Adams County, Pennsylvania
A few individual Friends were deeply committed to assisting black freedom seekers from the South to reach safety in Canada or elsewhere. There were, of course, African-Americans who probably initiated and certainly were major conductors on the Underground Railroad in Adams County, Pennsylvania, with whom the Friends worked. But most of their names are unknown, at least to me. One who is known was EDWARD MATTHEWS. He was a freed slave who bought this house in 1842 (photo to the right). It was a known "station" on the southern slope of "Yellow Hill". Scroll down to see a map.
From Edward Matthews's house freedom seekers were taken north over the hill to Cyrus GRIEST's farm, "Springdale" on the northern slope of "Yellow Hill" and/or to his older brother, Amos Griest's farm on the southern slope of "Rattlesnake Hill." The valley between the two brothers is still known as Quaker Valley and the road through the valley is Quaker Valley Road. The photo to the left is Cyrus Griest's farm, "Springdale", with the barn on the left partially hidden behind the tree, springhouse on the right, and a bit of the orchard showing on the extreme right. The springhouse (photo below to the right) has an upper floor where their daughter, Maria Edith Griest (1840-1927), taught for several years in a one-room school. People escaping from enslavement were said to have been hidden in the lower part of the springhouse.
CYRUS GRIEST was born 29 May 1803, the son of Willing and Anne (McMillan) Griest. On 2 March 1826 Cyrus and MARY ANN COOK married each other in the Warrington Meeting House, in York County. Mary Ann was the daughter of Samuel and Jane (Hicks) Warner Cook, born 12 April 1806 in Harford County, Maryland. They had nine children, the first six born in Warrington Township, the youngest three in Menallen Township, Adams County.
If you turn 180 degrees from the place the photographer stood to take the picture of Cyrus's house (above), you can see across Quaker Valley to the roofline of Amos Griest's house about a half mile distant.
AMOS GRIEST, older brother of Cyrus and son of Willing and Anne (McMillan) Griest, was born in 1798 and died in 1873. This (photo to the right) is his house and springhouse, still in use. Both Amos's and Cyrus's houses now have aluminum siding so we cannot be sure of the original structure. But from the looks of other old farmhouses in the area, it is possible that the upper portion of the houses were brick.
The National Park Service has acknowledged individuals from Menallen and Huntington Friends Meetings for their efforts and contributions to the Underground Railroad in Adams County. Framed certificates are on display at Menallen Meeting. Affixed to the back of each are the following statements:
Menallen Friends Meeting (Quakers) is the burial site of Adams County anti-slavery activist and Underground Railroad conductor Cyrus Griest (1801-1869). Griest, along with many of his family members buried at Menallen Meeting, were key supporters for freedom seekers passing through Adams County, Pennsylvania, along what has come to be called either the Central Route or the Southeastern Corridor of the Underground Railroad. Griest's involvement in the Underground Railroad is established by his collaborative activity with other Quakers and formerly enslaved African Americans who, by mid-19th century, owned property in the community. This Adams County group is estimated to have been responsible for secreting hundredsperhaps as many as 1000 freedom seekers. Griest is also recorded as having worked to restore freedom to Kitty Payne, . . . [Third Month 2007 Monthly Meeting Quarterly Reports to Warrington Quarterly Meeting, from the Menallen Meeting's web page]
Kitty PAYNE was a manumitted slave and the mother of four, who had all been set free February 25, 1843 by their mistress Mary MADDOX of Rappahannock County, Virginia. Mary Maddox escorted them to safety in Adams County, Pennsylvania. Mary's nephew Samuel Maddox, Jr. then persuaded the old woman to deed her estate to him. He decided the freed slaves were part of the property of his newly acquired estate, and hired a professional slave catcher named Thomas FINNEGAN to help him kidnap Kitty and her family back to the South.
A great great granddaughter of Kitty PAYNE published a book in 1987 about the kidnapping, Guide My Feet, Hold My Hand. The book notes, "There is no superior race of people, but there are superior people in every race." The kidnapping happened around midnight July 24, 1845, when Kitty and three children were seized, bound, gagged, and thrown into a covered wagon. The kidnappers stopped at "Myers Tavern" in Bendersville on their way south, and Charles MYERS heard the children crying in the back of the wagon. Over the next few weeks Jesse COOK, Cyrus GRIEST and William H. WRIGHT (for unknown reasons William H. Wright was not included in the account, although there is proof he was the third Quaker) gathered whatever provisions they would need for a ride to Virginia to free Kitty and her children. On their way they stopped for the night at a tavern in a place called "Little Washington". Inside they were confronted by a group of armed pro-slavery men. They were hassled, called names, and eventually forced back outside to their wagon where the men began going through their supplies. Someone shouted "Kill the Abolitionist." Cyrus Griest immediately began talking to the men trying to calm the situation. The men brushed Cyrus aside and pulled everything out of their wagon and either stole it or destroyed it. They took everything but the horses and the wagon, including the legal paperwork to prove Kitty and her children's manumission. The three Quakers were forced to turn around and return to Adams County, empty-handed. In George WILSON's journal dated August 24, 1845 (a month after the kidnapping) he wrote "J. Cook came home without the negros."
