The Evolution of an Underground Railroad Historic Site

Telling It Like It Was:
The Evolution of an Underground Railroad Historic Site*
Jane Williamson
Figure 1

Figure 1

Few themes in our history fascinate Americans like the Underground Railroad — especially now. A surge of interest in recent years has resulted in identification and documentation of new historic sites, cooperative research projects, major exhibits, interactive Web sites, and, soon, the opening of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. Few themes in American history rely as heavily on stories and myths, mixing them with history in a sometimes-confusing stew. David Blight has referred to this mix as the “vexing relationship” between history and memory, and it can be difficult indeed to disentangle the two. But that is what I propose to do here: to disentangle the strands of history and memory in one very specific case.

Rokeby Museum was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997 for its considerableUnderground Railroad history. Today, it is a 90-acre historic site (Figure 1); from 1793 to 1961, it was home to four generations of Robinsons, a remarkable family of Quaker farmers, abolitionists, artists, and authors. During the 1830s and 1840s, it was a prosperous sheep farm and an “unshackled space” that provided refuge to many who had escaped from bondage.

2_ESSAY_RTR_RGR

Figure 2

Rowland Thomas Robinson (Figure 2) was born at Rokeby in 1796 shortly after his parents had emigrated to Vermont from Newport, Rhode Island. He and his wife Rachel Gilpin were devout Quakers, religious perfectionists, and radical abolitionists. Rowland and Rachel believed that slavery was a sin to be opposed by every acceptable means. They were active in local and national anti-slavery societies, boycotted slave-made goods, operated an interracial school at their farm, and offered work and shelter to enslaved African Americans who sought freedom in the North. They were part of overlapping networks of abolitionists and of Quakers who demanded an immediate end to the despised institution.

4_ESSAY_QUESTIONAIRE

Figure 3

Luckily for us, the Robinsons were also a bunch of pack rats who saved everything. Literally thousands of letters and other documents span the generations and tell us what the abolitionist Robinsons believed, how they put their beliefs into action, and how their efforts were remembered by their children and grandchildren. And eventually, by all the rest of us.

Figure 4

Figure 4

Let me begin with a document created decades after the Underground Railroad had ceased to operate (Figure 3). In 1896, Wilbur H. Siebert sent this questionnaire to the descendants of Rowland Thomas and Rachel Gilpin Robinson. Siebert, of course, was a young professor of history at Ohio State University, who used this modern and rather novel approach to gather data for his magnum opus on the Underground Railroad, published in 1898.[i] The abolitionist Robinsons had been dead for 20 years and more when Siebert sent this request, so he addressed it to their son George Gilpin Robinson. But George Robinson was also gone, having died two years earlier in 1894. Thus the task of responding fell to Rowland and Rachel’s youngest child, Rowland Evans Robinson, who was then 63 years old himself (Figure 4).[ii]

Rowland Evans Robinson was a naturalist, artist, and author, temperamentally the opposite of his parents, and he had little interest in their causes. Nevertheless, he respected their dedication to principled action and took this opportunity to record their work seriously.[iii] His lengthy reply was clear, thoughtful, and to the point. Although he had been a child during the 1830s and 1840s, his detailed recollections ring true. He recalled “seeing four fugitives at a time in my father’s house and quite often one or two harboring there.”[iv] His memory of the four was still vivid because one “carried the first pistols I ever saw and the other the first bowie knife.” As you read this letter, Robinson’s effort to remember and record his experience as clearly as possible is almost palpable. He said nothing of concealing fugitives at Rokeby and mentioned that they sometimes stayed for months, working on the farm.

Siebert was to return to this subject forty years later for his book focused on the Underground Railroad in Vermont,[v] and he contacted the Robinsons again in 1935. Now yet another generation removed, this request was answered by the abolitionists’ grandson and namesake. His response was brief, but included an important piece of information in the last line. It says, “You can get the book Out of Bondage in your local library.”

