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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.



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     All these persons journeyed together from Loudon Co., Va. on horseback and in a carriage for more than one hundred miles.  Availing themselves of a holiday and their master's horses and carriage they a deliberately started for Canada, as though they had never een taught that it was their duty, as servants, to "obey their masters."  In this particular showing a most utter disregard of the interest of their "kind-hearted and indulgent owners."  They left home on Monday, Christmas Eve, 1855, under the leadership of Frank Wanzer, and arrived in Columbia the following Wednesday at one o'clock.  As willfully as they had thus made their way along, they had not found it smooth sailing by any means.  The biting frost and snow rendered their travel anything but agreeable.  Nor did they escape the gnawings of hunger, traveling day and night.  And whilst these "articles" were in the very act of running away with themselves and their kind master's best horses and carriage - when about one hundred miles from home, in the neighborhood of Cheat river, Maryland, they were attacked by "six white men, and a boy," who, doubtless, supposing that their intentions were of a "wicked and unlawful character" felt it to be their duty in kindness to their masters, if not to the travelers to demand of them an account of themselves.  In other words, the assailants

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positively commanded the fugitives to "show what right" they possessed, to be found in a condition apparently so unwarranted.
     The spokesman amongst the fugitives, affecting no ordinary amount of dignity, told their assailants plainly, that "no gentleman would interfere with persons riding along civilly" - not allowing it to be supposed that they were slaves, of course.  These "gentlemen," however, were not willing to accept this account of the travelers, as their very decided steps indicated.  Having the law on their side, they were for compelling the fugitives to surrender without further parley.
     At this juncture, the fugitives verily believing that the time had arrived for the practical use of their pistols and dirks, pulled them out of their concealment - the young women as well as the young men - and declared they would not be "taken!"  One of the white men raised his gun, pointing the muzzle directly towards one of the young women, with the threat that he would "shoot," etc.  "Shoot! shoot!!  shoot !!! she exclaimed, with a double barrelled pistol in one hand and a long dirk knife in the other, utterly unterrified and fully ready for a death struggle.  The male leader of the fugitives by this time had "pulled back the hammers" of his "pistols," and was about to fire!  Their adversaries seeing the weapons, and the unflinching determination on the part of the runaways to stand their ground, "spill blood, kill, or die," rather than be "taken," very prudently "sidled over to the other side of the road," leaving at least four of the victors to travel on their way.
     At this moment the four in the carriage lost sight of the two on horseback.  Soon after the separation they heard firing, but what the result was, they knew not.  They were fearful, however, that their companions had been captured.

     The following paragraph, which was shortly afterwards taken from a Southern paper, leaves no room to doubt, as to the fate of the two.
     Six fugitive slaves from Virginia were arrested at the Maryland line, near Hood's Mill, on Christmas day, but, after a severe fight, four of them escaped and have not since been heard of.  They came from Loudoun and Fauquier counties.

     Though the four who were successful, saw no "severe fight," it is not unreasonable to suppose, that there was a fight, nevertheless; but not till after the number of the fugitives had been reduced to two, instead of six.  As chivalrous as slave-holders and slave-catchers were, they knew the value of their precious lives and the fearful risk of attempting a capture, when the numbers were equal.
     The party in the carriage, after the conflict, went on their way rejoicing.
     The young men, one cold night, when they were compelled to take rest in the woods and snow, in vain strove to keep the feet of their female companions from freezing by lying on them; but the frost was merciless and bit

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them severely, as their feet very plainly showed.  The following disjointed report was cut from the Frederick (Md.) Examiner, soon after the occurrence took place:

     "Six slaves, four men and two women, fugitives from Virginia, having with them two spring wagons and four horses, came to Hood's Mill, on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, near the dividing line between Frederick and Carroll counties, on Christmas day.  After feeding their animals, one of them told a Mr. Dixon whence they came; believing them to be fugitives, he spread the alarm, and some eight or ten persons gathered round to arrest them; but the negroes drawing revolvers and bowie-knives, kept their assailants at bay, until five of the party succeeded in escaping in one of the wagons, and as the last one jumped on a horse to flee, he was fired at, the load taking effect in the small of the back.  The prisoner says he belongs to Charles W. Simpson, Esq., of Fauquier county, Va., and ran away with the others on the preceding evening."

