Every age has its evils, but though the moral quandaries each generation faces differ, the ways in which people react to them are universal. In all times and places the majority accept life as they find it, either seeing no wrong, accepting a 'necessary evil' or simply believing that there is nothing that can be done to change matters. In all times and places a precious few have chosen to stand against the evils of their day, to convince others of the rightness of their cause and attempt to change the 'inevitable'. They have often done so at great risk to themselves and their families, many have lost their lives and liberty. Often they do not succeed or at least to do not live to see that they have succeeded. Most are forgotten, for after the evil is gone the majority do not like to be reminded of the fact that opposing that evil was, after all, possible. These stories are here to remind us-- and also to remember and honor the few who have made such a difference in the lives of us all.
Prepared by D. P. Stubbs for 1995 Stubbs Cousins' Reunion
Note: This is from a book by Dan Stubbs. You can contact him at: Dpstubbs@aol.com. Also see his web page at: http://members.aol.com/dpstubbs/.
In the years before the Civil War many slaves escaped from their masters in the slave states and fled to free states in the north and then on to freedom in Canada. People in the United States became increasingly opposed to slavery during these years and were called Abolitionists for their desire to abolish slavery. Members of the Society of Religious Friends, commonly called Quakers, reflected these attitudes.
Many Quakers felt the desire to help escaping slaves on their way to Canada. Because of the Fugitive Slave Act, this was, strictly speaking, illegal. Thus, although slavery was strongly opposed by Quakers, there was a much disagreement about how to oppose it, particularly in how to deal with slave fugitives. Some members of the Quaker community became active very early in assisting run away slaves. One such person was Levi Coffin who helped fleeing slaves in his youth in North Carolina. Later, after moving to Indiana and Ohio, he was derisively labeled the 'President of the Underground Railroad' by angry slave holders. Levi Coffin wrote a detailed account of his life's work attempting to abolish slavery and to free slaves in 1876. He included many heart rending stories of slave conditions and escape attempts both successful and unsuccessful. His writings are of particular interest to us because of the backgrounds of many families who migrated to this part of Minnesota from Indiana and Ohio. Levi Coffin certainly met Henry Stubbs and influenced many of the Stubbses and other Quaker families of West Elkton to help in the Underground Railroad. Henry's son (Charles) Rolla Stubbs wrote in his memoirs,
"My brother Joel was very active in helping fleeing slaves. He and father Henry helped transport many of them across into Indiana. They fed and clothed them as needed, too. It was 30 miles from our farm at West Elkton to the next 'station' and they took a covered wagon at night with the slaves hidden under quilts and supposedly market bound farm produce heading to Richmond. It was a dangerous and risky business with fierce slave hunters seen frequently in our area."
While still living in Indiana north of Richmond, Mr. Coffin often had business in Cincinnati. On one trip he was asked to take a slave girl from Boone County, Kentucky to a place of safety. She had made a daring escape across the Ohio River and was being pursued. The party stopped first at Hamilton and
"Next morning--it being the Sabbath day--we went on about eight miles to West
Elkton, a Friends' settlement, to attend meeting a spend the day. Meeting had
just commenced when we arrived. My wife took the fugitive into meeting with
her and seated her by her side. This was the first time the girl had ever
attended a Quaker meeting. At its close I introduced her to a number of our
friends, as a run away slave from Kentucky. She was the first that had been
seen at that place, and a mysterious influence seemed to invest her at once.
Men lowered their voices as if in awe, when they inquired about her, and some
of them seemed alarmed, as if there was danger in the very air that a
fugitive slave breathed. I spoke in a loud, cheerful tone and asked,
"Why do you lower your voices? Are you afraid of anything? Have you
bloodhounds among you? If so, you ought to drive them out of your village."
We stopped at the house of Widow Stubbs, a thorough abolitionist, and soon
afterward one of her neighbors, a man with whom I was well acquainted, came
in to inquire concerning the girl.
He asked if she was safe, whether she had not better be secreted, etc., all the time speaking in a low tone. I said, "What is the matter, Henry? What makes thee speak so cautiously? Is there any one in your village who would capture a fugitive slave? If there is, hunt him up and bring him here. I would like to introduce this young lady to him. I think we could make an abolitionist of him. For my part, I have no fears of any one in this village, and think thou may make thyself quite easy."
In the course of the afternoon quite a number of people came in who seemed concerned in a similar manner for the safety of the girl, but seeing me so entirely at ease, their fear and anxiety passed away.