Published in 1905, Out of Bondage[vi] collected some dozen or so stories by Rowland Evans Robinson, who was a successful and popular author. He has been compared to his more famous contemporaries Sarah Orne Jewett, Mary Wilkins Freeman, and Joel Chandler Harris, for Robinson also employed a variety of dialects in folktales that romanticized and expressed his admiration for the early residents of the Green Mountain state.[vii] He clearly understood the fiction market of the time and during the last few years of his life, turned his pen (or, actually, pencil) to stories of the Underground Railroad.

Siebert had obviously gone to his library and borrowed a copy of Out of Bondage, for these stories are related in some detail in his Vermont book. But he presented them as fact, explaining that Robinson “had actually heard most of the anecdotes he wrote and published, but he made use of fictitious names for his characters.”[viii] Although Robinson included some real people and events in “Out of Bondage” (the near mobbing of Samuel J. May in Montpelier, for example) and made good use of his own experience, these stories are clearly works of fiction and not of history and should not have confused a serious reader, let alone a professional historian.

Rowland Evans Robinson died in 1900, shortly after his underground railroad stories first appeared.[ix] And as his generation passed on, these stories were what remained to inform future generations of Vermonters. And inform us, they have! The Underground Railroad is one of the most familiar and popular themes in our history. In a nation with soaring rates of historical illiteracy, there isn’t a school child, grandparent, or baby boomer who doesn’t know some version of this story. How enslaved African Americans took off under cover of darkness and found freedom in Canada guided by the North Star and aided by sympathetic white northerners. These much-loved stories are full of daring and altruism and also full of hidden doors, loose floorboards, and attic hideaways. And that is what visitors to Rokeby come seeking.

Until the mid-1980s, that is what they found. Visitors were conducted to a small chamber (a chamber is an upstairs room) in the oldest part of the house, dubbed the “slave room” in the early years of the twentieth century, and told that this is where runaway slaves were hidden. How this room came to symbolize the Underground Railroad at Rokeby can be traced in both the written record and the oral tradition. It originated, of course, with Rowland Evans Robinson’s stories.

Although written at the same time as his response to Siebert, the stories — “Out of Bondage” and “The Mole’s Path” — paint a strikingly different picture. The aging author may have readily recalled the fugitives of his youth who arrived at Rokeby bearing pistols and bowie knives, but these armed men made no appearance in his fiction. Instead, he gave us John, who is seriously ill and incapacitated, easily terrified (“I was dat skeered I’s jus’ shook to pieces.”), and whose main contribution to the plot is to cough at the most unfortunate moments. Milly of “The Mole’s Path” is even more of a cipher, and, like John, she does nothing more than expose her hiding place, in her case by peeking out of the window. John coughs, and Milly peeks. How two such ineffectual characters could have gotten themselves from the slave south to northern Vermont is a mystery Robinson does not address.[x]

“Out of Bondage” is a much longer, more detailed and serious story than “The Mole’s Path,” but they share the same rough outline: A fugitive from slavery hiding in a Quaker household is about to be discovered. Insurmountable circumstances force Friends to depend on someone outside their usual circle for aid at a critical moment — someone not “in sympathy with the cause” and therefore not entirely trustworthy. Although from opposite ends of the social and economic spectrum, Robert Ransom (“Out of Bondage”) and Joe Bagley (“The Mole’s Path”) both fulfill their missions and undergo a transformation of character in the process.

The home of the Quaker Barclay family in “Out of Bondage” bears an undeniable resemblance to the house at Rokeby. Robinson clearly took specific features — like the poles suspended from iron hooks in the kitchen ceiling — as well as more generic ones — like the open hearth — from his own home. But Robinson was a master of the authentic and telling detail, and all his fiction is marked by this borrowing from life.[xi] It is one of the chief reasons his work was so popular with Vermonters — it was instantly recognizable and real.

