appearance, modest and self-possessed; with much more intelligence than would be supposed from first observation.  On his arrival, ere he had "shaken hands with the (British) Lion's paw," (which he was desirous of doing), or changed the habiliments in which he escaped, having listened to the recital of his thrilling tale, and wishing to get it word for word as it flowed naturally from his brave lips, at a late hour of the night a member of the Committee remarked to him, with pencil in hand, that he wanted to take down some account of his life. "Now," said he, "we shall have to be brief.  Please answer as correctly as you can the following questions:"  "How old are you?"  "Thirty-two years old the 1st day of last June."  "Were you born a slave?"  "Yes."  "How have you been treated?"  "Badly all the time for the last twelve years."  "What do you mean by being treated badly?"  "Have been whipped, and they never give me anything; some people give their servants at Christmas a dollar and a half and two dollars, and some five, but my master would never give me anything."  "What was the name of your master?"  "Fleming Bibbs."  "Where did you live?"  "In Caroline county, fifty miles above Richmond."  "What did he do?"  "He is a farmer."  "Did you ever live with him?"  "Never did; always hired me out, and then I couldn't please him."  "What kind of a man was he?"  "A man with a very severe temper; would drink at all times, though would do it slyly."  "Was he a member of any church?"  "Baptist church - would curse at his servants as if he wern't in any church."  "Were his family members of church, too?"  "Yes."  "What kind of family he he?"  "His wife was a tolerable fair woman, but his sons were dissipated, all of them rowdies and gamblersHis sons has had children by the servants.  One of his daughters had a child by his grandson last April.  They are traders, buy and sell."

[Pg. 148]

     "How many slaves did he own?"  "Sam, Richmond, Henry, Dennis, Jesse, Addison, Hilliard, Jenny, Lucius, Julia, Charlotte, Easte, Joe, Taylor, Louisa, two more small children and Jim."  Did any of them know that you were going to leave?  "No, I saw my brother Tuesday, but never told him a word about it."  "What put it into your head to leave?"  "It was bad treatment; for being put in jail for the sale the 7th of last January; was whipped in jail and after I came out the only thing they told me was that I had been selling newspaper about the streets, and was half free."
     "What did you live then?"  "In Richmond, Va.; for twenty-two years I have been living out."  "How much did your master receive a year for our hire?"  "From sixty-five to one hundred and fifty dollars."  "Did you have to find yourself?"  "The people who hired me found me.  The general rule is in Richmond, for a week's board, seventy-five cents is allowed; if he gets any more than that he has got to find it himself."  "How about Sunday clothing?"  "Find them yourself?"  "How about a house to live in?"  "Have that to find yourself."  "Suppose you have a wife and finally."  "It makes no difference, they don't allow you anything for that at all."  "Suppose you are sick who pays your doctor's bill?"  "He (master) pays that."  "How do you manage to make a little extra money?"  "By getting up before day and carrying out papers and doing other jobs, cleaning up single men's rooms and the like of that."  "What have you been employed at in Richmond?"  "Been working in tobacco factory in general; this year I was hired at a printing-office.  The National American.  I carried papers."  "Had you a wife?"  "I did, but her master was a very bad man and was opposed to me, and was against my coming to his place to see my wife, and he persuaded her to take his advice."  "How long ago was that?"  "Very near twelve months; she got married last fall."  "Had you any children?"  "Yes."  "How many?"  "Five."  "Where are they?"  "Three are with Joel Luck, her master, one with his sister Eliza, and the other belongs to Judge Hudgins, of Bowling Green Court House."  "Do you ever expect to see them again?"  "No, not till the day of the Great I am!"  "Did you ever have any chance of schooling?"  "Not a day in my life."  "Can you read?"  "No, sir, nor write my own name."  "What do you think of Slavery any how?"  "I think it's a great curse, and I think the Baptists in Richmond will go to the deepest hell, if there is any, for they are so wicked they will work you all day and part of the night, and wear cloaks and long faces, and try to get all the work out of you they can by telling you about Jesus Christ.  All the extra money you make they think you will give to hear talk about Jesus Christ.  Out of their extra money they have to pay a white man Five hundred dollars a year for preaching."  "What kind of preaching does he give them?"  "He tells them if they die in their sins they will go to hell; don't tell them any

