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Burris, Samuel D.  

Loren Schweninger

antislavery activist and Underground Railroad conductor, was born in Kent County, Delaware. Nothing is known of his father. Little is known of his early years except that his mother was a free woman of color, and that as a young adult he moved to the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, area, became a farmer, married, and started a family. No information about his wife and children is available. In the mid-1840s he became involved in the antislavery movement and began assisting slaves who were attempting to make it to freedom. Burris welcomed fugitives into his home, hid them for a day or two, supplied them with food and water, and sent them on their way. He became friends with leading abolitionists, including Charles Purvis, one of the founders of-the American Anti-Slavery Society (1833), and William Still, best known for his post–Civil War book titled The Underground Railroad a Record ...


Bustill, Charles Hicks  

Charles Rosenberg

underground railroad conductor, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of David and Elizabeth Hicks Bustill (sometimes known as Mary). His grandfather, Cyrus Bustill, had been born enslaved, and married only after securing his freedom and opening his own bakery. Charles Hicks Bustill was born into the third generation of a growing family that was free, with a leading place in the “Old Philadelphia” elite among residents of African descent.

Like his father, David, and his brother, Bustill made his living as a plasterer while also active as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. His home was a frequent stopping place for self‐emancipated men and women on their way north. In 1849 he was one of the original incorporators of the Lebanon Cemetery of Philadelphia, authorized by an act of the Pennsylvania legislature that year.

Working with Ralph Smith a non black abolitionist who served as the first ...


Bustill, Joseph Cassey  

Charles Rosenberg

school teacher and active shipping agent on the Underground Railroad, was born in Philadelphia to a prosperous mixed-race family with roots predating the American Revolution.

His grandfather, Cyrus Bustill, was the son of a slave-owning Quaker named Samuel Bustill, by an enslaved woman in Bustill's household. Born in Burlington, New Jersey, on 2 February 1732, Cyrus arranged after his father and owner's death to be apprenticed in a bakery, owned by another Quaker. He later purchased his freedom with the proceeds of his work, and then opened his own bakery. Cyrus Bustill's wife, Elizabeth Morrey, was the daughter of an Englishman and a Lenni Lenape woman, giving to their descendants an English, African, and Native American heritage. According to a family tradition, four years after his marriage in 1773, Cyrus delivered bread to George Washington's army at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777–1778 ...


Chaplin, William Lawrence  

Stanley Harrold

William Lawrence Chaplin was born in Groton, Massachusetts, where his father, Daniel Chaplin, was a Congregationalist minister. William, who attended Andover Academy and Harvard College, practiced law in Groton during the 1820s.

Tall, muscular, energetic, well mannered, religious, and generous, Chaplin began a career in reform as a temperance advocate in 1819. With the formation of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833, he became increasingly involved in abolitionism. He gave up his law practice and in 1837 moved to Utica, New York, to become the general agent of the New York Anti-Slavery Society. Respected for his administrative activities, Chaplin became known among New York abolitionists as “General Chaplin.”

In New York, Chaplin joined a group of radical political abolitionists, headed by the wealthy philanthropist Gerrit Smith; this group formed the Liberty Party in 1840 Like other members of this group Chaplin contended that slavery was always illegal ...


Dungee, John William  

Charles Rosenberg

minister, active in the Underground Railroad, reputed to have founded ten churches, including the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, was born in 1833 on a plantation in New Kent County, Virginia. By the laws of that state, he was the property of the Ferrell family. His name was variously spelled Dungee, Dungy, Dunjy, and Dunjee. His children adopted the Dunjee spelling.

Five Ferrell heirs moved to Alabama, and sold the family's Virginia plantation in 1842 to former president John Tyler, who renamed it “Sherwood Forest.” Dungee was hired out to Virginia governor John Munford Gregory, and in later years spoke well of him. However, when the Ferrells—who had sold off many slaves, and had a reputation for severity—sent word that they wanted him sent to Alabama, Dungee escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad in February 1860 arriving first in Hamilton Ontario then traveling via Toronto ...


Freeman, Amos Noë  

Christopher M. Rabb

evangelical abolitionist, educator, minister, and “conductor” in the Underground Railroad, was born in Rahway, New Jersey.