Figure 5

Figure 5

His description of the two chambers, one housing John the runaway slave and the other the sleeping quarters of Jerome the traitorous hired man, is also based on the house at Rokeby. John’s hiding place is vaguely described as “back of the great warm chimney,” while Jerome’s room is named specifically as the kitchen chamber. In the Robinson home, these two rooms (the kitchen and east chambers) adjoin each other, separated by a wall with the massive central chimney and connected by a plank door (Figure 5). Their close proximity is not made altogether clear in “Out of Bondage” and for good reason. It would have made little sense in the context of the story to place John, who was ill and unable to control his cough, so near the “snaky-eyed Canuck”[xii] that no one dared trust with the secret.

6_ESSAY_DOOR_SKETCH

Figure 6

The east chamber as slave room appeared next in a 1921 biographical sketch of Rowland Evans Robinson written by his daughter Mary Robinson Perkins and published in the centennial edition of Out of Bondage in 1936. “The Robinson home was a ‘station,’ and there is a room in it — the ‘east chamber’ — which was often called the ‘slave room.’ It is not a hidden room, but the doorway is inconspicuous and at the far end of another bedroom.”[xiii] This description is fairly accurate, except for its characterization of the doorway as “inconspicuous.” A pencil sketch of the kitchen chamber (misidentified as the slave room) was printed in the centennial edition and clearly shows that the doorway would be impossible to miss (Figure 6).

The story of the Rokeby slave room had reached its full flower by the 1930s. Here is how the last Rowland Robinson described it in his 1935 letter to Wilbur H. Siebert. “In a chamber of this house, there was in one corner, a built out clothes press, which to persons not knowing the secret looked innocent enough, but to we uns the back opened into a room beyond, where the slave was kept and where a slave was hiding once when the house was searched by the slave’s master and the County sheriff. After they had gone the slave told Grandfather, ‘I suah thought I was kotched.’”[xiv] (Where, you may be wondering, does a fourth-generation Vermont farmer come up with “we uns,” “suah,” and “kotched?” Straight from the pages of Out of Bondage is where.)

This is the story that visitors to Rokeby were told after it became a museum in the early 1960s. Although embellished even further, this version at least recognized that it would have been necessary to obscure the doorway to the east chamber. Still, it retains an aura of absurdity. The notion that blocking its door with a clothes press could make this room disappear — a room that occupies fully one-third of the second floor area and contains two windows and a dormer, no less — represents the triumph of wishful thinking over reason.[xv]

This view of the Underground Railroad at Rokeby changed dramatically when staff and volunteers began to plumb the Museum’s phenomenal correspondence collection in the late 1980s. More than 15,000 letters spanning the decades from 1760 to 1960 document the site and the family and inform all of our interpretation. Letters to and from Rowland Thomas and Rachel Gilpin Robinson from the 1830s and 1840s are full of abolition, nonresistance, the evils of slavery, and the necessity of taking action. Several document fugitives from slavery in some detail, introducing us to Simon, Jesse, John and Martha Williams, Jeremiah Snowden, and unnamed others. These letters dictated a new interpretation of the site and a fresh understanding of how the Underground Railroad operated in Vermont.[xvi]

Figure 6

Figure 7

Let’s look at a few. Letters from abolitionists Oliver Johnson and Charles Marriott tell a new,
but remarkably consistent story. First, these letters make clear that Vermont was truly an unshackled space — a safe haven for those who had escaped from bondage. Oliver Johnson (Figure 7) wrote from western Pennsylvania, where he was traveling as an agent of the American Anti-Slavery Society, in 1837.[xvii] He explained that, being so near Maryland, the area “had at all times no small number of runaway slaves, but they are generally caught unless they proceed further north.” Johnson wrote on behalf of one of those runaways, Simon. He said that Simon had “intended going to Canada in the spring, but says he would prefer to stay in the U.S. if he could be safe. I have no doubt he will be perfectly safe with you.”

