The Underground Railroad in Michigan..Michigan played an important role in the Underground Railroad of the 1840, 1850’s and 1860’s.

Monro House Jonesville Michigan and the Underground RailroadOne stop was in Union as stated in the article below.

Another was in Jonesville, Michigan at the Monro House.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made it very dangerous and costly to help slaves escape the southern slavery condition.

Farmers and businesses stood the chance of legally losing their farms and businesses by helping Slaves escape to Canada.

Hiding places were built into homes, woodsheds and barns at the risk of losing it all to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

The essay below by Mrs. Martha D. Aiken tells some of the story….

Union City

The time was 1843.

The place a small village in southern Michigan, and on the bank of one of its rivers flowing west was Station No. 2, Underground Railroad.

The station agent, known far and near as “The Squire,” stood in the door of his shop just below the bridge intently watching the approach of a large covered wagon of the style known to pioneers as “prairie schooners.”

“Possibly a train for my station,” mused he.

The team stopped, the driver, a white man, alighted, and followed by a small boy, black as ebony.

Hastening out, the alert station agent gave cordial greeting.

“What place is this?” asked the stranger.

On being told, he asked,

“Any Abolitionists here?”

“Thick as blackberries.”

“Where can I find one?”

“Look at me, friend, what wilt thou?”

“Food and shelter for man and beast.”

“Plenty of both to which you are welcome.

Cross the bridge, turn to the right.

I will follow immediately.”

“Ah! You don’t know what you are bargaining for,” pointing to the wagon.

Looking within the Squire saw a man of about fifty years, a woman and four children all of color contraband; the eldest, a boy of ten years, still standing by the driver, an interested listener.

“Not an unusual train for my station,” said the Squire.

“You are all welcome.”

“What ribber be dis, massa; be dis de Jordan what we sing of down in ole Car’line?” asked the boy.

“We may call it a branch of that river, since by crossing the bridge yonder you gain freedom for your body, while you must plunge in the other to rid yourself of sin,” said the Squire, smiling as he looked at the earnest face of the boy whose eyes sparkled as he turned toward the river.

“We have had a tiresome journey but it is evident we have reached a safe harbor at last,” remarked the man, who was none other than Augustus Wattles, famous in that day as the “Quaker Abolitionist,” whose home in Ohio was a refuge for escaped slaves, and who was conducting this company of refugees to Canada.

During the two days taken for rest and recuperation at Station No. 2, the story of the old man of the party, William Smith, a mulatto, was learned.

He was from North Carolina, the slave and also the son of Percival Nelms, a wealthy planter.

It was of such that Dickens wrote when he said:

“He dreamed of freedom in a slave’s embrace and waking, sold her offspring and his own in public markets.”

Although the relationship was well understood by this son, he had served as a slave for nearly fifty years.

That Nelms had some regard for him was made evident by the fact that he had never permitted the lash to touch him and had allowed him to learn to read and write.

He had also promised that before his death he would give him his freedom notwithstanding he was valued at $1,000.

Fifty years had passed when one morning William was called from the field for an interview with his father who said:

“William, the time has come for me to fulfill my promise to you; here are your manumission papers,” virtually a title deed to himself.

Hide your face, O Goddess of Liberty!

A title deed to a human being in this, our boasted land of freedom?”

“You have some money,” continued Nelms, “Here is more, take the horse, Hunter, and go; he knows the mountain passes and you will have no trouble in finding the way; but let it be inferred you are going on business for me as you have often been.

Go straight on, however, to Mercer County, Ohio, and give this letter to Augustus Wattles. You will find in him a friend.”

Now came a cruel struggle in the soul of the slave.

“Ought I to purchase freedom at such a price?

Can I leave my wife and children in bondage and flee to safety?”

The decision had to be made at once, and obeying the scriptural injunction, he made unto himself “friends of the mammon of unrighteousness.”

On an adjoining plantation lived Ralph Pemberton, between whom and the Nelms family there existed a deadly feud of long standing.

Taking advantage of this, William sought assistance from the enemy and not in vain, for here, thought Pemberton, is an opportunity, patiently waited for, to strike an effective blow.

William had several children, the eldest, Andrew, a strong, active man of twenty years and valued as a slave accordingly.

It being impossible to effect the freedom of all, the father, acting on Pemberton’s advice, determined to do his best for this boy, and a tripartite treaty was made, the parties being Smith, Pemberton and Andrew.

Smith was to go directly to Mercer County and on his arrival there, his free papers, which were regularly made out, with the seal of the county affixed, were to be so amended as to describe and apply to Andrew.

Thus altered they were to be sent with a letter of instruction to Pemberton; he would do the rest, and father and son should be reunited.

