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Firelands "Underground" Railways

The following article discusses the Underground Railroad in and around
Greenwich twp., Huron Co., Ohio.
Dr. A. Sheldon was the son of Rufus Sheldon, Jr. of
Greenwich twp., Huron Co., Ohio
As you read remember this article was written in 1910
about a time earlier during the heyday of the Underground Railroad system.

History of the Western Reserve: Vol. 1, p. 456
by Harriet Taylor Upton, Harry Gardner Cutler 1910

Firelands "Underground" Railways

The Firelands were honeycombed with "underground" railways in early Abolitionist days, this feature of its history being graphically described in the following paper contributed to the Firelands Historical Society by Dr. A. Sheldon: This essay or reminiscence will mostly concern the Society of Quakers or Friends as they are now called, who settled on the Firelands in the township of Greenwich about the year 1831.

They built a log church and about ten years later built a large frame church. It was located one-half mile east of the township center, at the northwest corner of the farm owned by my father. Many of my friends and relatives were members of this society. While I have no means of knowing the number of members, it must have been near one hundred and twenty-five.

"This soon became an active and important station on the Underground Railway. While there were homes here and there in other townships in the southern part of the Firelands which were stations, I know of no other locality, where, with exceptions, the entire community were friendly to the negro. And just here I want to record the names of some of those heroes. At the head of the Society was Willis R. Smith, who at that time was the principal preacher. He was liberally educated for an Episcopal minister.

Next, I mention Joseph Healey and his son, Jacob, who were also preachers: John L. Eddy, another preacher: John Jenny and his sons, Benjamin and Abraham: James and Joseph Bartlett: Humphrey Gifford: Benoni Coutant, and many others. There were also quite a number of others, not members of the Friends Society, who held office on the Underground Railway. Cyrus H. G. Mead, living south of the Center, a genuine Down-East Connecticut Yankee: Luther Mead, living in the northwest part of the township, another New Englander: my father, Rufus Sheldon, also of New England stock--any of these could be depended upon as conductors or engineers where the passengers were headed for the North Star.

"Well I remember the quietness and secrecy that seemed to pervade all nature when a train had to be made up. While we boys were not told much about what was doing we soon came to know that an Ethiopian was somewhere in the vicinity.

"Another first-class station was at Alum Creek in Morrow county where there was a large society of Friends. This station was too far from Greenwich to make a safe run, especially if they were pursued. there were quite a number of stations in Richland county where stops could be made when necessary. Two stations were located just west of Mansfield. Each had excellent accommodations. One was kept by James Roe, the other by John Phinney-these stations were about four miles apart.

I have heard the following incident regarding Phinney: At the time he had three negroes secreted in his corn crib. He received a "grapevine" message that the two owners would probably be there early in the morning. Of course his plans were soon arranged. Just before breakfast two gentlemen rode up wishing to see Mr. Phinney. He very graciously invited them to alight and have breakfast and they accepted his invitation. In seating them at the table he placed them so they could not see the corn crib, while he had full view of it.

Soon after they were seated he gave the hired man, who was outside, a prearranged sign to hitch up, take the negros and "git." The blessing consumed a long time, and it is reported that the family ate very slowly that morning. After breakfast Mr. Phinney took down the old family bible, remarking that it was his custon to have family worship before beginning the active duties of the day. The Southerners hesitated somewhat, but could hardly do less than acquiesce. Mr. Phinney very slowly read the 119th Psalm, then kneeling so that the old clock was in view, he prayed for one hour. By that time, the negroes were well under way to the next station.

"My informant told me that nearly all the passengers who came over that route were ticketed by the way of Greenwich. The Palmers of Fitchville maintained a station on the Underground. "There was also a station in Hartland, kept by James Lee. Lee was a big brawny fellow and was never known to let any slaveowner interfere with, or thwart his plans. A little north of Milan was a Friends' settlement of Hathaways. The home of Peter Hathaway sheltered many a negro on his way to freedom.

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