     This report from the Examiner, while it is not wholly correct, evidently relates to the fugitives above described.  Why the reporter made such glaring mistakes, may be accounted for on the ground that the bold stand made by the fugitives was so bewildering and alarming, that the "assailants" were not in a proper condition to make correct statements.  Nevertheless the Examiner's report was preserved with other records, and is here given for what it is worth.
     These victors were individually noted on the Record thus: Barnaby was owned by William Rogers, a farmer, who was considered a "moderate slave holder," although of late "addicted to intemperance."  He was the owner of about one "dozen head of slaves," and had besides a wife and two children.
     Barnaby's chances for making extra "change" for himself were never favorable; sometimes of "nights" he would manage to earn a "trifle."  He was prompted to escape because he "wanted to live by the sweat of his own brow," believing that all men ought so to live.  This was the only reason he gave for fleeing.
     Mary Elizabeth had been owned by Townsend McVee (likewise a farmer), and in Mary's judgment, be was "severe," but she added, "his wife made him so."  McVee owned about twenty-five slaves; " he hardly allowed them to talk—would not allow them to raise chickens," and "only allowed Mary three dresses a year;" the rest she had to get as she could.  Sometimes McVee would sell slaves—last year he sold two.  Mary said that she could not say anything good of her mistress.  On the contrary, she declared that her mistress "knew no mercy nor showed any favor."
     It was on account of this " domineering spirit," that Mary was induced to escape.
     Frank was owned by Luther Sullivan, " the meanest man in Virginia," he said ; he treated his people just as bad as he could in every respect. "Sullivan," added Frank, " would 'lowance the slaves and stint them to save food and get rich," and "would sell and whip," etc. To Frank's

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knowledge, he had sold some twenty-five head.  "He sold my mother and her two children to Georgia some four years previous."  But the motive which hurried Frank to make his flight was his laboring under the apprehension that his master had some "pretty heavy creditors who might come on him at any time."  Frank, therefore, wanted to be from home in Canada when these gentry should make their visit.  My poor mother has been often flogged by master, said Frank.  As to his mistress, he said she was "tolerably good."
     Ann Wood was owned by McVee also, and was own sister to Elizabeth.  Ann very fully sustained her sister Elizabeth's statement respecting the character of her master.
     The above-mentioned four, were all young and likely.  Barnaby was twenty-six years of age, mulatto, medium size, and intelligent —his wife was about twenty-four years of age, quite dark, good-looking, and of pleasant appearance.  Frank was twenty-five years of age, mulatto, and very smart; Ann was twenty-two, good-looking, and smart.  After their pressing wants had been met by the Vigilance Committee, and after partial recuperation from their hard travel, etc., they were forwarded on to the Vigilance Committee in New York.  In Syracuse, Frank (the leader), who was engaged to Emily, concluded that the knot might as well be tied on the U. G. R. R., although penniless, as to delay the matter a single day longer.  Doubtless, the bravery, struggles, and trials of Emily throughout the journey, had, in his estimation, added not a little to her charms.  Thus after consulting with her on the matter, her approval was soon obtained, she being too prudent and wise to refuse the hand of one who had proved himself so true a friend to Freedom, as well as so devoted to her.  The twain were accordingly made one at the U. G. R. R. Station, in Syracuse, by Superintendent—Rev. J. W. Loguen.  After this joyful event, they proceeded to Toronto, and were there gladly received by the Ladies' Society for aiding colored refugees.
     The following letter from Mrs. Agnes Willis, wife of the distinguished Rev. Dr. Willis, brought the gratifying intelligence that these brave young adventurers, fell into the hands of distinguished characters and warm friends of Freedom:

