Printed in Wooster Weekly Republican, 15 April 1886, pg. 4, col. 6
An Interesting Story of the Time When Men Risked Everything for Their Liberty
Some Thrilling Facts Which Have Never Been Published
By Dr. W. O. Battles
It is probably known to but a few of the present residents of Shreve, that long before this hillside furnished a place for anything but jack-oaks and owls; the sight of one of its principal streets was the path over which many a colored man, his wife and children, escaping from Kentucky or Virginia bondage guided by the polar star, on foot, on horse-back, in wagon and buggy wended their way to the Queen’s dominions, in search of that which had been heartlessly stolen away from them, the rights they held most dear, and which the constitution of their country declared inalienable – their lives – the ownership of themselves and the untrammeled pursuit of happiness.
Yes, the track of one of the leading underground railroads of Ohio ran along Main Street – the one running north and south past the M.E. Church. Near where the church stands the road deflected to the northeast and came out on Market street near the residence of Mr. Yates. After Market street was opened this part of the road was vacated, but in alleys and other places it can yet be traced. In this paper the writer proposes to give a single incident in the history of this trail, so full of thrilling episode and adventure. In order that the reader may, to some extent, appreciate what is meant by the word adventure in this connection, let me call his attention to the fact that there were very stringent laws against aiding in any way the fugitive slave.
One thousand dollars fine and six months imprisonment, to say nothing about the approbrium of pro-slavery neighbors, was what lay along the line of possibilities in any adventure in aid of this peculiar emigration. Mark you, there were probably not a man or woman among the helpers of the slaves but what would have disdained to take, or conceal one dimes worth of stolen property. Their actions were hinged upon the denial of any inherent right of man to hold his fellow man as property; and claimed therefore, that in helping the negro – or slave, for so many of them were white or nearly so – to his liberties, they were emphatically returning stolen property to its rightful owner. Mr. Boyd, of Coshocton, the Furneys, Byhams, McClellands, Johnsons and others of Hopewell, Chas. Oldroyd, Dr. Joe Deyarmon, Samuel Seibert, Jonas May, Mrs. C. Bell, Elizabeth Kauffman, afterwards Mrs. Rev. G.S. Phillips, Absolam’s Swords, and Thos. S. Battes, of Millbrook, Mr. Wm. Taggart and his associates of Wooster, were persons about whose honesty and Christian integrity there was no dispute, whose manhood and womanhood never was questioned.
So far as I know all except three have gone to their reward, but have left no stain upon their record. There were bands of true hearted men and women, who seldom hesitated even in the face of the dangers of punishment for the disobedience of severe and infamous laws, to help these Gods-forsaken and oppressed poor to their liberties to the Canadian shore, where they could be taught to read His word, and worship Him without molestation.
It was in mid-harvest, a little past twelve o’clock on a hot July night 1845, that I was awakened, by a call from my father at the foot of the stairs, in the old log house still standing on the Lovett farm, north of our village. It was an earnest call; and I responded to it immediately. When I reached the old kitchen, my father told me that in the next room there was a man, his wife and six children, fugitive slaves. “What can we do with them?” he asked. “It is too late to get to Wooster,” I said. “it will not do to keep them here, it is a valuable lot, the owners probably in close pursuit, and this house strongly suspected as a place of concealment. Neither for the same reasons, will it do to take them to Oldroyd’s, Seibert’s, Deyarmon’s, or any house occupied by a prominent anti-slavery family.”
At that time there lived an earnest, quiet abolitionist, Mrs. Charity Bell, a widow, in what is now a very old house standing at the end of the hedge row, that just across the road from Isaih Rail’s residence runs eastward. The old barn also is still standing. I told my father; “I thought Mrs. Bell would take care of them. She could hide them in her barn.” But there was another difficulty. In this family of six children, there were two that were especially irresponsible for their escape, and if the doctrine of an innate conscience is untrue, education had not yet furnished them much of this needful motion.
It was now after one o’clock, leaving is but little time to dispose of our charge. Our horses were in pasture some distance from the house; we asked the parents if they could walk two miles, take their children and give us time to return before daylight. The intelligent negro said they could. The mother left her chair with her baby in her arms, the father took up the next younger, and we marched them with the other four children, on “double-quick” to the residence of the widow, but found her confounded and discomforted, for two men, pro-slavery men, would be hauling in grain all the next day into the barn, the only place she could possibly conceal them. But as an old German friend of mine used to put it, it was our only “alternity”.
We had to get them in somewhere, and that soon. We placed them in the wheat bins, told the old folks they must shut, and lock the doors when the harvesters were in the barn, and keep the young ones quiet, and they would be fed and watered at noon while the wheat haulers were at dinner in the village nearby.
They stayed there all day without being discovered, and toward evening were piloted across a field to the residence of Dr. Deyarmon, father of J.L. Deyarmon, of Lakeville, and put “up loft” in that well remembered old log homestead.
While this was being transacted one of the Dr.’s daughters, Mary – afterward Mrs. Edwin Oldroyd – was at the barn milking and knew nothing of the presence of stable visitors; and upon returning to the house she happened to look up, when through the pipe-hole in the floor her eyes encountered the glare of four other eyes, that look out from two black faces.
Well, she said she was scared. The Dr. gave them a good supper, a pair of fine horses hitched to an ordinary two-horse wagon, was driven to the door, the runaways placed in it, covered with old quilts, in the style of loading wheat, or other grain, for Massillon market, and the team started in the direction of Wooster.
Along the way at irregular distances, mounted on good horses were a half dozen young men who proposed to have a “little fun” (?) should the team be stopped by any one possessed of inadvertent curiosity. When they had reached Wooster, the horsemen filed into different streets and scattered over the town.
The night was beautifully moon lit, and our cool teamster drove leisurely up South Market street to the Square, then turned into West Liberty, whistling a ploughboy’s tune, attracting as little attention as would have been done by a weary cow returning from one of the Killbuck meadows.
In a few minutes more and Uncle Wm. Taggart had them in custody.
Before daylight next morning they were nearing the northern border of Ohio, and the following night they crossed the lake into Canada.
While we were passing through Wooster, the master, or his representative, was but a few steps east of that square at the American hotel, offering eight hundred dollars for what we had in our wagon and though there was not eight cents in the possession of our whole company, had he offered eighty times eight hundred dollars, he could have not induced one of that little band of Ohio-farmer-boys to have surrendered even the smallest, the little black “Piccanniny” into the jaws of that death, into the mouth of that hell, “American Slavery.”
Thank you to Wayne County Public Library, Genealogy Department
and Harry McClarran of Wooster.