Charles Marriott thought it best to send John and Martha Williams north from his home in Hudson, New York after the Supreme Court struck down state personal liberty laws in 1842. He explained that “the recent decision of the Supreme Court as to the unconstitutionality of jury trial laws for them has decided us to send them further north either to you or to Canada. If they can be taken in by thee, we should think them safer.”[xviii] The decision in Prigg v. Pennsylvania would have rendered personal liberty laws in Vermont just as null as those in New York, suggesting that Marriott believed John and Martha Williams would not be pursued into Vermont.[xix] Note that Johnson and Marriott both made explicit comparisons between Vermont and Canada and found in favor of Vermont.

Among the most fascinating letters in the Rokeby collection are those exchanged in the spring of 1837 between Rowland Thomas Robinson and Ephraim Elliott, a slave owner in Perquimans County, North Carolina.[xx] Robinson wrote on behalf of Jesse to negotiate the cost of a freedom paper that was “the most anxious wish of his heart.” In doing so, of course, he revealed Jesse’s precise whereabouts. Surely this indicates just how confident Robinson (and Jesse!) must have been that Elliott would not take action.

Figure 8

Figure 8

Just as revealing as Robinson’s letter is Elliott’s reply (Figure 8). He admitted that, “Jesse’s situation at this time places it in his power to give me what he thinks proper.” But he went on to name his price at $300, “which is not more than one-third what I could have had for him before he absconded if I had been disposed to sell him.” Robinson wrote to present a counteroffer. “Since leaving thy service he has by his industry and economy laid up $150 & he is willing to give the whole of this sum for his freedom … if Jesse was in possession of a larger sum he would freely offer it all for his freedom.” Robinson urged Elliott to accept Jesse’s offer, noting that “considering his present circumstances & location, it must be ackgd liberal.” Elliott conceded that “at this time [Jesse] is entirely out of my reach,” but held firm on his price nevertheless. Elliott is only one slave owner, but he clearly considered the prospect of reclaiming a fugitive slave from Vermont to be out of the question.

Just what were conditions in antebellum Vermont? Vermonters were (and are) proud to claim a string of anti-slavery firsts: Vermont was the first state to outlaw slavery in its constitution of 1777, the first to form a state branch of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1834, and its Senator William Slade was the first to call for immediate emancipation from the Senate floor. The Vermont legislature counteracted the fugitive slave laws of both 1793 and 1850 with personal liberty laws designed to protect African Americans from kidnapping and to guarantee due process to fugitives from slavery. Thousands of Vermonters joined the abolitionist ranks in the 1830s, forming dozens of town and county societies.[xxi] It is easy to see how Vermont came to be known as “the most abolitionist state in the union,” but harder to judge how much any of these factors contributed to the safety of fugitive slaves.

Probably the most important factor making Vermont a safe haven was simple geography. The sheer physical distance from the slave south to northwestern Vermont was just too great to make rendition economically feasible. John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger have shown that the cost of the slave catcher could exceed the value of the fugitive if the search extended too far or too long.[xxii] And the proximity of the Canadian border made the proposition highly uncertain, if not already too expensive.

In fact, research on the Underground Railroad in Vermont has so far turned up only one documented case of successful recapture. The case of Colonel S. T. Bailey of Georgia was reported in the Green Mountain Freeman in August 1844. Colonel Bailey was visiting relatives in Hartford, Vermont, accompanied by a female slave. He left her behind when he traveled to Canada and found her missing on his return. Aided by Samuel Nutt, a Windsor County justice of the peace, Bailey had no trouble locating her at a house “a few miles distant.” Together, the two men “proceeded to bind their fellow being hand and foot, in open day, in the presence of several females, threw her into a wagon, and the slaveholder drove off with his victim.” Bailey was arrested and tried for kidnapping, but was acquitted for lack of evidence that the woman had been taken by force.[xxiii] Vermont’s personal liberty laws and abolitionist reputation notwithstanding, local officials did not protect this fugitive from slavery. Whether Colonel Bailey would have tracked her as far as Vermont had she run away is, of course, another question.

