The Underground Railroad
by Hiram E. Wertz, Esq.
The regular meeting, March 29, 1911
Was held at the home of Morris
Lloyd, Fifth Avenue, Judge Rowe presiding. There was a fine
attendance of members and guests, who were deeply impressed by
the paper read, in the form of a narrative of "The Underground
Railroad," by Mr. Hiram E. Wertz, who as one of its Captains,
had much to do with, the help given to runaway slaves. Mir.
Wertz, whose old home is in Quincy, in his youth assisted about
fifty slaves in their flight from the South to the North, being
familiar with every station along the historic South Mountain
and Antietam Creek.
Steps were taken for the incorporation of the Kittochtinny
Historical Society. Also, for a suitable and safe place to keep
such books, documents and historical effects as may become the
property of the society.
Mts. Lloyd was assisted in entertaining by Mrs. T. S. McIlvaine,
Mrs. Hoopes, and Mrs. J. Allan Blair. The meeting, in
attendance, historic interest and entertainment was voted as
being decidedly one of the (best of the winter season.
Mr. Wertz's highly interesting
narrative, which first appeared in the Waynesboro Record, was
read before the Hamilton Library Association at its February
meeting, while he was on a temporary sojourn in Cumberland
County, and by request, readily assented to its reproduction
before the Kittochtinny society, and its appearance in its
archives. He could not however be present at the meeting here,
and the narrative was accordingly read by Mr. T. J. Brereton, as
could not say when the "Underground Railroad" was established,
but presumes it was originated in the Philadelphia station, as
that city cared for more fugitives than any other place along
the borders of the slave land, due to friends or Quakers
residing there and in Chester and Delaware Counties, Pa. Philip
Garret, a Quaker, who resided near Wilmington, in the state of
Delaware, it is related, assisted 500 bondsmen on their way to
freedom, and paid over $25,000 in behalf of them.
In the latter part of 1837, when Mr.
Wertz was a lad, there came to his father's house in Quincy, a
school teacher named Matthew Dobbin, the son of an Associate
Reformed minister of near Gettysburg. It is a coincidence that
on his father's farm, of which Matthew Dobbin became heir, the
battle of Gettysburg wherein was settled the principals he
taught with such insistent earnestness, was in part fought.
Becoming an inmate of the Wertz home, Mr. Dobbin resided there
until his death in 1855.
It was in 1845 that Mr. Dobbin first
told Mr. Wertz, the author of this paper, that he had been
engaged for several years in helping runaway slaves escape to
the north. He said "he was getting old and feeble and wanted me
to succeed him. I readily assented to this," says Mr. Wertz,
"and became the captain of one of the stations of the remarkable
Mr. Wertz was further stimulated in
this work by the arrest of five colored men who were taken
temporarily to the village hotel. Hearing of this Mr. Dobbin
rallied some of the citizens of the better class, saying that
with them at his back he could demand the liberation of the
fugitives. If the demand was not granted, then he proposed to
use force. But the captors of the black men learned of the plan
and hurried them away.
The captors it turned out were
citizens of the village, but not of the better class. Their
occupations were card playing, horse racing, etc. One of them
removed to Virginia, where at the outbreak of the Civil War, he
entered the rebel army, becoming valuable to the southerners in
their raids into Pennsylvania. Particularly was he useful as the
pilot of General Imboden's wagon train on his retreat from
Gettysburg, by way of Greenwood, Marion and Greencastle.
"A few days after the Battle of
Gettysburg," continues Mr. Wertz, "I stood on Cemetery hill,
and, looking westward, the Dobbin homestead lay before me, the
old stone house, in which the enthusiastic abolitionist had been
born, defaced with shot and shell, with devastation all around
"It came upon me in an overwhelming
manner that if Mr. Dobbin could have seen this and have known
that there the backbone of slavery's defenders was broken he
would have lifted up his voice and in fervent tones repeated the
language of the Prophet Simeon when the Christ Child was placed
in his arms: 'Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace
according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.
