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Toronto
Rev. Joshua Young

Rev. Joshua Young

Rev. Joshua Young of Burlington, Vermont, sometimes received fugitives from Massachusetts. He said, "every sea-port was a station" on the coast of New England. One route to Vermont began in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and included stops at New Bedford, and at Fall River, Providence and Valley Falls in Rhode Island. The next stop was back in Massachusetts at the train station in Worcester where freedom seekers were put on the Vermont Railroad. An important stop on this route was the Valley Falls home of Quakers Samuel B. and Elizabeth Buffum Chace. Mrs. Chace had been "born and baptized into the Anti-Slavery spirit." Her father, Arnold Buffum, was the first President of the New England Anti-Slavery Society.

In her 1891 Reminiscences, Mrs. Chace delineated a route to Vermont and named Rev. Young as the receiving agent:

...Slaves in Virginia, would secure passage, either secretly or with consent of the Captains, in small trading vessels, at Norfolk or Portsmouth, and thus be brought into some port in New England, where their fate depended on the circumstances into which they happened to fall. A few, landing in some town on Cape Cod, would reach New Bedford, and thence be sent by an abolitionist there to Fall River, to be sheltered by Nathaniel B. Borden and his wife, who was my sister Sarah, and sent by them, to Valley Falls, in the darkness of night, and in a closed carriage, with Robert Adams, a most faithful friend, as their conductor. Here, we received them, and, after preparing them for the journey, my husband would accompany them a short distance, on the Providence and Worcester railroad, acquaint the conductor with the facts, enlist his interest in their behalf, and then leave them in his care, to be transferred at Worcester, to the Vermont road, from which, by a previous general arrangement, they were received by a Unitarian clergyman named Young, and sent by him to Canada, where they uniformly arrived safely. I used to give them an envelope, directed to us, to be mailed in Toronto, which, when it reached us, was sufficient by its post-mark, to announce their safe arrival, beyond the baleful influence of the Stars and Stripes, and the anti-protection of the fugitive slave law.

Mrs. Chace vividly recounted how they assisted a woman with three children:

Another night, good Robert Adams aroused us with a carriage full—a woman and three children. She had escaped from Maryland, some time before, with her family, and established herself at Fall River as a laundress; had made herself a home, and was doing well. Her eldest boy, of seventeen years, worked in a stable; and, after a while, had gone six miles away to work for a farmer. Soon after this, the same officer who arrested Anthony Burns, in Boston, arrived in Fall River, and was seen prowling around the neighborhood where colored people lived; and, especially and suspiciously, peering into the stable, where his woman's son had previously worked. Always living in fear, in this so-called "land of liberty," her excitement was extreme, when learning these facts. The friends of the slave, also, understood the good reasons there were for these fears, since the State of Massachusetts had so recently bowed to the slave-power, and in spite of the remonstrances and entreaties of the best citizens of the State, had cruelly sent back into slavery, the man whom this miscreant had captured, for the reward it would bring him. So, they hurried this woman off, with her three children, in the darkness of night, to await, at Valley Falls, the disposal of her household effects, and the bringing of her son from the farmer's. We kept them three or four days, in hourly fear and expectation of the arrival of the slave-catcher; our doors and windows fastened by day as well as by night, not daring to let our neighbors know who were our guests, lest some one should betray them. We told our children, all, at that time, under fourteen year of age, of the fine of one thousand dollars, and the imprisonment of six months, that awaited us, in case the officer should come, and we should refuse to give these poor people up; and they heroically planned, how, in such an event, they would take care of everything; and especially, that they would be good, and do just as we wished, during our absence. The Anti-Slavery spirit pervaded our entire household, during those eventful years. In this case, our faithful Irish servants declared, that they would fight, before this woman and her children should be carried it slavery; and they were ready and willing to bear their share of the burdens incident to the occasion. So, we waited, and kept our secret. On the third or fourth day, the boy arrived, with money from the good friends at Fall River, and we sent them off, still fearing their capture on the road. ... My husband accompanied them a part of the way to Worcester, and told their story to the conductor, who promised to see that they were safely started on the Vermont road. When he came back, he told Mr. Chace, that the Superintendent at Worcester, said they should be taken care of, and, if no train was going North soon enough to secure their safety, he would put a extra train.