This public exposition of a fugitive slave, at Friends' meeting and in the village seemed to have a good effect in the place, for West Elkton afterward became one of our best Underground Railroad depots, and the timid man first alluded to became one of the most zealous workers on the road."
Levi Coffin's book provides us with many details about the life and times in Ohio and Indiana during the middle of the 19th century. He also mentions West Elkton later in his book where he "stopped at the house of 'Squire Stubbs', a well known abolitionist." This may refer to Jesse Stubbs who was a Justice of the Peace.
At the beginning of the more organized efforts that Mr. Coffin took part in to help fleeing slaves, his group was driven out of the main body of Quakers in Indiana, for a time. After a few years, the opinions of the majority of Quakers came around to the Abolitionist view and the factions were reunited. Mr. Coffin acknowledges the support of his friend, Jacob Grave from Richmond, Indiana during his efforts to obtain goods made without slave labor. Jacob Grave (Jr.) was Mary Stroud Grave's (Henry Stubbs' 3rd wife) father.
"Besides the many obstacles I had to encounter in obeying the dictates of my conscience on this subject, I had to contend with innumerable discouragements, and to endure much ridicule. I had to meet the arguments of the pro-slavery party, but I also had the support of many warm friends, who harmonized with me and encouraged me in the work, and were willing, at any sacrifice, to abstain from the use of slave-labor products. In my own neighborhood such prominent men of our society as ... were advocates of free labor, and in other neighborhoods I had many true friends, such as William Beard, Jacob Grave, Daniel Worth, and others."
Records in the Richmond (Indiana) Historical Society tell of Jacob Grave being removed from the Quaker meeting in 1842 for his views in support of abolition.
Henry's uncle Samuel also moved to West Elkton in 1805 and his son Jesse remained at the family farm. He was a Justice of the Peace and was involved in the Underground Railroad that spirited escaping slaves to freedom in the North and Canada. In 1858 he traveled to Kentucky to purchase the family of a black man, Craig Langford, into freedom. $5,062 was raised in the community, much of it advanced by Jesse himself for this purpose. This family was bought out of slavery and brought to the slave free states. Mr. Langford was later able to refund most of these contributions.
Quaker Compassion - Stubbs Story
Henry Stubbs, born in Ohio soon after his parents arrived had not see the slavery conditions first hand but certainly heard much from the Georgia Migrants. About 1848 he took his family down to North Carolina on a trip and even went down to old Wrightsborough where he found that the ancestral farms had been taken over by slave holders and was so shocked by the inhuman cruelty of slave masters whose sensibilities had degenerated.
About this time the Quakers at West Elkton raised a considerable amount of money and sent William and Delilah Stubbs down to Wrightsborough to pay for transportation for any penniless free negroes they might encounter (Even some non-Quaker Southerners had decided the institution of bondage was wrong and freed their slaves) but when the noble mission was discovered furious plantation owners, fearful of their own slaves finding out about this plan and possibly becoming restless, threatened the Stubbs couple and they had to flee for their lives. It was not uncommon for free negroes to be rounded up like stray animals and in their hapless condition be enslaved again.
Naturally, the blacks would try to escape and finding sympathizers in the southern states, many managed to flee to the Ohio River and cross in darkness near Cincinnati, head north to West Elkton. (There were other routes in eastern states managed by Quakers.)
At Fountain City, Indiana to the northwest across the state line was a prominent Quaker named Levi Coffin who was the "President" of the mystery so-called the 'UNDERGROUND RAILROAD' the organized effort to assist the desperate refugees. With cruelty to slaves indelibly impressed on his mind as a child in spite of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 enacted by wealthy influential Slavery supporters he took seriously the Bible admonition found in Deuteronomy 23:15 "THOU SHALT NOT DELIVER UNTO HIS MASTER THE SLAVE WHICH IS ESCAPED FROM HIS MASTER UNTO THEE." His home was the headquarters of the movement for decades up to the Civil War. It is now a memorial museum. There are still some old homes in the West Elkton, Ohio area where the Stubbs families lived that were havens during this hectic dangerous period.
Later the large Stubbs family sent many Union soldiers to the South, Henry Stubbs sons Dr. William, Enos (died in service) and Milton also son-in-law Charles Gordon among them.
One of the escapees was Eliza Harris, a leading character in Harriet Beecher Stowe's UNCLE TOMS CABIN the book that did much to reveal what was going on in southern states.