Thus comforted, William mounted Hunter in the morning and rode away, reaching the Quaker’s home without mishap.

There was at that time in Mercer County a small colony of Negroes, chiefly from North Carolina, who had been set free by their owners.

This colony was under the guardianship and protection of Augustus Wattles.

To him William revealed the plot for liberating his son, and it was entered into without delay; for although peaceful, law-abiding citizens, the Abolitionists were a law unto themselves in the matter of slavery, interpreting literally that clause which declares all men to be free and equal, no mention having been made as to color.

The important document was amended; the letter of instruction for Andrew was sent to Pemberton; then William Smith, now a refugee, with no proof of his liberation, started under the protection of the Quaker, with the Negro woman and her four children for Canada by way of Station No. 2, Underground Railroad.

Meantime the Nelms family had neither slumbered nor slept, and while putting on the appearance of dove-like innocence, were using the cunning of serpents and kept their enemy under their constant espionage.

The post-office was watched,—Smith’s letter to Pemberton opened, read, sealed and re-mailed.

The plan of the treaty had been that on receipt of the papers, Andrew should leave his master’s plantation, secrete himself in a place provided by his friend, where he would remain until the heat of pursuit was over, when he was to be orally instructed as to his course, given the coveted papers and sent on his way.

Into the hiding place Andrew was led and secreted; his place of concealment was changed from one dark corner to another; weeks passed, his restlessness and fear were lulled by plausible reasons for delay and fair promises.

At last, suspecting treachery, he discovered the paper, took it and under cover of night started for Ohio and liberty.

Unable to read or write, knowing almost nothing of the direction to follow, hiding by day and travelling by night, he finally reached the Blessed Refuge in Mercer County, hungry, footsore, and weary, having been taken up but once on suspicion of being a runaway slave; after the examination of his papers he was discharged without further trouble.

Up to the time of Andrew’s departure the policy of the Nelms family had been masterly inactivity, but they had not for an hour lost sight of their slave.

His several hiding places were known and also his flight before it was discovered by Pemberton.

Now was the time to pounce upon their foe, and they did it with all the severity permitted by law.

He was arrested, charged with running off a slave, a crime which in the estimation of slaveholders of that period was considered equal, if not worse than murder.

Abundant proof was in their possession and Pemberton was helpless in the hands of his powerful enemies.

A fine of $1,000 and costs of the suit was imposed.

Security for the amount being taken on his slaves, of which he owned twenty.

In return Perceval Nelms executed and conveyed to his arch enemy a title deed to the body of his grandson, Andrew Smith, according to the laws of North Carolina.

Four months had passed since the arrival of the big wagon which brought William Smith to Station No. 2.

November had come and he was still with the Squire, who on this particular morning was attending to business on the flats when an unusual sight attracted his attention, – three Negroes on foot led by a white man mounted on a beautiful thoroughbred, for which the South has always/s been famous.

A pair of capacious saddle bags—the suitcase of that early day— were thrown over the saddle.

“More wayfarers for my station,” said the Squire, hastening out to greet with friendly hand and cordial welcome the travelers.

“A goodly company you have under convoy,” said he; “an Underground Railroad train I presume.

Well, you have reached in safety a way station where you must rest and refresh yourselves.”

To all of this the stranger—Pemberton himself—gave acceptance with a low bow.

At that moment William dropped his tools and rushing out clasped one of the Negroes in his arms, exclaiming:

“Andrew, my son, bless the Lord!”

The situation was explained, the long expected son had arrived.

To emphasize his friendship, Pemberton dismounted and gave William a most friendly greeting and clasped Andrew in a close embrace.

A second Judas indeed!

Beguiling with kind words him whom he would betray.

On reaching the house the men, black and white alike, were ushered in and the horse led to the barn where the Squire diligently grooming him was interrupted by one of the Negroes greatly excited: “You don’ know who y’ hab in dat house,” he gasped.

“What do you mean, Pemberton is all right, isn’t he?” replied the Squire.

“All right! He de very debil; he gwine take Andrew back to slab’ry.

We know sumpin awful gwine to happen, for after dark las’ night we saw a hor’ble goblin hidin’ ‘hind a stump, and dat man he ketch us jes ‘fore we gets here.”

“Oh well! do not fear,” said the Squire.

“We will show him a play worth two of his; it wins every time, for freedom is a trump card here.”

Returning to the house, dinner was announced and Pemberton displayed his qualities as an entertainer.

Crafty, base and treacherous, his appearance was that of a cultured gentleman, and he was bright and witty.

It was not till night, when the enemy slept, that Andrew told his story.

After reaching Mercer County he had found work and was industriously engaged when one morning he felt a tap on his shoulder and saw before him a United States Marshal with warrant of arrest in one hand and a pair of handcuffs in the other, evidently considering Andrew a dangerous person to attack.