The second clear and consistent message from the Robinson letters is that fugitive slaves needed work and were being sent to Rokeby for that reason. (The Robinsons were prosperous Merino sheep farmers who relied heavily on hired help.) The Johnson and Marriott letters read like job references. Simon, according to Oliver Johnson, “appeared to me to be an honest, likely man … I was so well pleased with his appearance … that I could not help thinking he would be a good man for you to hire. Mr. Griffith says that he is very trustworthy, of a kind disposition, and knows how to do almost all kinds of farm work. He is used to teaming, and is very good to manage horses. He says that he could beat any man in the neighborhood where he lived at mowing, cradling, or pitching.”

Charles Marriott assured Robinson that John Williams was “a good chopper and farmer” and that his wife Martha was “useful and well conducted in the house.” He also expressed his concern that in Canada “they [fugitive slaves] are too numerous to obtain profitable employment.” And Jesse, of course, proposed to pay for his freedom paper with $150 he had saved while working on the farm, a sum that would have taken at least a year to accumulate.

Writing from New York in 1844 Quaker Joseph Beale addressed the issues of work and safety, counterposing them directly.[xxiv] Concerned that Jeremiah Snowden had been discovered, he said that it would be “safer for him to be in Massachusetts or Vermont if [emphasis added] work is to be had for him.” And that “we were unwilling to risk his remaining, although [emphasis added] we had abundance of work for him at this busy season.”

Discovering these letters was a museum director’s dream — like finding a copy of the Declaration of Independence backing an old painting or a Gutenberg Bible in the attic. No doubt you can imagine how they have transformed our interpretation. Instead of stowing fugitives for a night on their way to Canada, the Robinsons welcomed Americans of color into their home, hired them to work on their farm, and did what they could to provide a measure of safety and security in a hostile world. We know that bringing people to life is the key to bringing history to life for our visitors. In delving beyond the melodrama to the human story, we provide visitors with a much more complex and meaningful understanding of the real people involved in these easily sensationalized events. There are no secret rooms, no slave catchers, no subterfuges here; just individuals from vastly different circumstances who met — incredibly enough — across boundaries of geography, race, law, class, and social convention. This is an interracial story of resistance and of refuge. A story of enslaved African Americans who resisted their own subjugation by risking everything in a run for freedom. And of privileged white Vermonters who also resisted the powerful institution of chattel slavery by offering refuge to those in flight from it. It is a story of justice and of hope, and one that we hope continues to inspire both in visitors today.

I want to give the Robinson’s the last word. So let me quote from one final letter. Rachel Gilpin Robinson penned this postscript to an absent family member in 1844. I think this passage hints at the personal concern and interaction that is at the heart of this story.

“Oh, before I forget it, thee must be told that we have had two of the fugitive slaves who fled from bondage in a whale-boat, and were pursued by an American vessel of war! Noble work! They have gone on to Canada, for they were afraid to remain anywhere within our glorious republic lest the chain of servitude should again bind soul and limb. They tarried with [us] only one night & were very anxious to journey on to Victoria’s domain. Poor men! They left wives behind, and deeply did they appear to feel the separation: they felt it so keenly that one of them said he would not have come away, had he not supposed he could easily effect the escape of his wife also when he was once away. Both seemed very serious, as though grief sat heavy on their hearts.”[xxv]

Footnotes

i. Wilbur H. Siebert, The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom (New York: Macmillan Company, 1898).