Kitty and her children were not left in the clutches of Mary Maddox's nephew. Finnegan was identified as the one who had kidnapped a family of free colored persons and carried them into slavery. A warrant was issued for his arrest in Pennsylvania, and the Payne family was taken into custody in Virginia for safekeeping. Cyrus Griest, along with fellow Quakers and African American neighbors, gave testimony at Finnegan's trial in Pennsylvania in August 1845 and also gave testimony during Kitty Payne's trial in Virginia. Charles MYERS also testified at the 1846 trial against Thomas FINNEGAN for kidnapping. Griest was involved in raising money among Adams Countians for her trial in Virginia. The trials were lengthy and well publicized. Finnegan was convicted and the Payne family was escorted once again to Pennsylvania.[The data about Kitty Payne is from Mary Goins Gandy, Guide My Feet, Hold My Hand, 11; and Mary Holton Robare, "As Truth May Direct: The Quaker Valley Quilt", in Blanket Statements, the newsletter of the American Quilt Study Group (AQSG), Gaye Ingram, ed., Lincoln, Neb. no. 91 (2008), 1-5.]
On July 24, 2010, there was a ceremony at the Elkhorn Inn [formerly Myers Tavern] in Bendersville unveiling a plaque commemorating the 165th anniversary of the kidnapping and the role of Charles Myers and the others in the eventual rescue of Kitty Payne and her children.
The house of Jesse Cook (1801-1855), son of Henry and Mary (Way) Cook, another active conductor and member of Menallen Meeting, is still standing. The two photos to the left provide then and now views of Cook's Mill on Possom Creek north of Bendersville, in Menallen Township. The black and white photo is from the original glass plate negative taken by William H. Tipton of Gettysburg, who worked between 1867 and 1920. The mill was part of Jesse's station on the underground railroad. Two of Jesse's daughters, 19 year old Sallie A. Cook and Elmira Jane Cook got a ride to Gettysburg, shook hands with President Lincoln, then sat on the platform and heard him give his short but powerful speech dedicating the battlefield. Sallie later married John Toner Myers and was the mother of historian Albert Cook Myers. There are many members of the Cook family interred in the Warrington Friends Meeting Burial Ground in Wellsville, York County. [My thanks to Sue Boardman for the old photo of Cook's Mill, e mail March 2012.]
Sometime after the Payne family's rescue a quilt was created with 73 signatures, including the names of some of the people involved, such as Mary Ann Griest, Jane Wright (daughter of John), and Kitty's daughter Mary Payne (1840-1928). The so-called Quaker Valley Quilt was found in a Maryland antique shop, purchased, and presented to Menallen Meeting in 2007. [Mary Holton Robare, "As Truth May Direct: The Quaker Valley Quilt", in Blanket Statements, the newsletter of the American Quilt Study Group (AQSG), no. 88 (2008), 1-5.]
My thanks to Robert L. Cooke who has visited Adams County several times, researched the area, and passed much of this information along to me. He reports that the County is "pristine", very little changed over the past 250 or more years. The biggest change might be the roads. But if one has a sense of the placement of the roads 150 years ago, one can still find a number of treasures tucked away among the rolling hills. He took the color photographs posted above, and placed the labels and markers on this U.S. Geological Survey map from google, 2012. The black and white portraits are from the Albert Cook Myers Collection held at the Chester County Historical Society in West Chester, Pa., used with permission.
Cyrus Griest, in Menallen Township, would often pass fugitives to William Wright in Adams County. WILLIAM WRIGHT and his wife, PHEBE (WIERMAN) were Quakers who farmed near York Springs (earlier known as York Sulphur Springs and Petersburg). They became involved in the Underground Railroad in 1819 when William worked with his brother-in-law, Joel WIERMAN, to aid a fugitive slave. The Wright family aided Congregationalist Minister and anti-slavery lecturer Rev. J.W.C. PENNINGTON during his escape from Maryland in 1828. A female toll-gate keeper directed him to the Wrights' home. From about 1820 the Wright's lived in "Woodburn" a smaller house located about a mile and a half west of "Plainfield". "Woodburn" was torn down decades ago. William, Phebe, and their family moved to "Plainfield" about 1840. It is falling apart now, but there are some excellent photos. It appears that flooring was finished under the eaves in the attic so that people could hide there. It is said that the Wrights were instrumental in organizing the York Springs Anti-Slavery Society in 1840. [From Who's Who in Pennsylvania's Underground Railroad.]
Although Huntington Meeting is no longer an actively functioning meeting, this was recently noted: [From the Third Month 2007 Monthly Meeting Quarterly Report to Warrington Quarterly Meeting.
