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The great social movements of the nineteenth century changed the character of this nation. Among these movements were abolition, women's suffrage, dress reform, temperance, improved labor conditions, cooperative communities (association), educational and prison reform, and Spiritualism (which embraced a social as well a religious function). Of these the most dramatically successful in that century was the effort to free the slaves. Antislavery organizations provided lecturers such as William Lloyd Garrison, Abby Kelley, Stephen S. Foster, Frederick Douglass, Charles Lenox Remond, and Wendel Phillips. Support for this cause was strong both in Britain and in the United States. Antislavery speakers from America lectured in England and Ireland; George Thompson, the great English antislavery advocate, lectured in the United States.
While the importation of slaves from Africa to the United States had become illegal in 1808, according to the authors of The Great Republic: A History of the American People , the number of slaves had increased from about 1.5 million in 1820 to more than 2 million or almost one-sixth of the population in this country by 1830. At the same time there was a free black population numbering about 320,000 by the end of the 1820s (548, 549).
In the earlier years of the movement the abolitionists believed that the churches as well as respectable and influential people and leaders of communities would support them in the North and shame the South into abolishing slavery (552), and they suffered intense disillusionment when this help did not materialize. Not only did the church, businessmen, and other leaders refuse to support the cause in any way, but they opposed it vigorously. When opposition to the antislavery movement became violent, the proponents of the abolitionist cause attributed this violence to the institution of slavery itself, not to their own efforts.
In the 1830s much of this violence, especially the well orchestrated riots against the antislavery press and leaders, spread across the northern states as its organizers sought to destroy printing presses that supported the movement and to intimidate free blacks. The leaders and organizers of these riots were the very people from whom the abolitionists had expected support, such respected citizens as lawyers, bankers, doctors, and political leaders from both parties (553).
Heads of colleges and universities also opposed the cause. In a national meeting of college presidents and other representatives of higher education, it was agreed unanimously that all antislavery agitation in American colleges should be suppressed. An exception to this was the newly opened, pro-abolitionist Oberlin College (553,554).
In 1835 introduction of the steam press and other new technology decreased the cost of publication and made greater volume possible, enabling abolitionist newspaper editors, writers, and lecturers to take advantage of mass communication. That year the Anti-Slavery Society was able to distribute 1.1 million pieces of literature in contrast to 122,000 the previous year. The abolitionists produced and distributed medals, emblems, bandannas, chocolate wrappers, songs, and readers for small children. One result was that antislavery societies in the United States increased from about 200 in 1835 to 527 in 1836 (554).
In 1837 in Alton, Illinois, Elijah P. Lovejoy of New England attempted to found a state antislavery society across the river from Missouri, a slave state. Two of his printing presses were destroyed by mobs. He and his men defended a new press that was still in the warehouse and in doing so shot a local youth. The mob then burned the warehouse; and Lovejoy, running out from the fire, was killed. This martyrdom brought new support to the abolitionist movement (555). Thousands in the North who had never supported the antislavery movement were infuriated by the murder, which they deemed an assault on both freedom of the press and their own civil liberties Sterling 58).
A meeting to protest Lovejoy's murder was called at Faneuil Hall in Boston. Leading citizens attended the meeting to mourn the martyred editor. This gathering also provided the great abolitionist speaker, Wendell Phillips, then twenty-six years of age, to make his first major address (58). Lovejoy's defense of his press, however, divided abolitionists on the issue of resistance and nonresistance (Bailyn 555).
In 1850 the Fugitive Slave Law, which required federal agents to find escaped slaves in the North and return them to their Southern owners, was passed (561). As a result Federal agents kidnaped blacks who appeared in the streets of Northern cities 563). Those actively involved in helping runaway slaves were forced into civil disobedience in defiance of this law. There were even attempts to bring back to the United States those who had found freedom in Canada, as is shown in a newspaper fragment
found in a Black Hawk, Pennsylvania, store account book. This is just a strip torn off and apparently used as a bookmark. The only date on it is January 5, 1855, appended to a London dispatch reporting the progress of the Crimean War. Other news items point to its being from either a Pittsburgh or a Beaver Valley paper. The fragment, which begins in medias res follows:
...still believing that a sense of justice influences every right thinking man in the formation of his judgment and the mode of his conduct, I have taken the liberty, which if it meets not with views alike to mine, will be pardoned.