                                                                                       TORONTO, 28th January, Monday evening, 1856.
R. STILL, Dear Sir : —I have very great pleasure in making you aware that the following respectable persons have arrived here in safety without being annoyed in any way after you saw them.  The women, two of them, viz: Mrs. Greegsby and Mrs. Graham, have been rather ailing, but we hope they will very soon be well.  They have been attended to by the Ladies' Society, and are most grateful for any attention they have received.  The solitary person, Mrs. Graves, has also been attended to; also her box will be looked after.   She is pretty well, but rather dull; however, she will get friends and feel more at home by and bye.  Mrs. Wanzer is quite well; and also young William Henry Sanderson.  They are all of them in pretty good spirits, and I have no doubt they will succeed in whatever business they take up.  In the mean time the men are chopping

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wood, and the ladies are getting plenty sewing.  We are always glad to see our colored refugees safe here.  I remain, dear sir, yours respectfully, Agnes Willis,
                                                                       Treasurer to the Ladies' Society to aid colored refugees.

     For a time Frank enjoyed his newly won freedom and happy bride with bright prospects all around; but the thought of having left sisters and other relatives in bondage was a source of sadness in the midst of his joy.  He was not long, however, in making up his mind that he would deliver them or die in the attempt."  Deliberately forming his plans to go South, he resolved to take upon himself the entire responsibility of all the risks to be encountered.  Not a word did he reveal to a living soul of what he was about to undertake.  With "twenty-two dollars" in cash and "three pistols" in his pockets, he started in the lightning train from Toronto for Virginia.  On reaching Columbia in this State, he deemed it not safe to go any further by public conveyance, consequently he commenced his long journey on foot, and as he neared the slave territory he traveled by night altogether.  For two weeks, night and day, he avoided trusting himself in any house, consequently was compelled to lodge in the woods.  Nevertheless, during that space of time he succeeded in delivering one of his sisters and her husband, and another friend in the bargain.  You can scarcely imagine the Committee's amazement on his return, as they looked upon him and listened to his "noble deeds of daring" and his triumph.  A more brave and self-possessed man they had never seen.
     He knew what Slavery was and the dangers surrounding him on his mission, but possessing true courage unlike most men, he pictured no alarming difficulties in a distance of nearly one thousand miles by the mail route, through the enemy's country, where he might have in truth said, "I could not pass without running the gauntlet of mobs and assassins, prisons and penitentiaries, bailiffs and constables, &c."  If this hero had dwelt upon and magnified the obstacles in his way he would most assuredly have kept off the enemy's country, and his sister and friends would have remained in chains.
     The following were the persons delivered by Frank Wanzer.  They were his trophies, and this noble act of Frank's should ever be held as a memorial and honor.  The Committee's brief record made on their arrival runs thus:
     "August 18, 1856.  Frank Wanzer, Robert Stewart, alias Gasberry Robison, Vincent Smith, alias John Jackson, Betsey Smith, wife of Vincent Smith, alias Fanny Jackson.  They all came from Adler, Loudon county, Virginia."
     Robert is about thirty years of age, medium size, dark chestnut color, intelligent and resolute.  He was held by the widow Hutchinson, who was also the owner of about one hundred others.  Robert regarded her as a "very hard mistress" until the death of her husband, which took place the Fall previous to his escape.  That said affliction, he thought, was the cause.