The few days which followed, were full of anxiety; but the envelope came back with the Toronto post-mark, and the man stealers lost their prey.
Philipsburg, Québec

North of Franklin, Vermont, and across the Canadian border, the Philipsburg First Methodist Church still stands. Oral history tells us that before the American Civil War, its members sheltered fugitive slaves from the United States. Nearby is the village of St. Armand which had a small black community with a church and a cemetery. St. Armand was founded by Philip Luke, an Albany, New York, Loyalist who emigrated to Canada with his slaves after the American Revolution.

United Church, Philipsburg, Québec

United Church, Philipsburg, Québec

The Underground Railroad history of the First Methodist Church (currently called the Philipsburgh United Church) is displayed on an outdoor sign in front of the old stone meeting house. The sign reads, "In the 1860s, many refugees from the South found refuge in the homes of the congregation on the "'Underground Railway.'"

The sign would be more accurate if it said, "In the 1850s", for the greatest movement of enslaved African Americans from the United States into the Canadas took place in the years after Congress adopted the 1850 Fugitive Slave Bill and before the start of the American Civil War in 1861.

There is an oral history about an Underground Railroad connection between Swanton and Phillipsburg. Margaret Theoret's great-grandparents lived in Vermont, and sometimes they lived in Canada. Her great-grandmother (whose name she proudly carries) was a member of the Phillipsburg Methodist church, and that could be an important link to the church's UGRR history.

As the story goes, Mrs. Theoret's great-grandfather, Joseph St. Laurent (Lawrence), conducted fugitives from Swanton, Vermont, to Phillipsburg. Mrs. Theoret operates the New England via Vermont shop in Alburg, Vermont, where she celebrates UGRR and Civil War history. In one display she tells the story of her great-grandfather, Joseph. He was born in St. Ours, Québec, but he moved to Swanton, where he manufactured bricks. According to family lore, he sheltered fugitive slaves in Swanton before taking them to Philipsburg. This is the story Mrs. Theoret was told by her grandfather and her aunts and uncles when she was a growing up: her great-grandfather Joseph would go to Georgia to get red clay to make his bricks, but he brought something else back with him—enslaved people who wanted to be free. After sheltering the fugitives in his barn (which no longer stands), he took them to his brickyard which was on the other side of town near the Missisquoi river. Mrs. Theoret imagines that he took them in a boat up the Missisquoi to Dead Creek and then on to Phillipsburg via Missisquoi Bay.

Joseph St. Lawrence's nick name was "Peg Leg Joe," and that is a story in itself. He earned the moniker while working in St. Albans for a man named Morrison (the only person, according to Mrs. Theoret, who was killed when confederates raided St. Albans during the Civil War). Joseph was working for Morrison when he had a terrible accident, and one of his legs had to be amputated. In the popular UGRR song, "Follow the Drinking Gourd," a man named Peg Leg Joe guides people as they follow the North Star out of the South toward freedom. Mrs. Theoret does not believe her great-grandfather's UGRR work inspired that song, but she does believe he helped fugitive slaves. In fact, she believes so strongly in the story that he was an UGRR conductor, she once went to Georgia and tried to find the place where he purchased the red clay for his bricks!

Margaret Theoret has no diary, journal or letter to prove that the story about her great-grandfather, "Peg Leg Joe" St. Lawrence, is true. She does have a beautiful image of him and a written record of her great-grandmother's membership in the Philipsburg Methodist Church.

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Sources:

Elizabeth Buffum Chace, Anti-Slavery Reminiscences. (Central Falls, R.I.: R.L. Freeman & Son, 1891):10, Google Book Search (accessed March 5, 2008).

Joshua Young D.D. to Wilbur H. Siebert, April 21, 1893. [The Underground Railroad in Vermont, vol. 1, MIC 192 Wilbur H. Siebert Collection (1840-1954) Microfilm Edition] (Columbus: Ohio Historical Society), reel 15.

Laura E. Richards ed., Letters and Journals of Samuel Gridley Howe (Boston: Dana Estes & Company, London: John Lane, 1909): 340, Google Book Search (accessed Feb. 30, 2009).

United Methodist Church, Philipsburg, Québec, photo by Don Papson.