PENDLETON — When settlers moved into the Pendleton area in the early 1800s, many brought sentiments against slavery.
Some feelings were so strong that homes in southern Madison County became part of the national Underground Railroad, formed to help slaves escape from the South.
In the last few months, a group of history buffs and residents formed The Southern Madison County Underground Railroad committee at Pendleton Community Public Library.
They are searching for answers regarding additional involvement from local residents and possible routes through the area.
In the early 1800s, several Hicksite Quaker families established homesteads near Spring Valley, an area east of Pendleton.
They came to this area after moving westward from Pennsylvania and other eastern states.
A few of these families settled along what is now known as Huntsville Road.
With these families came beliefs against slavery, the bearing of arms and the ill treatment of Native Americans.
Some of the earliest Quaker settlers were William Williams, Daniel and Elizabeth Nicholson, Jonathan and Ann Thomas, John J. and Rebecca Lewis, Neal Hardy, Solomon Fussell and Joseph and Elizabeth Rogers.
In 1836, construction was completed on The Fall Creek Meeting House, a building that would become a landmark in The Underground Railroad movement. The Meeting House was completed in time for the marriage of Solomon Fussell to his second wife, Hannah Lewis.
In a recorded history of the Fall Creek Meeting House, it was noted that this building was one of the stations on the Underground Railroad and “many slaves were aided here on their journey to freedom.”
Fussells become involved
In September 1843, notable abolitionist Frederick Douglass was scheduled to speak along Fall Creek in Pendleton.
An anti-abolitionist mob attacked and almost killed him. Charles Fussell and his wife, Rebecca, were in attendance. When the mob attacked Douglass, Rebecca interceded by positioning her infant son, Linneaus, between Douglass and his attackers.
After this incident, the Fussells were threatened by anti-abolitionists, and they moved back to Chester County, Pa., where Rebecca’s family operated a stop on the Underground Railroad. Douglass was taken to Neal Hardy’s home, where he recuperated. They remained friends until Hardy’s death.
Very little written authentication exists on Underground Railroad activity in southern Madison County. There are two notable resources: “The First 100 Years: An Illustrated History of Pendleton, Indiana and the Surrounding Community” by Hayse Huey and coauthored by Chester A. Garretson and “Fall Creek Township Early History of Madison County, Indiana” by Clarence O. Loy.
The Fall Creek Meeting House also mentions the involvement of another Quaker, Elizabeth Nicholson, who was the widow of Daniel Nicholson.
It was reported that Nicholson was a very active abolitionist who knitted stockings and socks for fugitive slaves.
“In the Spring she would go from house to house soliciting yarn or if it was not spun, she would take ‘rolls’ home, spinning them herself, knit, and send them with other such clothing as she could collect, to some station on the underground railroad, all the while attending to her domestic duties.”
Her son, Valentine Nicholson, and his wife, Jane, were active abolitionists in their own right. They operated an Underground Railroad station in Harveysburg, Ohio.
In “Fall Creek Township Early History,” it is recorded that a log cabin on the James Fowler Farm was used as a station in The Underground Railroad.
This farm was in the Spring Valley area and was dubbed “The West 80” by Clarence Loy, former editor of the Pendleton Times.
Another written reference to Underground Railroad activity was in Huey’s “First 100 Yeas.”
The first recorded account is about two neighboring farmers, Edward Roberts and Joel Garretson, who had farms east of Pendleton. They had transported their hogs to Cincinnati for slaughter.
While there, they talked to several anti-slavery sympathizers. Upon returning home, they made plans “to help a Negro slave couple and their two children, who it was learned were on their way from Richmond, Ind., to points north via The Underground Railroad.
“A false bottom was constructed for their box bed wagon and when this family of slaves arrived at the appointed time and placed a few miles east of Pendleton, they were quickly loaded into the secret compartment of the wagon which was then covered with loose hay and sacks of corn and wheat which were to be taken to a grist mill at Wabash.
“The trip was made with only one disturbing incident when four men on horseback rode up along the side of the wagon and inquired if the farmers had seen or heard of a family of Negro slaves in the vicinity.”
Later in the same reference, when describing flooding conditions along Lick Creek, it was noted that Edward Roberts, Joel Garretson, John Boston and Charles Jacobs each had a role in the Underground Railroad, and in “pre-Civil War days had cooperated in helping runaway slaves escape along this route via the Underground Railroad.”
Charles Jacobs was married to Esther Ann Fussell, whose family became active in Underground Railroad activity in Pennsylvania.
One other residence in southern Madison County has been identified as an Underground Railroad site.
In an article published in The Anderson Herald Bulletin, the Gilmore Homestead in New Columbus is noted as using its upstairs attic as a haven for fugitive slaves.
Morris Gilmore would drive to the Methodist Church in Mechanicsburg and return with fugitives. When word came that it was safe, he would return them to Mechanicsburg.
One of the Underground Railroad stations was at the home of John Swain Sr. His farm lay directly on the line between Madison and Henry counties.
Isaac Adamson was also active in the movement. Closer to Middletown, the Simon Summer Depot was a station. One source stated that John Swain sent the fugitives to Westfield which would take them through Madison County. Other sources state that they sent them on to Fairmount.
In the “History of Mechanicsburg” by Elizabeth Weeks, it was noted that “Many a negro slave was brought here from Greensboro by Daniel Saint who always came in the night, rapped at the door, stepped aside, where he could not be seen when the door was opened, and with a laconic ‘Here’s your goods’ sped away in the dark.”
The Southern Madison County Underground Railroad Committee has been researching activity in southern Madison County for just over a year, and during that time, has researched from where the slaves came and what their routes were.
There are no verifiable answers, and even after extensive research, The committee can only speculate.
Swain’s farm lay directly along Fall Creek. Committee members wonder if slaves followed that route on foot to the Gilmore farm even when it was not safe to travel by wagon.
Other questions being researched by the committee include:
-- Were slaves transported from Greensboro to Madison County by wagon?
-- Did they come via conductors from farms northeast of Knightstown?
-- Were other Quaker families in Spring Valley involved?
In obituaries of some Quakers of this time period, the phrases “staunch abolitionist” or “against slavery” have been noted.
Woolston Swain’s obituary contains an excerpt from a letter he wrote when he was 21. It reads, “I intend to be an abolitionist until the bonds of the oppressed are broken and slavery is blotted from the annals of the world.”
If people have letters, diaries or knowledge of anyone’s involvement in the Underground Railroad movement, they may contact Barb Donnell, reference and adult librarian at the Pendleton Community Public Library, at 778-7527.