One of the touching stories we heard of that happened at West Elkton, was when a Stubbs Wedding reception after the ceremony at the Friends (Quaker) Meeting house, the many guests were about to be seated to a banquet of refreshments when a wagon load of shivering starving slaves many of them crying children appeared in the dark at the door, and the assemblage of course, served them all they had before hiding them in upstairs rooms, as they knew it was very likely that in the morning, angry slave holders in a posse would be dashing through town on horseback with whips and guns looking for them. The Quakers must have been very clever in their work as it was boasted that of some 3000 that came through not one was caught there although when they went on to Canada they were lost track of, after that.
Many are the stories of how the frightened blacks were hid in attics, cellars, barns, disguises-even coffins with secret ventilation, under haystacks, in the woods. How sad that in our day, millions are fleeing the Communist and other terrorist movements. After the Civil War some ex-slaves returned to their Quaker friends and settled around West Elkton. The big rambling house of Jesse Stubbs once a 'station' on the 'Underground Railroad' is now an historic site there.
The family of William Bundy (born in 1780 in North Carolina) and his wife Sarah Overman, moved from North Carolina with the opening of the Northwest Territory, into Belmont Co, Ohio. They settled around Barnesville and there William died in 1828. His family were all anti-slavery as were many Quakers of that time. To back up their beliefs with action, the family operated a station on the "underground railroad" on their farm. Since they were just across the Ohio River from Virginia (now West Virginia), they were often the first stop for slaves who just crossed. One of the places the family would hide these slaves was their hay mow, where they could have a group living for as much as two weeks or more, waiting for the optimum moment to procede north to Canada.
The United States law regarding runaway slaves in not well known today. Even in the free state of the north, slaves were regarded as property to be returned to their owners in the South. If you aided them to escape, you were liable to prosecution as a criminal. Thus such aid was very dangerous to perform. And there were a large number of armed slave catchers (bounty hunters), who made a good living at catching the runaways and returning them for a reward, along with severe punishment for the unfortunate captives.
William Bundy Jr, the 8th child of William and Sarah acted as a conductor, taking the groups from the Bundy farm north to the next station, in the area of Salem, Columbiana Co, Ohio. This made him a criminal by the laws of the day. William would wait for just the right conditions, when there were no bounty hunters around, and when the weather was such as to hide these illegal activities.
One evening, these conditions were met. The Bundys and a good sized group, including most of a family present. The weather had turned stormy and nasty, just right for a secret trip. William Jr, or "Black Bill" as his was known, gathered his group, and they quietly made their way through the town, avoiding any chances of being caught. As they were on their way out of town, they passed the Ebenezer Baptist Church. Just as they got there, the church suddenly let out with lights and people everywhere. They had had an evening service and the weather was so bad that the people decided to wait it out.
Black Bill was seen by everyone, and was effectively caught "re-handed". But he continued on with his group, guiding them on the the next safe house. When he returned he expected to be taken into custody and charged with aiding the escape of "property". But to his surprise, there was no one waiting for him and no one in town said anything about the matter. He came to realize that he and his family were held in high regard, and no one would turn them in. Thus he was able to live up to his conscience with action.
"In the days of slavery, their home was a regular depot on the Underground Railroad, and many a poor travelling son and daughter of Africa's downtrodden race have been helped onward by them to freedom and a better life. It is very much to be regretted that there was no record kept of the number of those who were thus aided on their way. There was a trap door in the floor, and a small room underneath it to store vegetables. Only one rug was in the house, and it was always over the trap door. When the slave came, he was put under the house and the woman in the house would always sit on the rug in a chair doing her sewing and mending of clothes. When officials would come by, they would say, "Have you seen any slaves around here, lady?" She would always answer with, "Have a look for yourself," she would not tell a lie. And she was not about to give up that poor slave huddled just under the floor hearing the conversation. Many times officers searched all the buildings on the farm and knew nothing of the door in the floor. Now, after she was sure the officers had left, she went out into the yard and stuck a pole up in the fence with a white rag or flag on it. This was a sign for her husband and oldest sons to come in from the field. They would hide the slaves in straw in a wagon and take them to Valley Junction, then a 6-8 hour trip from Earlham to the next station. It was a great risk to take. "
Valley Junction is now part of Des Moines, and is about a 20' drive by car to Earlham. The house has been torn down, no one knew at that time that there was a hiding place in the house, it was discovered anew as the house was destroyed. It was called "the old Barnett farm", 2 and1/2 miles west of Earlham, on the south side of the road and west of the old Rock Island Railroad tracks being the last homestead before the road turns north or south.
Web page on Levi Coffin
The Underground Railroad Freedom Center
The complete text of Levi Coffin's Reminiscences