He would have seen the question of
slavery practically decided by a momentous battle, fought partly
on the farm on which he was born and reared and which he
afterward owned, Zeigler's grove and the national cemetery.
Gladly would he have dedicated his land to this struggle,
cheerfully passé into poverty to give this soil as the ground on
which the legions of the north stamped out the pretensions of
the fiery sons of the southland. When last in Gettysburg, two
years ago, I learned that the old abolitionist's homestead had
been purchased by the Daughters of the Revolution and fitted up
as a museum.
"But before the battle I had been
busy as a captain, for such was the title, of the Underground
Railroad, The track which the fugitives used in passing through
the sections in which I was to act as guide and preserver, led
by way of the South Mountain from the Potomac river to the
Pennsylvania border. Here the former bondsmen left the shelter
of the deep forests and emerged into the open country. The first
station in Pennsylvania was known as Shockey's. It was near the
present village of Rouzerville, at the mountain's foot. Thence
they were guided north, about eight miles, "to my father's barn,
where they arrived generally in the very early morning and I fed
them and guarded them during the day. When night came I led them
north, about eight miles, to a settlement called Africa. This
was near the old Caledonia furnace, owned by that great champion
of the slave, Thaddeus Stevens. Twenty or twenty-five families
of colored people lived there and near the village of Greenwood.
"In this latter place was the home of
Robert Black, another captain of the Underground Railroad. He
saw to it that the fugitives were cared for, working along with
William Hammett, then superintendent of Steven's furnace, which
was located two miles to the east of Greenwood.
"It would have been a sorrowful time
for anyone to have ventured into this neighborhood with the idea
of attempting to arrest any of the fugitives.
"From this point they were piloted
through the mountains by way of Pine Grove furnace to Mt. Holly
and Boiling Springs, and from there they were sent safely over
the Susquehanna River. My personal knowledge of them ended at
"From the time I first assumed the
captaincy of the Underground Railroad, in 1845, I piloted at
least forty-five to fifty Negroes, none of whom, to my
knowledge, was captured and returned to slavery. As I have said,
I kept them in my father's barn by day and carried food to them.
"Some were very hungry and wearied by
their long travel afoot through mountains and forests. Some were
very timorous and were startled by every noise. Some were
depressed and fearful that after all their efforts for freedom
they might be caught and taken back to their old masters. Others
were full of confidence and in high good humor over having
crossed the Mason and Dixon line. But all were willing to
secrete themselves and keep very quiet for they knew that
rewards were offered for them and that men, anxious to win '
rewards, would stop at nothing to take them into the south
A few instances in his experience Mr.
Wertz relates that are deeply interesting. One morning he found
four Negro men, one woman and a child in the barn who were
brought there during the night from Shockey station at
Rouzerville. He took them on to Africa the next station that
night. When I left them they fell on their knees and with all
the fervor of their nature gave thanks to Almighty God who had
protected them on their journey. The next day the slave catchers
were examining all the secret places for these runaways, for
whom they learned a reward of $1400 was offered.
At another time four men and a woman
were intercepted by a well-dressed man, who warned them of the
danger of passing through Quincy. He would help them if they
would go with him and hide them where they could not be found,
and when night came lead them to Africa. As they were about to
enter the proposed hiding place, an honest old mountaineer who
knew the character of their guide, pushed up to the crowd and
exclaimed: "For God's sake don't go persuaded them that there
was no danger and they followed with this man he will sell you."
The oily tongued guide where he led. Separating from them he
said it would be for a short time. Again the mountaineer
appeared and urged them not to remain where they were. The oily
tongued man returned with three slave catchers, angered when he
found they had gone. With his confederates they scoured the
neighborhood, and within a mile of Africa found this party
pushing on to freedom, intimidating them back to the home of one
of the party and kept them there as prisoners. Two of the crowd
of slave catchers hurried into Hagerstown and that night a team
from that place brought them back, loaded the slaves in the
wagon and hastened with them to the jail in Hagerstown. Mr.