A towering figure in nineteenth-century black civil rights circles on the East Coast and beyond, Amos Noë Freeman's words and deeds as a civic leader for nearly seventy years were rivaled only by the exemplary company he kept. His closest colleagues in the abolitionist movement included Frederick Douglass, John Brown, Theodore Dwight Weld, Henry Ward Beecher, Beriah Green, Gerrit Smith, Theodore Sedgwick Wright, Simeon Jocelyn, Archibald Grimké, Arthur and Lewis Tappan, and former Oneida Institute classmates Henry Highland Garnet, Alexander Crummell, Amos G. Beman, and J. W. C. Pennington.

Little is known about Freeman s parentage or childhood including whether he was ever enslaved or indentured having been born in a state where the gradual abolition ...


Grimes, Leonard A.  

W. Caleb McDaniel

clergyman and abolitionist, was born Leonard Andrew Grimes in Leesburg, Loudon County, Virginia, the son of free black parents, Andrew Grimes and Mary (Polly or Molly) Goings (or Goines). After being orphaned at a young age, Grimes moved to Washington, D.C. On 27 May 1833 he married Octavia Janet Colson (or Colston), and by 1845 the couple had two daughters and one son. During the 1830s Grimes worked at various jobs and may have been hired by a local slaveholder, but he eventually went into business driving hacks in Washington. In 1840 he was convicted of using his hack to help an enslaved family escape from Loudon County to Canada and was sentenced to two years in prison.

About two or three years after his release, Grimes moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts. A fourth child was born there in 1846 but died five years later The elder Grimes ...


Henry, Thomas W.  

Sholomo B. Levy

minister and blacksmith, was born in Leonardtown, Maryland, the son of Jane and Thomas Henry, slaves of Richard Barnes, the largest slave owner in the district. It is thought that Henry's maternal grandmother, Catherine Hill, had been purchased by the Barnes family on a return trip from England and the Caribbean. Thomas's parents were domestic servants of the Barnes family, which owned tobacco plantations and other business interests. Before his death in 1804, Richard Barnes had stated in his will that his slaves were to be freed; one unusual stipulation he added that suggests a special closeness with these individuals was that the manumitted slaves take the name Barnes.

Thomas, however, did not gain his freedom until almost twenty years after his master's death, because John Thomson Mason a nephew of Richard Barnes and the executor of his estate exploited a growing number of ...


Hopper, Isaac  

Graham Russell Hodges

Born in rural Deptford Township, near Woodbury, New Jersey, Isaac Tatem Hopper was raised on a farm. His parents, Levi and Rachel Tatem Hopper, split between the Presbyterian and Quaker faiths, Levi practicing the former, Rachel the latter. Isaac joined the Society of Friends at the age of twenty-two. He became a staunch Whig after observing British looting of farms and resolved to fight servitude after hearing sad tales from black men of the slave trade and of flight from slavery.

Hopper married Sarah Tatum, a neighboring farm girl, in 1795. That same year he joined the Pennsylvania Abolition Society and taught black children and adults in a Quaker-sponsored school. In 1797 he began advising blacks about legal opportunities for emancipation in Pennsylvania as well as hiding runaways from southern states He combated slave kidnappers and struggled against the practice of buying them running by which agents ...


Johnson, Jane  

Katherine E. Flynn

fugitive slave and Underground Railroad participant, was born Jane Williams in Washington, D.C., the daughter of John and Jane Williams. Little is known of her life before freedom. Her marriage, probably by slave rites, in about 1840 to a man named Johnson produced at least three sons. Eventually, Johnson and her sons were sold to Cornelius Crew, a prominent businessman and plantation owner in Richmond, Virginia. Johnson suffered the heartbreak of having one of her sons sold far away and of being separated from her husband. Crew sold Johnson and her remaining two sons, Daniel and Isaiah, in January 1854 to John Hill Wheeler, an ambitious civil servant from North Carolina.

Wheeler had recently become the assistant secretary to President Franklin Pierce and he brought Johnson to the nation s capital as his wife s personal maid A reporter later wrote Jane is a fine ...


Jones, John W.  

Carole E. Knowlton

a noted humanitarian in the fields of slavery and the Civil War, was born on the Ellzey Plantation called Mt. Middleton near Leesburg, Loudoun County, Virginia. His mother was named Hannah and he never knew his father, who was sold before John W. Jones was born. Other known family members included a sister, Alice; his stepfather Enoch; and two half-brothers, Charles and George. He also had two half-sisters whose names are unknown. Jones's grandmother on his mother's side was part Native American and was known as an herb doctor.