[Pg. 149]
thing about their elevation; he would tell them to obey their masters and mistresses, for good servants make good masters.”  “Did you belong to the Baptist Church?”  “Yes, Second Baptist Church.”  “Did you feel that the preaching you heard was the true Gospel?”  “One part of it, and one part burnt me as bad as ever insult did. They would tell us that we must take money out of our pockets to send it to Africa, to enlighten the African race.  I think that we were about as blind in Richmond as the African race is in Africa.  All they want you to know, is to have sense enough to say master and mistress, and run like lightning, when they speak to you, to do exactly what they want you to do."  “When you made up your mind to escape, where did you think you would go to?”  “I made up my mind not to stop short of the British protection; to shake hands with the Lion’s paw.”  “ Were you not afraid of being captured on the _way, of being devoured by the abolitionists, or of freezing and starving in Canada?” “ Well, I had often thought that I would be in a bad condition to come here, without money and clothes, but I made up my mind to come, live or die.”  “What are your impressions from what little you have seen of Freedom?”  “ I think it is intended for all men, and all men ought to have it."  "Suppose your master was to appear before you, and offer you the privilege of returning to Slavery or death on the spot, which would be your choice?”  “Die right there.  I made up my mind before I started.”  “Do you think that many of the slaves are anxious about their Freedom?” “The third part of them ain't anxious about it, because the white people have blinded them, telling about the North,—they can’t live here; telling them that the people are worse off than they are there; they say that the ‘niggers’ in the North have no houses to live in, stand about freezing, dirty, no clothes to wear.  They all would be very glad to get their time, but want to stay where they are.”  Just at this point of the interview, the hour of midnight admonished us that it was time to retire.  Accordingly, said Mr. Thompson, “I guess we had better close,” adding, if he “could only write, he could give seven volumes!”  Also, said he, “give my best respects to Mr. W. W. Hardwicke, and Mr. Perry in the National American office, and tell them I wish they will pay the two boys who carry the papers for me, for they are as ignorant of this matter as you are.”
     Charles was duly forwarded to Canada to shake hands with the Lion's paw, and from the accounts which came from him to the Committee, he was highly delighted.  The following letter from him afforded gratifying evidence, that he neither forgot his God nor his friends in freedom:

                                                                 DETROIT, Sept. 17, 1862.
     DEAR BROTHER IN CHRIST: - It affords me the greatest pleasure imaginable in the time I shall occupy in penning these few lines to you and your dear loving  wife; not because I can write them to you myself, but for the love and regard I have for you, for I


[Pg. 150]
never can forget a man who will show kindness to his neighbor when in distress.  I remember when I was in distress and out of doors, you took me in; I was hungry, and you fed me; for these things God will reward you, dear brother.  I am getting along as well as I can expect.  Since I have been out here, I have endeavored to make every day tell for itself, and I can say no doubt what a great many men cannot say that I have made good use of all the time that God has given me, and not one week has been spent in idleness.  Brother William, I expect to visit you some time next summer to sit and have a talk with you and Mrs. Still.  I hope to see that time, if it is God's will.  You will remember me, with my wife, to Mrs. Still.  Give my best respects to all inquiring friends, and believe me to be yours forever.  Well wishes both soul and body.  Please write  to me sometimes.
                                                  C. W. THOMPSON.



(Secreted in a vessel loaded with turpentine.)