Vast numbers of slaves, escaping from their masters or owners, succeed in reaching your provinces, and are, therefore, without the pale of the "fugitive slave law," and can only be restored by cunning, together with skill.
Large rewards are offered and will be paid for their return, and could I find an efficient person to act with me, a great deal of money could be made, as I would equally divide. Many are willing to come after writing to that effect. The only apprehension we have in approaching too far into Canada is the fear of being arrested; and had I a good assistant in your city who would induce the negroes to the frontier, I would be there to pay the cash. On your answer, I can furnish names and descriptions of negroes, which will fully reward the trouble. Answer either to accept decline.
Yours, John P. Pope. Police officer and constable.
Abolitionists pointed out to all who would listen or read that slavery was a moral problem. This viewpoint increasingly found its way into the consciousness and consciences of many who listened to antislavery speakers, read their publications, and discussed the issue with family and friends. In 1850 such awareness was also helped forward by the enormity of the Fugitive Slave Law. The movement grew.
The antislavery movement with its accompanying underground railroad was very active in Beaver County, Pennsylvania.
A Pennsylvania law of 1780 had provided for the natural dying out of slavery in the state by declaring free at age twenty-one all children born to slaves there. The natural outcome of this policy was that by 1803 there were only three slaves in Beaver County and none by 1830.
The 1830s saw the beginnings of the antislavery movement in the county. It grew in intensity throughout the 1840s and 1850s. The most active centers for this movement were New Brighton, with its strongly antislavery Quakers and the Darlington area with its noted abolitionist leader, Arthur Bullus Bradford.
Bausman in his History of Beaver County, Pennsylvania quotes extensively from an address on the movement delivered by the Rev. Paul Weyand of Pittsburgh. According to Weyand four things of interest to a student of the underground railroad in Beaver County were
1. The county's geographical position with a natural underground railroad provided by the Ohio River.
2. The active antislavery Quakers of New Brighton.
3. The Free Presbyterian Church movement, which originated here.
4. The work of Arthur Bullus Bradford (1141).
Weyand also outlined major routes used by escaped slaves. One of these followed the west side of the Ohio River to the Beaver River and thence to Canada via Lake Erie or Niagara Falls. Another led from Washington County to Beaver County and along Raccoon Creek and thence through Black Hawk to Achor in Columbiana County, Ohio, and on north.
But the route of most importance to this study is that from Wellsville, Ohio, and Wellsburg, Virginia, to the New Brighton Quakers. Here the fugitives were fed and then taken to Buttonwood , the home of Arthur Bullus Bradford between Enon and Darlington, Pennsylvania. From Buttonwood Bradford's son and a hired man transported them to Salem, Ohio, usually making the trip by night. From Salem they were sent by stages to Canada. It is believed that fifty or sixty such fugitives were taken to Buttonwood in this manner (1141-1142). The slaves knew that they had only to get to New Brighton to find help.
Weyand extolled the Quakers of New Brighton for their honesty, sobriety, and God-fearing legacy to the town (1142).
At the same time he praised two other Quaker abolitionists who form a part of this study: Levi Coffin, called the President of the underground railroad, and Thomas Garrett (1142). For more on Coffin see chapter 2 on Gamaliel Bailey. Garrett is the subject of chapter 11.
Despite the enthusiasm and labor of the few to end slavery and to aid runaways, the abolitionist movement grew slowly in the county.
According to the Warner History of Beaver County, Pennsylvania, the following antislavery resolution was recorded from a meeting at Greersburg Academy in Darlington on January 28, 1836:
Resolved , 1. That the right of free discussion is the birthright of men--guaranteed to every American citizen by the constitution of his country--consequently, it cannot be taken from him, or abridged by any power whatsoever.
2. That as the United States mail and post office were established for the good of the whole nation, therefore the abolitionists have the same right as any other body of men to use it. Let them be dealt with according to law , but let the right remain sacred.
3. That we view with alarm the impunity with which officers high in trust have violated the law of our country, in wresting from innocent citizens rights which are secured to them by government--thus undermining the security and confidence of the people in our republican institutions.
4. That every man who joins a mob is a traitor to his country, and by so doing lends his influence to the introduction of anarchy and the demolition of our federal constitution.
5. That slaveholders are agitators, and their doctrines incendiary, producing mobs, lawless violence, destruction of property by fire, judgment and death without trial by jury, and alarm by offering rewards for the abduction of American citizens who have broken no law and are convicted of no crime.