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of a considerable change in her treatment of her slaves. But yet " nothing was said about freedom," on her part. This reticence Robert understood to mean, that she was still unconverted on this great cardinal principle at least. As he could see no prospect of freedom through her agency, when Frank approached him with a good report from Canada and his friends there, he could scarcely wait to listen to the glorious news ; he was so willing and anxious to get out of slavery. His dear old mother, Sarah Davis, and four brothers and two sisters, William, Thomas, Frederick and Samuel, Violet and Ellen, were all owned by Mrs. Hutchinson. Dear as they were to him, he saw no way to take them with him, nor was he prepared to remain a day longer under the yoke ; so he decided to accompany Frank, let the cost be what it might.
     Vincent is about twenty-three years of age, very " likely-looking," dark color, and more than ordinarily intelligent for one having only the common chances of slaves.
     He was owned by the estate of Nathan Skinner, who was "looked upon," by those who knew him, "as a good slave-holder."  In slave property, however, he was only interested to the number of twelve head.  Skinner "neither sold nor emancipated."  A year and a half before Vincent escaped, his master was called to give an account of his stewardship, and there in the spirit laud Vincent was willing to let him remain, without much more to add about him.
     Vincent left his mother, Judah Smith, and brothers and sisters, Edwin, Angeline, Sina Ann, Adaline Susan, George, John and Lewis, all belonging to the estate of Skinner.
     Vincent was fortunate enough to bring his wife along with him.  She was about twenty-seven years of age, of a brown color, and smart, and was owned by the daughter of the widow Hutchinson.  This mistress was said to be a "clever woman."



     Under Governor Badger, of North Carolina, William had experienced Slavery in its most hateful form.  True, he had only been twelve months under the yoke of this high functionary.  But William's experience in this short space of time, was of a nature very painful.
     Previous to coming into the governor's hands, William was held as the property of Mrs. Mary Jordon, who owned large numbers of slaves.  Whether the governor was moved by this consideration, or by the fascinating charms of Mrs. Jordon, or both, William was not able to decide.  But the governor offered her hushand, and they became united in wedlock.  By this circumstance, William was brought into his unhappy relations with the Chief Magistrate of the State of North Carolina.  This was the third time

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the governor had been married.  Thus it may be seen, that the governor was a firm believer in wives as well as slaves.  Commonly he was regarded as a man of wealth.  William being an intelligent piece of property, his knowledge of the governor's rules and customs was quite complete, as he readily answered such questions as were propounded to him.  In this way a great amount of interesting information was learned from William respecting the governor, slaves, on the plantation, in the swamps, etc.  The governor owned large plantations, and was interested in raising cotton, corn, and peas; and was also a practical planter.  He was willing to trust neither overseers nor slaves any further than he could help.
      The governor and his wife were both equally severe towards them; would stint them shamefully in clothing and food, though they did not get flogged quite as often as some others on neighboring plantations.  Frequently, the governor would be out on the plantation from early in the morning till noon, inspecting the operations of the overseers and slaves.
     In order to serve the governor, William had been separated from his wife by sale, which was the cause of his escape.  He parted not with his companion willingly.  At the time, however, he was promised that he should have some favors shown him; - could make over-work, and earn a little money, and once or twice in the year, have the opportunity of making visits to her.  Two hundred miles was the distance between them.
     He had not been long on the governor's plantation before his honor gave him distinctly to understand that the idea of his going two hundred miles to see his wife was all nonsense, and entirely out of the question.  "If I said so, I did not mean it," said his honor, when the slave, on a certain occasion, alluded to the conditions on which he consented to leave home, etc.
     Against this cruel decision of the governor, William's heart revolted, for he was warmly attached to his wife, and so he made up his mind, if he could not see her "once or twice a year even," as he had been promised, he had rather "die," or live in a "cave in the wood," than to remain all his life under the governor's yoke.  Obeying the dictates of his feelings, he went to the woods.  For ten months before he was successful in finding the Under ground Road, this brave-hearted young fugitive abode in the swamps—three months in a cave—surrounded with bears, wild cats, rattle-snakes and the like.
     While in the swamps and cave, he was not troubled, however, about ferocious animals and venomous reptiles.  He feared only man!
     From his own story there was no escaping the conclusion, that if the choice had been left to him, he would have preferred at any time to have encountered at the mouth of his cave a ferocious bear than his master, the governor of North Carolina.  How he managed to subsist, and ultimately effected his escape, was listened to with the deepest interest, though the recital of these incidents must here be very brief.
     After night he would come out of his cave, and, in some instances, would