[Pg. 151]
thought I would try and do better."  At this juncture Abram. explained substantially in what sense times were hard, &c.  In the first place he was not allowed to own himself; he, however, preferred hiring his time to serving in the usual way.  This favor was granted Abram; but he was compelled to pay $15 per month for his time, besides finding himself in clothing, food, paying doctor bills, and a head tax of $15 a year.
     Even under this master, who was a man of very good disposition, Abram was not contented. In the second place, he " always thought Slavery was wrong," although he had " never suffered any personal abuse."  Toiling month after month the year round to support his master and not himself, was the one intolerable thought.  Abram and Richard were intimate friends, and lived near each other.  Being similarly situated, they could venture to communicate the secret feelings of their hearts to each other.  Richard was four years older than Abram, with not quite so much AngloSaxon blood in his veins, but was equally as intelligent, and was by trade, a "fashionable barber," well-known to the ladies and gentlemen of Wilmington.  Richard owed service to Mrs. Mary Loren, a widow. "She was very kind and tender to all her slaves."   "If I was sick," said Richard, "she would treat me the same as a mother would."  She was the owner of twenty, men, women and children, who were all hired out, except the children too young for hire.  Besides having his food, clothing and doctor's expenses to meet, he had to pay the "very kind and tender-hearted widow" $12.50 per month, and head tax to the State, amounting to twenty-five cents per month. I t so happened, that Richard at this time, was involved in a matrimonial difficulty.  Contrary to the laws of North Carolina, he had lately married a free girl, which was an indictable offence, and for which the penalty was then in soak for him—said penalty to consist of thirty-nine lashes, and imprisonment at the discretion of the judge.
     So Abram and Richard put their heads together, and resolved to try the Underground Rail Road.  They concluded that liberty was worth dying for, and that it was their duty to strike for Freedom even if it should cost them their lives.  The next thing needed, was information about the Underground Rail Road.  Before a great while the captain of a schooner turned up, from Wilmington, Delaware.  Learning that his voyage extended to Philadelphia, they sought to find out whether this captain was true to Free dom.  To ascertain this fact required no little address.  It had to be done in such a way, that even the captain would not really understand what they were up to, should he be found untrue.  In this instance, however, he was the right man in the right place, and very well understood his business.
     Abram and Richard made arrangements with him to bring them away; they learned when the vessel would start, and that she was loaded with tar, rosin, and spirits of turpentine, amongst which the captain was to secrete tbem.  But here came the difficulty. In order that slaves might not be

[Pg. 152]
secreted in vessels, the slave-holders of North Carolina had procured the enactment of a law requiring all vessels coming North to be smoked.
     To escape this dilemma, the inventive genius of Abram and Richard soon devised a safe-guard against the smoke.  This safe-guard consisted in silk oil cloth shrouds, made large, with drawing strings, which, when pulled over their heads, might be drawn very tightly around their waists, whilst the process of smoking might be in operation.  A bladder of water and towels were provided, the latter to be wet and held to their nostrils, should there be need.  In this manner they had determined to struggle against death for liberty.  The hour approached for being at the wharf.  At the appointed time they were on hand ready to go on the boat; the captain secreted them, according to agreement.  They were ready to run the risk of being smoked to death; but as good luck would have it, the law was not carried into effect in this instance, so that the "smell of smoke was not upon them."  The effect of the turpentine, however, of the nature of which they were totally ignorant, was worse, if possible, than the smoke would have been.  The blood was literally drawn from them at every pore in frightful quantities.  But as heroes of the bravest type they resolved to continue steadfast as long as a pulse continued to beat, and thus they finally conquered.
     The invigorating northern air and the kind treatment of the Vigilance Committee acted like a charm upon them, and they improved very rapidly from their exhaustive and heavy loss of blood.  Desiring to retain some memorial of them, a member of the Committee begged one of their silk shrouds, and likewise procured an artist to take the photograph of one of them; which keepsakes have been valued very highly.  In the regular order of arrangements the wants of Abram and Richard were duly met by the Committee, financially and otherwise, and they were forwarded to Canada.  After their safe arrival in Canada, Richard addressed a member of the Committee thus:

                                                                                 KINGSTON, July 20, 1857
     MR. WILLIAM STILL  - Dear Friend:  - I take the opertunity of wrighting a few lines to let you no that we air all in good health hoping thos few lines may find you and your family engoying the same blessing.  We arived in King all saft Canada West Abram Galway gos to work this morning at $1 75 per day and John pediford is at work for mr goerge mink and i will opne a shop for my self in a few days.  My wif will send a dugretipe to your cair whitch you will pleas to send on to me Richard Edons to the cair of George Mink Kingston C. W.                 Yours with Respect,  RICHARD EDONS.

     Abram, his comrade, allied himself faithfully to John Bulluntil Uncle Sam became involved in the constest with the rebels.  In this hour of need Abram hastened back to North Carolina to help fight the battles of Freedom.  How well he acted his part, we are not informed.  We only know that, after the war was over, in the reconstruction of North Carolina, Abram was promoted to a seat in its Senate.   He died in office only a few months since.  The portrait is almost a "fac-simile."

< CLICK HERE to go to PAGE 153  - continued >







This Webpage has been created by Sharon Wick exclusively for Genealogy Express  ©2008
Submitters retain all copyrights