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 follows:

Mr. Wertz 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 Underground Railroad."

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.

"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 Greenwood.

"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 land."

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. Wertz continues:

"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 $1200.

"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 both strong.

"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 persons wounded.

"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

 

 
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