It developed that Pemberton on discovering Andrew’s flight armed himself to the teeth with bowie knife and revolver, mounted his horse, effected the perilous mountain passes and reached the Negro colony in Mercer County, evaded the vigilance of its guardian, Wattles, and without being himself discovered found Andrew who now in handcuffs was taken into court charged with one of the most dreadful crimes known at that time in our land of freedom—love of Liberty.

But the good old Quaker was on hand and proved sufficient for the occasion.

He found a flaw in the warrant large enough to let the captive through, who thus liberated lost no time in preparing to travel the road that led to Station No. 2, G. R. R.

He was accompanied by two trusty friends, contraband like himself.

There was in possession of the three a rusty knife and two ancient revolvers that might possibly go off.

The night was dark, but carefully instructed by the Quaker for their journey they started.

Morning came.

In a dingy, low-roofed log cabin inn, not far from the Mercer County Colony, there was one defeated sorrowful soul, a victim of the lawless scheming of Abolitionists.

That man was Pemberton, and in all that region not one so “poor as to do him reverence” nor give him information concerning his absconded property.

But the light of Underground Station No. 2 was not hidden, and riding swiftly he got on the track of the fugitives one mile east of that “Haven of Rest.”

They were now at the mercy of the law.

The title deed to personal freedom once possessed by William Smith was of course useless and equally useless for Andrew in whose interests it had been amended.

Here was a peculiar situation.

Under the same roof was Pemberton representing slavery, with the law to support him, and the Squire representing freedom, earnestly striving for the privileges which the world accords to men.

He remembered those great words of the Declaration:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal;

That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights;

That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

And although the law was at this time opposed to this declaration, the Squire was supported by a body of able men who believed the law of God superior to the law of State and were ready to respond at a moment’s notice in defense of the oppressed.

On the retirement of Pemberton to his room that night these men were summoned to give counsel in this emergency, and before separating they knelt, beseeching the Father of mercies to give them wisdom and to shield the fugitives in their peril.

It was morning, and the Squire, calling Pemberton to breakfast, was bidden to enter:

“Look,” said the guest, “Aren’t these beauties?” pointing to his open saddle bags wherein lay a six cylinder Colt’s revolver and a murderous looking bowie knife with curved point and glistening blade.

“This has the lives of six men in it,” said he, taking up the revolver.

“Indeed,” replied the Squire, looking at it with the eye of a connoisseur.

“It looks like a good tool.”

“You may well say that.

I should be a hard customer to capture.”

Running his finger along the blade of the knife, with all the nonchalance he could command, the Squire replied:

“We think but little of such light implements in the North; we prefer the breech-loading rifle and do some nice shooting with it when occasion demands; but let us go to breakfast.”

The meal over, Pemberton accompanied Smith to the shop.

His scheme was to quiet Smith’s fears for the safety of his son, by reiterated professions of affection.

Andrew with his faithful guardsmen remained at the house watchful and wary.

At several meetings of the Abolitionists during the ten days of Pemberton’s stay he enlarged upon the direful consequences to himself should Andrew refuse to return.

He had already decided it would be impossible to seize him where Abolitionists were the ruling party.

“It will only be necessary,” he said, “for him to cross the border of the State to exonerate me from the charge of running off a slave, otherwise my slaves must be sold and their families broken up.”

Great tears rolled down his cheeks, to impress his listeners with the tender relations existing between himself and his slaves.

Is it a wonder that honest men believed and sympathized with him?

He gave the names of numerous titled men to verify his statements.

Generals, majors, judges and others were cited, to whom the Squire might refer.

Finally the Squire said: “Pemberton, give Andrew until December; we will meantime correspond with the gentlemen whom you have mentioned, and if they corroborate your statements we pledge ourselves to persuade Andrew to comply with your request; you in the meantime will be at liberty to return to your urgent business.”

To this proposition Pemberton gave ready assent.

An early breakfast was served; the departing guest with the manners of a Chesterfield bade adieu to the family, and grasping the hand of the host said:

“On the honor of a gentleman I swear to fulfill my part of this agreement,” and the declaration was accepted without question.

The day passed, another morning dawned, and breakfast was in progress at Station No. 2. Andrew’s faithful guards had gone.

He alone was gloomy and restless.

“What is the matter, Andrew?” asked the Squire.

“Don* know,” he replied.

“Fear de mattah,” said his father.

“Fear of what or whom?” asked the Squire.

“Slabeholders,—he think dey be arter him, and he neither eat nor sleep.”

“That being the case you shall go over the line into Canada, find work and if all is well, be ready to meet Pemberton as we have agreed,” was the Squire’s reassuring reply.

