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.