William Wright, b. 12 Mo. 21, 1788, d. 10 Mo. 25, 1865, m. Phebe Wierman, daughter of William and Hannah (Griest) Wierman, at Huntington Mtg., 11 Mo. 7, 1817. She was born 2 Mo. 8, 1790, and d. 1 Mo. 30, 1873. They were both buried near their ancestors in the graveyard at Huntington Friend's Meeting House, near York Springs, Adams Co., PA. William Wright and his wife were probably the most active and prominent agents of the Underground Railroad in Adams County, and hundreds of slaves fleeing from southern masters found rest and shelter in their hospitable home until forwarded over the Underground Railroad to the promised land of Canada. . . .
Just to keep individuals in this story straight, William H. WRIGHT was born 16 March 1812, in Butler Township, Adams Co., son of Samuel B. & Elizabeth (HARVEY) Wright. William H. died in 1884. Samuel B. Wright (1781-1835) seems to have been the son of Benjamin & Jane (FALKNER) Wright.
William H. married, 27 Third Month 1834, in Warrington Meeting house, Jane COOK (1809-1870) daughter of Henry & Mary (WAY) Cook. William H. Wright was the third Quaker to go on the failed rescue attempt of Kitty PAYNE. When William H. moved his family to Nebraska in 1857, "Cook's Mill" became the default "station" to which Edward MATTHEWS sent the freedom-seekers.
I am grateful to Chris Erb who sent me an account of Friends' work and these images of reports from the Women's Association for the Relief of the Freedmen. This is not a complete account of the tremendous effort put forth by Friends of all persuasions during and immediately after the Civil War to help the destitute African-Americans freed from slavery but without any material resources. This documents one effort.
In 1861, Philadelphia's 15th and Race Street Women's Meeting (Hicksite) formed the Women's Association for the Relief of the Freedmen. In April 1863, their first annual report listed "2,700 part-worn and 4,378 new garments" packed in 27 cases, along with "uncut goods, comfortables, blankets, books, pictures, toys; medicines, farina, and dried fruit for the sick; thimbles, needles, thread, buttons, &c." These were sent to Yorktown and Gloucester Point in Virginia, and Port Royal near Fredericksburg Va., where "contrabands" had gathered. Shipments also went to Cray and St. Simons Islands off the coast of Georgia, and to Cincinnati "for the west". The women also sent (i.e. funded) women Friends to teach in Virginia, and two "colored men" to serve in the "colored smallpox hospital" in Washington, which received no federal support.
Letters from the women teachers and visiting Friends described desperate situations: measles, smallpox, and malaria epidemics, and starving, destitute people. In Norfolk, Va., March 1864,
In July 1864, came a report from a hospital barracks on Mason's Island (now Theodore Roosevelt Island), where Union soldiers were stationed on the Potomac, and then a few weeks later a report from Memphis:
In December 1865 this report came to Philadelphia from Nashville:
Race Street Friends were able to help only a small number of those in need, but the help was much appreciated. In addition to material support and education, the Association also developed manual training schools and farms in the South, and condemned racial segregation in public transportation and industry in Philadelphia. This report came from Philena Heald:
From S. M. Ely on the Island of St. Helena:
Various area meetings funnelled more than $9,600 through the Association in 1865. But the effort could not be sustained at this magnitude. By 1870 only about $1,500 was raised. The Association narrowed its focus to educational efforts, some of which continued for decades. But the last annual report of the Association was dated 1871.
Here are a few books that supply additional information about abolition and work with "freedmen".
Charles L. Blockson. The Underground Railroad. New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1987. pp. xii + 308.
Stanley Feldstein. Once a Slave: The Slaves' View of Slavery. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1971. 329pp.
John Hope Franklin. From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans. 4th ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1974. pp. xxv + 548 + xlii. Illustrations, bibliographic essay, index.
Mary Goins Gandy, Guide My Feet, Hold My Hand,
Thomas C. Kennedy. A History of Southland College: The Society of Friends and Black Education in Arkansas. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2009. xii + 349pp.
Marcia J. Heringa Mason, ed. Remember the Distance that Divides Us: The Family Letters of Philadelphia Quaker Abolitionist and Michigan Pioneer Elizabeth Margaret Chandler, 1830-1842. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2004.
Milton Meltzer, ed. In Their Own Words: A History of the American Negro, 1619-1865. Crowell, 1964. Viii + 195pp.
Linda B. Selleck. Gentle Invaders: Quaker Women Educators and Racial Issues During the Civil War and Reconstruction. Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 1995. Maps, illustrations, appendices, notes, glossary, bibliography, and index. 312pp.
Jean Fagan Yellin and John C. Van Horne, eds. The Abolitionist Sisterhood: Women's Political Culture in Antebellum America. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994. pp. xviii + 363.
This page was constructed 8m/25/2011, and updated 11m/28/2013. The idea was originally to include all this information on my meeting house page, but it has grown to the point that it would unbalance the other meeting houses, so it now has this page of its own. I am greatly indebted to those who have graciously shared their research, knowledge, and images with me.
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