Friday, August 24, 2012

Being Part of the Underground Railroad in Concord

Today's question is: "If you could have personally witnessed one event in history, what would you want to have seen?"

For the past couple of years for Sophia's homeschooling, we have focused on American history. Although there were many memorable events that took place, there is one that happened over a series of years that we read quite a bit about: the Underground Railroad.

The Underground Railroad was a network of safe houses and secret routes used by 19th-century slaves in the United States to escape to free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause.

As we read through this part of American history, we knew that if we lived back at that time, we would be among the abolitionists who would be trying to help the slaves escape to freedom. We would not be content just sitting and witnessing an event...we would have to be involved with what was happening.

Handcuffs That a Slave Wore
Handcuffs that Anthony Burns (a slave) had to wear. 
They were on display at the Old State House in Boston.
(Taken on September 9, 2011.)

In September 2011, Sophia, Olivia, and I visited one of the locations where the Underground Railroad was active: Concord, Massachusetts. According to the Drinking Gourd Project, there are many houses in Concord that were stops on the Underground Railroad.

Girls by the Alcott Home
This is Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women.
The Alcotts were dedicated abolitionists.
September 9, 2011

On the map produced by the Drinking Gourd Project, it is noted that the Orchard House was a possible place that the Alcotts hid escaped enslaved people. The Alcotts lived there from 1857-77, and held antislavery meetings there.

The home next door to the Orchard House is called the Wayside House. If you're facing  the Orchard House    (as I am when I took the picture above), it is directly to the right.

The map states that the home belonged to "Samuel Whitney, muster master of the Concord Minutemen in 1775, and his enslaved man Casey Feen." In the woods to the left of the Wayside, Casey’s plaque states,

In 1775, Casey was Samuel Whitney’s enslaved person.When the Revolutionary war came, he ran away to war, fighting for the colonies, and returned to Concord a free man.

When the Alcotts lived here from 1845-48, according to the plaque to the right of the house,

The Wayside sheltered two self-emancipated slaves during the winter of 1846-47 as they fled north to freedom in Canada. A young Louisa May Alcott learned first hand lessons about slavery here that would influence her life and writing.

Many people put their own lives and their own freedoms at risk by helping slaves escape, and their only reward was the happiness of seeing a person free. This, to me, is something that would have been rewarding to see and be a part of: helping others attain their freedom.

1 comment:

Rita said...

That would have been a scary and exciting time. Scarier for the people hiding them in the deep south, I would imagine! I heard that quilts were hung on the porch rails and there were symbols on the quilts to tell runaways whether they could approach or not...and before that for the poor hobos who traveled the roads and rails. They also scratched code messages in the fences of the various farmhouses. I bet you could find out all the real info! ;)