Jones was a favorite of his owner, Sarah (Sallie) Ellzey, and he was allowed to work around the house until he was twelve years old. Then he was sent to work in the fields under the care of William Rollins the overseer of the plantation Rollins had a young son named Johnny and he and Jones ...


Malvin, John  

Kenneth L. Kusmer

abolitionist and political leader, was born in Dumfries, Prince William County, Virginia, the son of a slave father (name unknown) and a free black mother, Dalcus Malvin. By virtue of his mother's status, Malvin was born free. As a boy, he was apprenticed as a servant to a clerk of his father's master; he later learned carpentry from his father. An elderly slave taught John how to read, using the Bible as his primary text. Malvin became a Baptist preacher and later, after moving to Cincinnati, was licensed as a minister, although he never held a permanent position in a church.

Malvin moved to Cincinnati in 1827, and two years later he married Harriet Dorsey During his four years in Cincinnati Malvin was active in the antislavery movement and personally helped several escaped slaves find their way north on the Underground Railroad He agitated against Ohio ...


Myers, Stephen A.  

Charles Rosenberg

who called himself “Agent and Superintendent of the Underground Railroad,” and had also worked as a steamboat steward, was born in Hoosick, Rensselaer County, New York, legally defined at birth as the property of Dr. Johnathan Eights, a doctor who established a practice in Albany in 1810.

New York's 1799 law for the gradual abolition of slavery provided that Myers should be emancipated at the age of twenty-eight, but he was freed earlier, when he was eighteen. He then worked as a grocer before getting a job as steward on the Armenia, one of the faster steamboats on the Hudson River, making the trip from New York City to Albany entirely in daylight.

Myers married in the late 1830s—there is no published record of Harriet Myers's maiden name. Their children, at least those who survived infancy and were still alive in 1860, were Stephen Jr ...


Myers, Stephen A.  

Graham Russell Hodges

Born a slave in Rensselaer County, New York, and freed by his master at the age of eighteen, Stephen A. Myers worked as a grocer and steamboat steward before taking up journalism. In the 1830s he became an antislavery activist. He worked closely with the black printer and publisher David Ruggles of New York City and with other black and white abolitionists to help self-emancipated slaves seeking refuge in Canada and the northern states via the Underground Railroad. Myers met with Ruggles and other participants from eastern and northern New York in the important Albany Anti-Slavery Meeting at the Presbyterian Church in Albany, New York, from 28 February to 2 March 1838—the first of many meetings at which white and black abolitionists organized across color lines to help fugitive slaves.

Myers subsequently became a conductor on the Underground Railroad for the Albany Vigilance Committee He continued this work through ...


Napoleon, Louis  

Debbie-Ann Paige

considered “one of the most energetic” and “efficient conductors” of the Underground Railroad, reportedly led upward of three thousand self-emancipators to their freedom. As an Underground Railroad agent, Napoleon had a remarkable career that spanned more than fifty years during which time he initiated two major emancipation suits. He was born in New York City to a father of white, Jewish heritage and an enslaved mother. According to New York’s Gradual Abolition law, he was born free, but at the age of 14 he was apprenticed to "Mrs.Miller’s Tobacco and Snuff Warehouse. Around that same time, Napoleon was befriended by prominent white abolitionists Gerrit Smith, Arthur and Lewis Tappan, Horace Greeley, Henry Ward Beecher, George William Curtis, and Sydney Howard Gay, who helped him launch a career as a principal member of the antislavery movement and successful agent of the Underground Railroad.

As an agent Napoleon spent his days patrolling ...


Purvis, Harriet Davy Forten  

Alfreda S. James

a Philadelphia abolitionist, was the daughter of James Forten, a sailmaker and landlord, and Charlotte Forten, a homemaker. The senior Fortens had a total of nine children, and they used each birth to honor personal or financial benefactors. Harriet Davy, their third daughter, was no exception; her first and middle names came from two of her father's sail-making contacts. Weaving family matters with outside interests such as abolition and social reform became a recurring theme in Forten's life. She was directly involved in the abolition movement, created women's antislavery groups, and helped finance the vigilance committees—the informal organizations that provided food, shelter, and safe transport to slaves escaping southern masters and northern deputies.

However to define Forten s activities simply in terms of abolition overlooks a key part of her personal history and that of the antebellum community of free northern blacks Forten her sisters and ...