"A year after this, the owner of two
of these slaves, from Loudoun County, Va., came to see me and
wanted to know how many of the slaves were captured by the
party. He had received but one of his slaves, a girl, and was
told that the other, a man, had escaped. Years afterward, one of
the captors told me they had hidden the man and sold him for
"About 1852, a physician moved into
our village. He had a very likely colored boy as servant, about
fifteen years old. This doctor was not successful in his
practice and had bad habits. Finally his circumstances became of
the worst, financially. The colored boy disappeared and the
doctor said he had run away, but I was told by the man who had
given me the information in the incident previously related,
that the physician had sold the boy to them for $100 and they
had taken him to Hagerstown and disposed of him there for $1000.
"There were frequent sales of
fugitive slaves in Hagerstown, men buying them there for
plantation owners in the south and being altogether unscrupulous
as to whether the Negroes bought were bond or free. The
fugitives I came in contact with almost all frankly enough said
that they would not have run away from them, except for the
reason their masters were becoming poor and were finding it
necessary to sell their slaves. Those I helped to the north were
afraid they might be sold to hard task masters, and rather than
submit to this had started to the north.
"There were other trails followed by
the fugitives. One led along the eastern side of the South
Mountain, with stations among the Quakers about Bendersville,
Adams County, Pa. The principal station further east was
Philadelphia, where the Quaker sentiment and settlement were
"I know of no fugitive returned to
the south under the fugitive slave law. However, there were
several attempts made in this direction. One was in Carlisle;
the other near Christiana, Lancaster County, Pa., wherein a U.
S. marshall and a score of deputies from Philadelphia and the
owner of the slaves and his sons from Maryland, endeavored to
capture two slaves who had taken refuge in the house of William
Parker, a colored man.
"A bloody fight ensued. In the
interchange of shots the slave owner was killed and several
"Several scores of colored men and a
few white men were arrested for high treason and imprisoned in
Lancaster jail. In their trial, the great commoner, Thaddeus
Stevens, and a score of assistants, were the attorneys for the
defendants and were successful in securing their acquittal.
"The changes that took place in the
ten years between 1855 and 1865 were momentous. At the
commencement of the decade of 1850 there were but two persons,
Joshua R. Giddings and Owen Lovejoy, who had the courage to
stand in the national House of Representatives and denounce
slavery and ten years later the majority of the house was with
those lone representatives, as was also the president-elect, who
became the emancipator of the bondsmen.
"To my personal knowledge I am the
sole survivor of the captains of the Underground Railroad, and
it is also a face that all who engaged in the nefarious work of
capturing fugitive slaves also passed to 'The Great Beyond,' and
I trust the good Lord has been more lenient to them than they
were to the poor unfortunates they so relentlessly sought."
The production held the rapt
attention of members and guests, and brought to the recollection
of the older members of the society the names of others who were
humanitarians ever ready to assist the runaway slaves. There was
an Africa at Mercersburg and a helper to assist in the work of
thwarting the efforts of those who for the rewards offered made
in a business to catch when they could and return the runaways.
Remarks on this line were made by
Linn Harbaugh and J. S. McIlvaine. The latter mentioned his
personal recollections of the Christiana event mentioned in the
Wertz paper. Mr. McIlvaine's home was near Christiana, and he
was personally acquainted with the actors in this tragedy.
Others who followed in the discussion, were M. A. Foltz, Judge
Gillan, Judge Rowe, and Dr. Emmert. Judge Rowe spoke of the
events from 1851 to 1861, remarking that it was difficult for
the present generation to appreciate the events of those
stirring times. Because of these facts Judge Rowe suggested that
papers which refer to the times in which the good and bad are
mixed, the names of those on all sides should be presented and
preserved. * * *
Judge Gillan concluded his remarks
with a motion that a hearty vote of thanks be given Mr. Wertz,
the author of the paper, for his admirable production, and that
with Mr. Wertz's consent, it was added by Judge Rowe, it be
published in the next volume of the society, for which privilege
the society would be doubly gratified.
Source: The Kittochtinny Historical
Society, Peoples Register Print, Chambersburg, PA, 1911