6. That charges made against abolitionists by the President of the United States and governors of different states are entirely unsupported by evidence, consequently we look upon the abolitionists as an innocent, injured and persecuted class of citizens, and feel called upon to aid in maintaining their rights, and vindicating their character before the nation and the world.
7. That as liberty and slavery cannot exist in the same country, without the destruction of the one or the other, we therefore feel called upon as friends of liberty to give our united testimony in her favor, and also to embody our influence against opposition by forming an Anti-Slavery Society (247).
The group also wrote and adopted a constitution and elected officers including the Rev. David Imbrie as president; Dr. Joseph Frazier and Dr. James Cochran as vice presidents; the Rev. George Scott as secretary; and William Adair, Joseph Taylor, James Cook, Thomas Silliman, John Steel, Robert Russel, and William Scott as the board of managers. No records of the further activities of this organization have been preserved (Warner 248).
In the 1840s another such society was founded in Chippewa Township (Bausman 1143).
A Pennsylvania Colonization Society had been formed with the purpose of buying the freedom of slaves and sending them to Africa as colonists. The Beaver County Colonization Society was organized in Beaver on November 30, 1837, with the intention of aiding the state society in its work (Warner 251).
William Lloyd Garrison strongly opposed this method of attempting to solve the slavery problem. He had begun his career as an opponent of slavery for the very purpose of taking a stand against the American Colonization Society, which had been founded in 1817. He saw this movement as an attempt to remove the people who had been slaves rather than finding a solution to the problem as a whole. He believed that all who had been slaves should become free United States citizens and receive all of the benefits of citizenship (Merrill V 26).
As will be seen in the chapters on Abby Kelley Foster, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and Charles Lenox Remond, a number of abolitionist lecturers spoke in New Brighton. Other such speakers were Joshua R. Giddings, Cassius M. Clay, and Stephen S. Foster. Giddings and Clay also spoke in Darlington (Bausman 1143-1144).
In 1848 some prominent men of New Brighton sent a letter to Joshua R. Giddings; John P. Hale; and their own congressman, John Dickey, to congratulate them on their stand against slavery (1142). For more on Giddings, see chapter 13.
In New Brighton various hiding places for slaves were devised. In 1830 Milo Townsend's uncle, Benjamin Townsend, had built a stone house on the east side of Penn Avenue just south of Allegheny Street. In this house an ingenious trap door to the cellar led to an artificial cave which had originally been built as a vegetable and fruit cellar. It extended under the hill from the northeast corner of Penn Avenue and Allegheny streets. In the 1850s this provided an excellent hiding place for fugitive slaves (1938 History of New Brighton 66), and is supposed to have been one of the most important underground railroad stations between the Ohio River and Canada. The fugitives were fed and sheltered there until transportation could be arranged to the next stop (67).
David Townsend, considered "the father of New Brighton" (68), another of Milo's uncles, also hid slaves. His safe house was on an island in the Beaver River (Bausman 1142).
Others who helped were Milo, his father Talbot, and his cousin Evan Townsend as well as James Erwin, Timothy B. White, E. Elwood Thomas and his wife, and others, who worked together with Benjamin and David Townsend to help the fugitives (1142). Apparently Milo and Elizabeth also had a hiding place in their home, for on June 25, 1855, in a newspaper article pasted into one of Milo's scrapbooks, an unknown writer said of Milo and his wife, "Their doors have been open for the hunted slave" (Scrapbook IV 60).
Gladys Wilson, writing for the Beaver County Times , reported the following: In an attic belonging to her husband's relatives in Friendsville, Maryland, Karen Helbling of Darlington Township found numerous letters from Benjamin and Milton Townsend about wagonloads of vegetables that were to be shipped to the Townsends. Helbling believed that the vegetables might be slaves. She learned that runaway slaves from the South came frequently to Benjamin Townsend's home, and that his wife and friends made clothing for the fugitives. (Beaver County Times , "The Sunday Times Magazine" 10).
Among prominent antislavery supporters in the county were Thomas Silliman of Darlington Township, who considered slavery a crime against both God and man, and S.H. Barclay of South Beaver Township (Bausman 1144). If Weyand was correct about an underground railroad route that passed through Black Hawk (later written Blackhawk and at times called Rayltown) there must have been at least one enterprising abolitionist in that little village that has (and had) one side of its only street in South Beaver Township and the other side in Ohio Township.