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succeed in making his way to a plantation, and if he could get nothing else, he would help himself to a " pig," or anything else he could conveniently convert into food.  Also, as opportunity would offer, a friend of his would favor him with some meal, etc.  With this mode of living he labored to content himself until he could do better.  During these ten months he suffered indescribable hardships, but he felt that his condition in the cave was far preferable to that on the plantation, under the control of his Excellency, the Governor.  All this time, however, William had a true friend, with whom he could communicate; one who was wide awake, and was on the alert to find a reliable captain from the North, who would consent to take this " property," or " freight," for a consideration.  He heard at last of a certain Captain, who was then doing quite a successful business in an Underground way.  This good news was conveyed to William, and afforded him a ray of hope in the wilderness.  As Providence would have it, his hope did not meet with disappointment; nor did his ten months' trial, warring against the barbarism of Slavery, seem too great to endure for Freedom.  He was about to leave his cave and his animal and reptile neighbors,—his heart swelling with gladness,—but the thought of soon being beyond the reach of his mistress and master thrilled him with inexpressible delight.  He was brought away by Captain F., and turned over to the Committee, who were made to rejoice with him over the signal victory he had gained in his martyr-like endeavors to throw off the yoke, and of course they took much pleasure in aiding him.  William was of a dark color, stout made physically, and well knew the value of Freedom, and how to hate and combat Slavery.  It will be seen by the appended letter of Thomas Garrett, that William had the good luck to fall into the hands of this tried friend, by whom he was aided to Philadelphia:

                                                                                 WILMINGTON, 12th mo., 19th, 1855.
     DEAR FRIEND, WILLIAM STILL: —The bearer of this is one of the twenty-one that I thought had all gone North; he left home on Christmas day, one year since, wandered about the forests of North Carolina for about ten months, and then came here with those forwarded to New Bedford, where he is anxious to go.  I have furnished him with a pretty good pair of boots, and gave him money to pay his passage to Philadelphia.  He has been at work in the country near here for some three weeks, till taken sick; he is, by no means, well, but thinks he had better try to get further North, which I hope his friends in Philadelphia will aid him to do.  I handed this morning Captain Lambson's* wife twenty dollars to help fee a lawyer to defend him.  She leaves this morning, with her child, for Norfolk, to be at the trial before the Commissioner on the 24th instant.  Passmore Williamson agreed to raise fifty dollars for him.  As none came to hand, and a good chance to send it by his wife, I thought best to advance that much.
                                        Thy friend,                                             THOS. GARRETT.
     *Captain Lambson had been suspected of having aided in the escape of slaves from the neighbor hood of Norfolk, and was in prison awaiting his trial.

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     It is to be regretted that, owing to circumstances, the account of these persons has not been fully preserved.  Could justice be done them, probably their narratives would not be surpassed in interest by any other in the history of fugitives.  In 1857, when these remarkable travelers came under the notice of the Vigilance Committee, as Slavery seemed likely to last for generations, and there was but little expectation that these records would ever have the historical value which they now possess, care was not always taken to prepare and preserve them.  Besides, the cases coming under the notice of the Committee, were so numerous and so interesting, that it seemed almost impossible to do them anything like justice.  In many instances the rapt attention paid by friends, when listening to the sad recitals of such passengers, would unavoidably consume so much time that but little opportunity was afforded to make any record of them.  Particularly was this the case with regard to the above-mentioned individuals.  The story of each was so long and sad, that a member of the Committee in attempting to write it out, found that the two narratives would take volumes.  That all traces, of these heroes might not be lost, a mere fragment is all that was preserved.
     The original names of these adventurers, were Joseph Grant and John Speaks.  Between two and three years before escaping, they were sold from Maryland to John B. Campbell a negro trader, living in Baltimore, and thence to Campbell's brother, another trader in New Orleans, and subsequently to Daniel McBeans and Mr. Henry, of Harrison county, Mississippi.
     Though both had to pass through nearly the same trial, and belonged to the same masters, this recital must be confined chiefly to the incidents in the career of Joseph.  He was about twenty-seven years of age, well made, quite black, intelligent and self-possessed in his manner.
     Joseph was a married man, and spoke tenderly of his wife.  She "promised" him when he was sold that she would " never marry," and earnestly entreated him, if he "ever met with the luck, to come and see her."  She was unaware perhaps at that time of the great distance that was to divide them; his feelings on being thus sundered need not be stated.  However, he had scarcely been in Mississippi three weeks, ere his desire to return to his wife, and the place of his nativity constrained him to attempt to return:

