Fulton Journal, Friday, May 25, 1917
Under Ground Railroad
Famous Method of Assisting Slaves to Canada Through This Section.
Hazelhurst, Ill., May 18, 1917
J.M. Eaton, Fulton, Ill.:
Dear Sir and Friend:--Your letter gave me much pleasure. We are not writing concerning a generation of our race that have passed away who were in any way superior to the average men and women that are now living. We can not tell whether we are making progress toward a higher moral and mental plane only by comparison with past conditions.
”The thoughts we are thinking our fathers did think;
From the stream we are drinking our fathers did drink;
We view the same scenes and see the same sun;
We run the same race that our fathers did run.”
You request me to state something concerning the Under Ground railroad, its plan of operation, etc.
Some twenty-five years ago I wrote for the Mt. Carroll Democrat a statement of the manner in which the abolitionists aided fugitive slaves to escape to Canada. I may have forgotten some names of agents, but the method of running the road is as fresh in memory as though it was but yesterday. Yesterday the news reached me from Iowa that one of the conductors on the Fulton and Byron section of the road, or, rather, from Eagle Point to Byron had passed over the “silent river.” His name was Frank G. Yeoman. This leaves but Charles B. Noble of Polo and myself that are living who dared to violate the fugitive slave law (as far as I know) in this part of Illinois.
The U.G.R.R. had no organization and was not bound together by oaths, bonds or written agreements. It kept no records other than what could be stored away in memory. No court could convict a “nigger’ thief of being associated with others in running slaves to Canada. And there were no fixed stations or even fixed routes of travel, and no general manager or treasurer, no time-table or compensation to conductors.
But you will understand its workings better if I describe my personal knowledge of scenes and events. Some of the parties named will be known to you, I think.
In 1855-6 I lived in Fulton, Ill. I arrived from England in 1849, and the first lessons in life in a free land were learned from “black abolitionists” and from Harriet Beecher Stowe. In Fulton I lived in the family of Frank Dodge, the village blacksmith, and worked for one season for Todd & Dement in their sawmill at the mouth of the cattail creck. The description of the escape of Eliza and George from Kentucky, the aid rendered them by the Friends (Quakers), who passed them along from place to place, always toward Canada, was fresh in my mind, and I was ready for business in that time if a chance offered. It came when I least expected it.
Frank was big-hearted, had been a hard drinker, was an ardent follower of John B. Gough, the great English temperance advocate. In later years and when he learned that the fugitive slave law forbade his giving aid or comfort to a slave fleeing from his master he became a radical abolitionist.
It was not uncommon to see notices posted up offering fifty or a hundred dollar reward for the arrest of run-away slaves. Deck-hands would escape on dark nights from steamboats, and many of the boats were owned by men who owned many of the boats’ crews.
My First Work on the Under Ground Railroad
It was dark, when Frank came into the house, and threatened rain. “Hank,” said he, “You know where Mr. Fairchild lives south of town?” “Yes.” “Well, I want you to make yourself useful. Go down to the river west of Fairchild’s house. There in the tall weeds and willows you will find two slave boys. Whistle softly and they will know you are a friend. They were brought over from the Iowa side this evening. Take them along the river bank to the willows where our fishing boat is tied in the creek above the old dam.
“Old ‘Pinkeye” Wright is watching for them, so you must work sly or you may get Franklin Pierce and his pack of two-legged blood hounds after you.
“Cross the creek and guide the slaves to the ‘Bluff road,’ and stay with them until a team and wagon comes along and picks up the black boys, then come home and tie the boat where you found it.”
“Pinkeye” Wright kept a tavern and was surrounded by a gang of patrons who were watching to catch fugitives. Mrs. Dodge put some bread and butter in a package for the slaves and all things worked o.k.
It was about midnight when the wagon arrived and nearly morning when the writer got to bed.
Why go to all that work to aid the “niggers”? will be asked
Whenever notices of runaway “niggers...
(Here four paragraphs of the Journal are missing.)
Sol Shaver was a counterpart of our John Brown, both in looks and acts. He was rash and we feared trouble, but the fortune favored us and the line through Whiteside, Carroll and Ogle counties was never broken by United States officials.
The writer took two of General Harneys slaves from Eagle Point to Byron when there was a $2,000 reward offered for them and men from Dixon, Oregon, Polo and Elkhorn Grove were watching every avenue they knew of, but followed the wrong clew.
Sol Shaver kept a free negro that he brought from Delhi, N.Y., and he borrowed another free negro that lived with Samuel Waterbury near Polo. In a double-seated carriage he placed the two “darkies” and after dusk he drove like Jehu through Old Town, stopping in Oregon a few minutes so that the loungers at the Schryver House could see them, then on the run toward the east. Couriers on horseback scattered the news that “Uncle Sol” had the “niggers” with him. It was a cheap lot of hounds that overtook “Uncle Sol.” In the meantime the black boys were goin east from Byron under the care of Jared Sanford.
It would take much time and space to record the many numerous events in Under Ground railroad work.”
Mr. Shaver carried a flag in his whip pocket at public gatherings. It was composed entirely of white stars on a blue field.
“Hey! old man.” The crowd would yell, “where are the stripes?”
“You idiotic ass,” Uncle Sol would reply, “the stripes are on the slave’s back.”
We call up in memory many of those grand old pioneers who settled upon the prairies when there was not a fence or furrow in sight. They gazed upon old Elkhorn Grove when it stood in all its native glory.—just as it had come from the hand of God. I recall to mind those pioneer men and women who braved public opinion by denouncing laws that held any portion of the human race in bondage.
It is a source of joy to me to know that I have lived to see the Stars and Stripes float over a free people. No longer are the children of a deceased planter, ranging in color from black to white and from mulatto to octoroon, sold on the auction block regardless of the tears of the slave mothers.
We, you and I, are nearing the sunset shore and soon others will fill our places, and we hope that our race will grow wiser and better by avoiding the errors we have made. I shall be eighty years old July 9. I am suffering nearly all the time from the wound in my right thigh caused by a musket ball November 3, 1863.
I hope to live to see the day when monarchial government is wiped from the earth. In the meantime:
I long to hold communion with all that is divine.
To feel there is a union ‘twixt Nature’s heart and mine,
To profit by affliction, reap truths from fields of fiction,
Grow wiser from conviction and fulfill each grand design.
Write when you feel like it. Yours very truly.