Additional abolitionists were scattered throughout the county. However, in general the town of Beaver was strongly opposed to the movement (1144).
When the Republican party came into being, it found strong support in Beaver County, where it was accepted as a way to end slavery (1151).
Many of the churches in Beaver County appear to have been supportive of the abolitionist movement. Weyand believed that the Reformed Presbyterians (Covenanters) may have been the original abolitionists in the area. He held that the Quakers were united against slavery and that the Presbyterians and Methodists were also opposed to it despite the rulings of their national organizations. Ministers other than Arthur Bullus Bradford who preached against slavery included William McElwee of Frankfort Springs, James Haggerty of Hanover, and Marcus Ormond of Hookstown and Tomlinson's Run (United Presbyterians) and the itinerant Methodist preachers in the larger Beaver Valley towns (1145).
Passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850 brought opposition to slavery to a white heat in the area. This law provided that those who sheltered runaway slaves could be fined up to $1000 and be imprisoned for six months. An especially effective worker on the railroad could have a $1000 reward placed on his head (Wilson10). The passage of this law never seemed to daunt the New Brighton Quakers or the Bradfords. The only precaution that some took was to place their property in the hands of friends so they could not lose it if ordered to pay the $1000 fine.
In response to that law, a meeting was held in New Brighton on December 6, 1850, to express the disapproval of the citizens. A committee--consisting of Dr. Isaac Winans, Timothy B. White, Dr. Charles Weaver, and James Erwin--was appointed to draw up the resolutions which follow:
Whereas , At the late session of congress, a law was passed, making it obligatory on all citizens to assist in restoring the fugitive slave to his master, we, a few of the citizens of Beaver county, Pa. deem it our duty to peaceably assemble and declare the following sentiments:
Resolved , That we believe in the self-evident truths set forth in the Declaration of Independence, that "all men are born free and equal, and endowed with certain inalienable rights, amongst which are life, liberty and the pursuits of happiness."
Resolved , That the first being true, this government, which derives all its authority from the governed, has no power to enslave a human being guilty of no crime.
Resolved , That therefore all laws enslaving a portion of the human family, who have no voice in making them, is [sic.] contrary to the principles of this government.
Resolved , That any law that makes it obligatory upon us to enslave a human being, is not binding on us, and we will treat all such laws with contempt, as we cannot become instrumental in enforcing them.
Resolved , That we will hold up to public contempt any man that will accept the office of commissioner, marshal or deputy marshal, or in any way aid in the return of fugitives from slavery (Warner 248).
The following petition was also drawn up at that meeting:
To the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives of the United States:
We, the undersigned, citizens of Beaver county, Penn., believing the Fugitive Slave Bill to be unjust, and in violation of the constitution, do ask its immediate repeal (248).
For further information on Timothy B. White see chapter12 on William Lloyd Garrison.
There is an interesting story about one fugitive slave, Richard Gardner, formerly owned by Rhoda B. Byers of Louisville, Kentucky. He settled in Beaver and lived there for two years . He had a wife and children, had built a new house, and was preaching to a Methodist congregation. On March 14, 1851, Gardner was decoyed to the river, arrested, and taken by river boat to Pittsburgh. There he was tried, found guilty of being a fugitive slave, and returned to Rhoda Byers. The people of Beaver collected $600 and bought his freedom. He returned to Beaver April 9, 1851, and lived as a free man until his death c. 1876 (248, 251).
Matt Queen, in his unpublished research paper on slaves in Beaver County, reports the following: Three fugitive slaves hid in William Welsh's coal mine in the little village of Cannelton near Darlington. When they refused to come out on command, those who had come to capture them filled the mine entrance with brush and set it on fire. The fugitives died. (6).
In a speech in which he reviewed the events of the past century, Arthur Bullus Bradford in January, 1875, stated that if the cotton gin had not been invented, slavery would have been abolished as unprofitable by 1835; and the Civil War would never had taken place. Before that invention cotton was grown only in small quantities and was almost without value because of the difficulty in separating the seeds from the fiber. But Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1794, and suddenly the picture changed completely. Slavery became a thriving trade (New Castle Courant n.p.)
If this be true, then but for that invention, there would have been no antislavery movement, no underground railroad, and the Townsends and Bradford would probably have been forgotten by all but their immediate families.