But among the Abolitionists who were too honest themselves to doubt the fair promises of Pemberton, there was one “Doubting Thomas.”

Henry Gage believed discretion to be the better part of valor.

Meeting Andrew’s friends after the departure of the enemy, he said:

“Now, friends, I think the best time to prepare for war is when everything is peaceful, and I want to know what we are to do if all those promises have been given us as sleeping powders?”

“It isn’t possible!” exclaimed all.

“Perhaps not,” said Gage, “But we are bound to protect Andrew, and should Pemberton return he must be held until Andrew is out of reach.

Squire, did he pay his board bill before leaving?”

“Board bill?

There was none.

He was my guest.”

“Well, guest, or no, if he returns, he must be held here for an unpaid board bill, until we get Andrew across the U. S. line.”

After much argument, that was agreed upon.

Down on the flats, not far from Station No. 2, was a big haystack, built on a rail foundation, where one could hide things animate or inanimate.

Andrew’s fears of capture increased hourly, so he was hid under the stack, to remain until removal was considered safe.

One morning as Andrew was resting contentedly in his retreat and the family was finishing breakfast at Station No. 2, bad news like a bomb was suddenly exploded in camp.

A horse wet and panting dashed to the door, and the rider breathless with excitement exclaimed, “Pemberton is coming!—an officer with him for Andrew!”

It was true. Pemberton had ridden to the county seat, secured the services of a United States Marshal, and provided with handcuffs as well as authority expected to make an easy capture.

Scarcely an hour passed after the alarm before the pursuers arrived.

Being admitted, Pemberton shouted:

“I have come for my property, and in the name of the law I demand that you produce him.”

“If the honest man whom you designate as your property had been as easily duped by your false promises as we were you might have found him here, but thanks to his knowledge of your treachery he is beyond your reach,” calmly replied the Squire.

Like match to powder the wrath of Pemberton blazed.

To be outwitted a second time by these hated Abolitionists was too great a humiliation to endure:

“I brand you as a set of outlaws, utterly regardless of the rights of others.

I’ll dare anyone of you to come.

I’m ready for you,” shouted Pemberton in wrath, as he tore off his coat and clenched his fists.

“We have a better way to settle our differences in this part of the country,” said the Squire.

“The law is our refuge.”

“And speaking of the law,” interposed Gage, “we are not accustomed to having strangers and aliens eat the bread of honest toil for a week and leave without offering to settle the bill, so you may consider yourself under arrest.

Here is proof of my authority,” throwing back his coat and showing his badge of office.

“Under arrest!” exclaimed Pemberton.

“Do you dare treat me with such ignominy?

Here, take your money.”

“Oh, no; we are quite systematic in our methods and settle matters legally; we will, however, attend to the business as soon as possible,” said Mr. Gage, “that you may start on your homeward journey.

Meantime the rooms you have occupied for the past ten days are at your disposal.”

Showing his unbounded wrath and indignation in unmistakable ways, Pemberton retired to those rooms more of a prisoner than he realized.

He could not seek relief by escape, since there were no railroads, and his horse with saddle bags and weapons were safely guarded in a locked barn.

While these events were taking place, Andrew down under the haystack was being comforted and reassured by Joe Bell, who often hunted on the flats.

On this particular morning he carried a remarkably large luncheon, and on pretense of resting from his long tramp through the fields he was putting the greater part of his food through the rails.

“Now boy, don’t you get worried,” he said.

“Mr. Gage has gone for the preacher and old Pompey, you will be safe with them.

By tomorrow you will be in Canada, where Pemberton can’t get you.

The Squire is keeping Pemberton here till you are out of his reach.”

Among the Abolitionists of the village was the Congregational minister, who not only could preach but work with equal energy for the protection of his fellow man; for he read, as did others, that all men are brothers, without specification as to color.

And so, responding to the summons of Mr. Gage, “Pompey,” a horse that had on other occasions traveled the road to freedom, was harnessed. In the wagon were two rifles, and in the preacher’s pockets plenty of ammunition and patent caps.

“Not that I expect to kill anyone,” said the preacher, “but my present business is Andrew’s safety, and anybody that interferes will get into trouble.”

There were two Underground railroad stations between No. 2 and Detroit.

At one of these Pompey was exchanged for a fresh horse.

Detroit was reached on the second day.

There Andrew was transferred to a boat and was soon a free man.

He remained in Canada for years, working faithfully until he accumulated considerable property.

He visited Station No. 2 once with his wife and two children.

His father, “Uncle Smith” as he was called by his many friends, still lived with the Squire.

There also “Uncle Smith” lived to see that blessed day when he and all his race were made free by the Emancipation Proclamation.

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