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Saturday, July 15, 2017

The "The Underground Railroad And Lancaster County: Part I" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Reading the magnitude of information I have collected during the past few years that deal with the Underground Railroad in the United States.  For those who do not live in the United States or may not know what I am talking about, the Underground Railroad was neither underground nor a railroad.  
Reading material I have accumulated on the Underground Railroad.
It got its name since its activities before the Civil War had to be carried out in secret, using darkness or disguise, and due to the fact that railroad terms were used by those involved.  The Underground Railroad was the method Southern slaves used to escape slavery.  Escape routes were known as lines with locations along the lines being called stations.  Those that aided slaves who were trying to escape slavery were known as conductors and their charges were known as packages or freight.  The routes, or lines, traveled through 14 different Northern states with "the promised land" being Canada where they were free of their slave-hunters.  To the south of Lancaster County was what is known as the Mason-Dixon Line which was the alleged imaginary line between the North and South; Slavery and Freedom.  One of the lines was known as The Pilgrim's Pathway which was one of the earliest escape corridors into Lancaster County by those escaping north along the Susquehanna River.  Fugitive slaves followed St. Peters Creek inland from the river, across farm fields and roads, traveling at night since they would be highly visible during the day.  A second stream guided them to safe houses in Eastern Lancaster County and eventual freedom.  
Thaddeus Stevens who was a Representative
in the U.S. House from Lancaster, PA.
One of these early roads still retains the name "Pilgrim's Pathway."  Many ended up in a small town known as Christiana where the Christiana Riot took place on September 11, 1851.  I wrote about this event a few months ago, but to give you a quick summary, Edward Gorsuch, a wealthy land owner from Baltimore, Maryland, found his way with a group of men to Christiana where he was told his four slaves were hiding.  They went to the house were the slaves were supposed to be and a riot broke out.  Gorsuch was killed and his son seriously injured.  Federal troops were dispatched and eventually 37 members of the Underground Railroad were arrested and charged with treason.  Heading the defense for these men  was Lancaster lawyer and abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens.  He managed to achieve a "not guilty" verdict in fifteen minutes.  
Lydia Hamilton Smith, housekeeper to
Mr. Stevens as well as an abolitionist.
That verdict signaled the South that the Fugitive Slave Law that had been enacted the previous year and allowed slave owners to take their "property" back wasn't going to be enforced.  This was one of the factors that led to the Civil War.  As far as Lancaster's role in the Underground Railroad goes, Lancaster had a large free black population as well as quite a few white residents who supported the abolitionist cause.  The city had slave self-protection groups and refugee societies that protected fugitive slaves from their masters.  Lydia Hamilton Smith, long-time black housekeeper for Thaddeus Stevens as well as prominent businesswoman, along with Thaddeus Stevens, were both conductors on the Undergorund Railroad.  The Bethel A.M.E (African Methodist Episcopal) Church in  the city of Lancaster was also active in the aid of slaves on the Underground Railroad.  Their main effort was to help slaves escape along the Underground Railroad to larger American cities such as Philadelphia or even further to Canada.  So you see, the city of Lancaster was one of the major stops along the Underground Railroad before the Civil War.  Tomorrow I will take you to another nearby town and tell you the happenings that occurred in that town.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.


  1. By chance, I wonder if Neil Gorsuch, Supreme CourtJustice's family is related to Edward Gorsuch?

  2. I don't know, but I will have to try and research and see what I find.

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