h2g2 Literary Corner: The Underground Railroad

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The Underground Railroad

Editor's Note: NaJoPoMo always turns up interesting discussions. Minorvogonpoet's journal included a review of a novel about the Underground Railroad, the US civil disobedience project to aid people escaping from slavery in the 1840s-1860s. The Editor shared some photos of a Pennsylvania house that was used as a 'station' on that escape network. Here's a story about it from Jefferson County, Pennsylvania: Her Pioneers and People by WJ McKnight (1917).

Marker for Elijah Heath, who ran a station on the Underground Railroad in Brookville, Pennsylvania

Our first jail was a stone structure, built of common stone, in 1831. It was two stories
high, was situated on the northeast corner of the public lot, near Joseph Darr's residence,
and fronting on Pickering street. Daniel Elgin was the contractor. The building was divided
into eight rooms, two downstairs and two upstairs for the jail proper, and two downstairs
and two upstairs for the sheriff's residence and office. The sheriff occupied the north part.
The early church services in this building were held in the jail part, upstairs. This old jail
has a history, not the most pleasant to contemplate or write about. It was used to im-
prison runaway slaves, and to lodge them over night, by slave captors. Imprisoning men for
no other crime than desiring to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness! There
was a branch of the underground railroad for the escape of slaves running through Brookville at that time. As many as twenty-five of those unfortunate creatures have passed through Brookville in one day. Judge Heath, then living in our town, a great Methodist and an abolitionist, had to pay a fine of two thousand dollars for aiding two slaves to escape from this old stone jail; a big sum of money to pay for performing a Christian, humane act, was it not?

Brookville Courthouse clock

In this stone jail men were imprisoned for debt, and kept in it until the last penny was paid. I have seen some of the best men of that day in our county imprisoned in this old jail for debt or bail money. I have seen Thomas Hall, than whom I knew no better man, no better Christian, an elder in the Presbyterian Church, incarcerated in the old stone jail for bail money. He had bailed a relative for the sum of fifty dollars, and his relative let him suffer. Honest, big-hearted, generous Christian, Thomas Hall! Thank God that the day for such inhumanities as those stated above is gone forever. This old jail was rented after the new one was erected, and used as a butcher shop until it was torn down to make room for the present courthouse. The butcher always
blew a horn when he had fresh meat to sell.

Editor's Note: Two things stand out here: back then, people took their Christianity seriously. Slavery was wrong, and so was leaving your neighbours and relatives in the lurch when they needed bail money. Also, 'big' issues and 'little' issues were both important. That's a fascinating detail about the butcher's horn. You could probably hear it all over hilly little Brookville.

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04.12.17 Front Page

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