One More River to Cross at Underground Railroad Heritage Area

 

When fleeing slaves from the southern U.S. reached Niagara Falls, they knew they had one more river to cross. But what a river it was with its roiling cataract. The new Underground Railroad Heritage Area in Niagara Falls, NY. chronicles some of the notable African-Americans who escaped across the river and helped others to make their way to freedom.

Recently I had the privilege of touring the new museum. For those unfamiliar with the term, “Underground Railroad” refers to a series of places where escaping slaves could receive shelter and assistance after leaving the South. Following the North Star, they headed for the northern U.S., where slavery was outlawed.

However, after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, bounty hunters could recapture slaves in the north and return them to bondage. For this reason, it was far better for these fugitives to go all the way to Canada. When they reached Niagara Falls, they had one more river to cross.

Anthony Involvement in the Underground Railraoad

The Anthony family approved of this civil disobedience of helping slaves escape. They hosted many antislavery dinners at their farm home in Rochester, and three of their children (Susan, D.R., and Merritt) campaigned against slavery with speeches, petition campaigns, and physical warfare. Among the family’s closest friends were Undergound Railroad “conductors” (owners of safe houses) Amy and Isaac Post and Frederick Douglass.

Active or Passive Escapees?

Sometimes conductors used the code word “parcel” for a fugitive needing assistance. This term erroneously suggests that freedom seekers were passive goods carried away from slavery by other (usually white) people’s initiatives. The term gives little credit to the courage and intelligence exhibited by fleeing slaves themselves. (I strove for the correct balance in The Truth About Daniel, when I wrote about the escape of Randall Burton on Martha’s Vineyard.)

The Underground Railroad Heritage Area tips the racial balance by showing black abolitionists at work, united in the effort to help freedom seekers cross their last barrier  to freedom, the Niagara River.. A daring feat, to say the least. More next time.

 

 

Daniel Anthony’s Abolitionist Activities

“Well mercy me!” as they might have exclaimed in the 19th century. It seems I never published the post explaining why Daniel Anthony’s abolitionist activities were controversial. So let’s play catch-up. The photo above, from a mural in Pleasant Hill, Missouri, should give you a clue.

When Susan B. Anthony was four, her brother Daniel Read Anthony was born on August 22, 1824. The family called him “D.R.” to distinguish him from Susan’s father, whose name was also Daniel. Brother and sister grew up to be ardent abolitionists.

Jayhawkers and Bushwhackers

Before the Civil War, while Susan was hosting speaking tours for the New York State Antislavery Society, D.R. joined Jennison’s Jayhawkers on the Kansas-Missouri border, sparking fear in slaveholders’ hearts by laying waste to farms and liberating their slaves. Some blamed the Jayhawkers’ raids for inciting rage in Quantrill and his band, who attacked Lawrence.

After the jayhawkers raided Missouri slaveholders, they would free people in bondage and also “liberate” livestock. That is why midwesterners either hated or revered the jayhawkers, depending on politics of the onlooker. (Click here for a previous post about the livestock issue.)

The Border War between Kansas and Missouri involved Southern sympathizers (“bushwhackers,” usually from Missouri) tampering with Kansas elections. Bushwhackers were typically young plantation residents who made guerilla raids and retreated to the safety of their homes. The only way the abolitionists could rout them out was to attack the homes where the bushwhackers received provisions and protection.

The Kansas Seventh

Later, when the Civil War began, D.R. helped Charles Jennison organize a Union cavalry unit called the Kansas Seventh. They were so thorough in burning out bushwhackers that only the chimneys survived, nicknamed “Jennison’s tombstones.”

As hated as he was by some for the border raids, D.R. was also called “The Moses of Kansas” for the number of African-Americans he liberated. Sometimes as many as a hundred slaves followed the Seventh across the Kansas border into freedom.

New Underground Railroad Exhibit at Niagara Falls

A whole new source of information on the Underground Railroad is opening next weekend in Niagara Falls, starting May 4. I’m excited because it will offer more in-depth background for my historical novels in The Dauntless Series, featuring abolitionists Daniel Read Anthony and his sister Susan.

Here’s the scoop on the new museum:

Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center

825 Depot Avenue W.
Niagara Falls, NY 14305

Why is this new museum important?

States bordering Canada, particularly in the East, were the last frontier for enslaved people seeking freedom before the Civil War. Niagara Falls, NY, just across the river from Canada, admitted many freedom seekers traveling through New York State. I am familiar with many such stories that took place near my home in Rochester, and always wondered what happened to those travelers after they left here.

Gala Opening

The opening weekend includes a gala on Friday, a dinner on Saturday, and community day (for the general public) on Sunday. Thereafter it will assume a regular schedule.Read all about it here.

Their website offers some intriguing and detailed stories about an organized group of African-American waiters who risked their lives and businesses to help enslaved people to cross the border. Click on the tab “Underground Railroad Sites” to read about these individuals and some of the places where those escapes occurred.

For those of us who love the grandeur of the falls at Niagara, it’s just one more reason to visit this well-known northern city. Hope to see you there!