ii. The coincidence of this timing is actually rather fortuitous. George Robinson expressed some real hostility to the people of color his parents welcomed into their home and clearly shared the “malicious attitudes of other white Vermonters” and not the egalitarian views of his parents. He may not have taken the time and care to answer Siebert’s questionnaire as carefully and thoughtfully as his brother did. For George Robinson’s attitudes, see George Gilpin Robinson to Rowland Evans Robinson, 1 January 1859, 21 February 1859, and 27 March 1859, Robinson Family Papers, Rokeby Museum and Rowland Evans Robinson to George Gilpin Robinson, 9 March 1859 and 2 April 1859, Rowland Evans Robinson Papers, Rokeby Museum. For racial attitudes of antebellum Vermonters, see Randolph A. Roth, The Democratic Dilemma: Religion, Reform, and the Social Order in the Connecticut River Valley of Vermont, 1791-1850 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 273.

iii. Robinson’s determination to record his parents’ work did not stop with his reply to Siebert. He went so far as to annotate the family’s copy of Siebert’s book. Blind himself at the time, he had his wife underline Joseph Poland’s name and write “a fraud—he was an anti-slavery man when it became fashionable to be one and not before. R. E. R.” in the margin on page 107. Poland, Siebert’s chief informant on Vermont, is mentioned again on page 130, where he is identified as the editor and publisher of an anti-slavery newspaper. “Editor” is crossed out, and “printer” is written in the margin. Joseph Poland was an active organizer of the Liberty Party in Vermont and editor of its newspaper and therefore in the opposite camp of the Garrisonian Robinsons. Whether there was a more specific dispute, I don’t know, but his parents’ opinion clearly made a lasting impression on Robinson.

iv. Rowland Evans Robinson to Wilbur H. Siebert, 19 August 1896. Siebert Papers US 5278.37.25* v.41, Houghton Library, Harvard University. Quoted by permission of the Houghton Library, Harvard University.

v. Wilbur H. Siebert, Vermont’s Anti-Slavery and Underground Railroad Record (1937; reprint Negro University Press, 1969).

vi. Rowland Evans Robinson, Out of Bondage (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1905). Page references given here are to the centennial edition, part of a comprehensive reprinting of Robinson’s books to commemorate his birth in 1833. Rowland E. Robinson, Out of Bondage and Other Stories (Rutland: Charles E. Tuttle, 1936).

vii. Robinson created Danvis, a quintessential Vermont “hill town,” and filled it with residents whose lives he chronicled from the early days of Vermont statehood to the Civil War. He took dialect writing seriously and recorded the western Vermont twang that has all but disappeared, along with Quaker plain and French Canadian speech and the odd Southern or Irish accent. His six Danvis books are Uncle Lisha’s Shop, 1887; Sam Lovel’s Camps, 1890; Danvis Folks, 1894; Uncle Lisha’s Outing, 1896; A Danvis Pioneer, 1900; and Sam Lovel’s Boy, 1901.

viii. Siebert, Vermont’s Anti-Slavery Record, 75. Siebert may have picked this up from the biographical sketch of Robinson written by his daughter Mary in 1921 and published in the centennial edition reprint of Out of Bondage. In it, she says, “Most of the anecdotes in his written works he had actually heard.” But she was speaking of his Danvis books and not of the Underground Railroad stories.

ix. The stories were collected in book form in 1905, but “Out of Bondage” first appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in 1897. It seems possible, if not likely, that Siebert’s questionnaire gave Robinson the idea to write “Out of Bondage.”

x. See “Out of Bondage,” pp. 21-48 and “The Mole’s Path,” pp. 49-60. Although these two stories are superficially like others of the genre, what interested Robinson was not the plight of the fugitive slaves, nor the righteousness of the cause, nor the altruism of Vermont abolitionists. As ever, he focused on common Vermonters, whose range of attitudes he recorded in “Out of Bondage.” The abolitionist Barclays represent one end of the spectrum, and Jehiel James, who complains of “niggerstealin’ Aberlitionists a-interferin’ wi’ other folks’ prop’ty” represents the other. Most share the perspective of the stage driver, who says, “Ownin’ other folks kin’ o’ goes agin my Yankee grain.”