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accordingly he set off, crossing a lake eighty miles wide in a small boat, he reached Kent Island.  There he was captured by the watchman on the Island, who with pistols, dirk and cutlass in hand, threatened if he resisted that death would be his instant doom.  Of course he was returned to his master.
     He remained there a few months, but could content himself no longer to endure the ills of his condition.  So he again started for home, walked to Mobile, and thence he succeeded in stowing himself away in a steamboat and was thus conveyed to Montgomery, a distance of five hundred and fifty miles through solid slave territory.  Again he was captured and returned to his owners; one of whom always went for immediate punishment, the other being mild thought persuasion the better plan in such cases.  On the whole, Joseph thus far had been pretty fortunate, considering the magnitude of his offence.
     A third time he summoned courage and steered him course homewards towards Maryland, but as in the preceding attempts, he was again unsuccessful.
     In this instance Mr. Henry, the harsh owner, was exasperated, and the mild one's patience so exhausted that they concluded that nothing short of stern measures would cause Joe to reform.  Said Mr. Henry; "I had rather lose my right arm than for him to get off without being punished, after having put us to so much trouble."
will now speak for himself.
     "He (master) sent the overseer to tie me.  I told him I would not be tied.  I ran and stayed away four days, which made Mr. Henry very anxious.  Mr. Beans told the servants if they saw me, to tell me to come back and I should not be hurt.  Thinking that Mr. Beans had always stood to his word, I was over persuaded and came back.  He sent for me in his parlor, talked the matter over, sent me to the steamboat (perhaps the one he tried to escape on.)  After getting cleverly on board the captain told me, I am sorry to tell you, you have to be tied.  I was tied and Mr. Henry was sent for.  He came; 'Well, I have got you at last, beg my pardon and promise you will never run away again and I will not be so hard on you.'  I could not do it.  He then gave me three hundred lashes well laid on.  I was stripped entirely naked, and my flesh was as raw as a piece of beef.  He made John (the companion who escaped with him) hold one of my feet which I broke loose while being whipped, and when done made him bathe me in salt and water.
     "Then I resolved to 'go or die' in the attempt.  Before starting, one week, I could not work.  On getting better we went to Ship Island; the sailors, who were Englishmen, were very sorry to hear of the treatment we had received, and counselled us how we might got free."
     The counsel was heeded, and in due time they found themselves in Liverpool.  There their stay was brief.  Utterly destitute of money, education.

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and in a strange land, they very naturally turned their eyes again in the direction of their native land.  Accordingly their host, the keeper of a sailor's boarding-house, shipped them to Philadelphia.
     But to go back, Joseph saw many things in New Orleans and Mississippi of a nature too horrible to relate, among which were the following:
     I have seen Mr. Beans whip one of his slaves to death, at the tree to which he was tied.
     Mr. Henry would make them lie down across a log, stripped naked, and with every stroke would lay the flesh open.  Being used to it, some would lie on  the log without being tied.
     In New Orleans, I have seen women stretched out just as naked as my hand, on boxes, and given one hundred and fifty lashes, four men holding them.  I have helped hold them myself:  when released they could hardly sit or walk.  This whipping was at the "Fancy House."
The "chain-gangs" he also saw in constant operation.  Four and five slaves chained together and at work on the streets, cleaning, &c., was a common sight.  He could hardly tell Sunday from Monday in New Orleans, the slaves were kept so constantly going.

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