The Anthony Connection

Daniel and Susan B. Anthony lived in Rochester, about 60 miles from the famous falls at Niagara. Each of them, but especially Daniel, lent a hand to escaping fugitives. It would not have been unusual for either of them to visit Niagara Falls, since it was already a well-known tourist attraction during their time. Already my mind is conjuring up images of them speaking to a waiter and setting foot on one of the paths that led to river crossings.

Historic Rochesterian Burns Up the West

Historic Rochesterian Daniel Read Anthony, brother of Susan B., wielded both fire and bullets to bring about the end of slavery in the Wild West. Pictured behind me is the city of Leavenworth, Kansas around 1860, where Daniel emigrated after selling insurance in Rochester, New York for several years.

Throughout his life, Daniel also supported his sister’s more peaceful but equally radical attempts to bring about equal rights for women.

How did his convictions mesh with Susan’s? And what methods did he use? Learn all about it at this upcoming talk:

Powerpoint presentation by Jeanne Gehret

The Truth About Daniel: Susan B. Anthony’s Forgotten Brother

Saturday, April 21, 1-2:30

Rochester Public Library, Central (Rundel) branch

South Avenue

Sponsored by Rochester’s Rich History Series

 

 

All for Suffrage, part 2

Susan B. Anthony’s five siblings, like her parents, were all for suffrage. They supported the right of every American Continue reading

All for Suffrage, Part 1

Susan B. Anthony’s family members were all for suffrage, each in his or her own way. Some supported voting rights by actually casting ballots, while others supported campaigns for African-Americans and women to vote. She had Continue reading

This week in History: John Brown at Harpers Ferry

John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry shook the Anthony family’s roots when on this day in 1859 he broke into a federal arsenal in Virginia and was captured.

Lucy and Daniel Anthony had raised Continue reading

Susan LaFlesche Picotte built upon Susan B.’s foundation

Susan LaFlesche Picotte, a Nebraska  doctor and and reformer, had credentials that wowed me and reminded of Susan B. Anthony. Google saluted her yesterday; Continue reading

Posse Hunts John Brown

Why was D.R. Anthony so fiercely abolitionist? Events such as the following would have fueled his anger. Today’s post gives us a typical example of how proslavery forces treated John Brown, an antislavery man whom  Anthony revered and probably knew. (D.R.’s brother Merritt had fought with Brown several years earlier in southern Kansas.)

Living only 25 miles away from the following tense encounter between a proslavery posse and  Brown, Anthony might  have stood with the guards who protected the famous hero. Even if Anthony didn’t, he certainly would have followed the news with as much anxiety as did New Hampshire  emigrant Julia Louisa Lovejoy, whose letter back east gives us this riveting account.

For the death of John Brown, the Missouri governor and others offered $5,500. Lured by this “bait,” Lovejoy reported, a pro-slavery posse headed by Marshal J.P. Wood  tracked “our champion” (Brown) to a cabin where the abolitionist holed up with a dozen African-Americans.

This cabin he had strongly barricaded, and told his pursuers “he would never yield, neither would he be taken alive.” The Marshal and his force surrounded the cabin and ordered Brown to “surrender!” Brown replied, “Come and take me.” The officer dared not undertake the job, and one hundred more like him could not capture those indomitable spirits that well knew what would follow if they were taken prisoners.1

A stand-off occurred. Brown’s group, armed with Sharpes rifles, was guarded by a company of twenty-five antislavery supporters. Giving voice to the bodyguard, Lovejoy wrote, “Take care, sir, if one gray hair on that venerable head is singed, your whole party will be riddled with balls!”

The Marshal’s posse sent for reinforcements to Atchison (about four miles away) and rumored that two cannons would soon arrive to explode the cabin. In an oddly turned phrase, Lovejoy wrote that United States Army troops who engaged in “pretended pursuit” seem to have sufficiently distracted the posse, during which time:

Brown sallied forth and took three of the Atchison men prisoners (one of them, it is affirmed, he recognized as the miscreant who shot his own son, F. Brown, at the “Ossawottamie battle.”) He also took four of their horses that they had secreted in the timber, and then with his freed slaves and party pulled for Iowa, taking prisoners and horses along with him!

Thus Brown escaped from Kansas in February 1859, just eight months before his fateful raid on the arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, WV. In a summary of this western event, Lovejoy correctly predicted the manner of Brown’s death, saying, “We fear now that Brown and his party will be intercepted by an overwhelming force, but he cannot be captured alive.” “

Photo courtesy of Kansas Historical Society

  1. Bell, Sarah. “Lovejoy, Julia Louisa” Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1854-1865. The Kansas City Public Library. Accessed Mar, 31, 2017 at http://www.civilwaronthewesternborder.org/encyclopedia/lovejoy-julia-louisa

 

 

When Free Speech isn’t Free

It almost cost Frederick Douglass his home to publish his newspaper in the Talman Building in Rochester, pictured here; and Harriet Jacobs, who operated a reading room with her brother one floor up, couldn’t make her rent, either. Continue reading