xi. See, for example, Terence Martin, “Rowland Evans Robinson: Realist of the Outdoors,” Vermont History 23 (January 1955): 3-15. The poet Hayden Carruth made an interesting comment on this aspect of Robinson’s work: “The point is not that certain ingredients of Robinson’s Danvis are actual while others are fictional, but that the amalgam he made of them, forged in affection, is neither fact, in the statistical sense, nor fiction, in the novelistic sense; it is simpler, but purer. Doubtless at a modest level, it is truth enlarged, the kind of superreal generalization at which all imaginative writing aims.” Hayden Carruth, “Introduction: Vermont’s Genius of the Folk,” Danvis Tales: Selected Stories by Rowland E. Robinson (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1995), xxx.

xii. Out of Bondage, p. 37, 45. Rowland Evans Robinson saved his bitterest prejudice for French Canadians, “the white nigger of the North.” See David Budbill, “Editor’s Preface” in Danvis Tales, p. xiii and Rowland E. Robinson, Vermont: A Study of Independence (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1892; 1975 reprint), 328-332, where he says, for example, “They were an abominable crew of vagabonds, robust, lazy men and boys, slatternly women with litters of filthy brats, and all as detestable as they were uninteresting.”

xiii. Rowland E. Robinson, Out of Bondage and Other Stories, 11.

xiv. Mss 116 The Wilbur H. Siebert Papers, Letter from Rowland Thomas Robinson 28 October 1935: Ohio Historical Society.

xv. In his introduction to Danvis Tales, p. lvii, Hayden Carruth says, “Much that has been written about the ‘slave room’ at Rokeby seems nonsense. Unless the older part of the house was altered at some later date—and this is not evident—the room can never have been ‘secret,’ nor can the back stairway leading to it. For that matter, Ferrisburg [sic] is no more than fifty miles from Canada, … A slave who had safely reached Ferrisburg [sic] could be reasonably sure that no southern agent would have come so far north in his pursuit, and although precautions were still taken against the treachery of local southern sympathizers, the extreme subterfuge practiced at stations farther south was no longer needed. Granted, Robinson does introduce southern agents into one or two of his stories about runaway slaves in Ferrisburg; [sic] but of all the characters in his dramatis personae these strike me as least credible, closest to the stereotypes of Victorian melodrama.”

xvi. See Jane Williamson, “Rowland T. Robinson, Rokeby, and the Underground Railroad in Vermont,” Vermont History 69 (Winter 2001): 19-3l. Some parts of the current essay are based on this earlier one.

xvii. Oliver Johnson to Rowland Thomas Robinson, 27 January 1837 and 3 April 1837. Rowland Thomas and Rachel Gilpin Robinson Papers, Rokeby Museum.

xviii. Charles Marriott to Rowland Thomas Robinson, 14 March 1842. Rowland Thomas and Rachel Gilpin Robinson Papers, Rokeby Museum.

xix. William M. Wiecek, ‘Slavery and Abolition Before the United States Supreme Court, 1820-1860,” Journal of American History 65 (1978): 34-59.

xx. Ephraim Elliott to Rowland Thomas Robinson, 9 April 1837; Rowland Thomas Robinson to Ephraim Elliott, 3 May 1837; and Ephraim Elliott to Rowland Thomas Robinson, 7 June 1837. Rowland Thomas and Rachel Gilpin Robinson Papers, Rokeby Museum.

xxi. David M. Ludlum, Social Ferment in Vermont, 1791-1850 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1939), chapters 5 and 6; John Myers, “The Beginning of Antislavery Agencies in Vermont, 1832-1836,” Vermont History 36 (Summer 1968): 126-141; John Myers, “The Major Efforts of Anti-Slavery Agents in Vermont, 1836-1838,” Vermont History 36 (Fall 1968):214-229; Reinhard O. Johnson, “The Liberty Party in Vermont, 1840-1848: The Forgotten Abolitionists,” Vermont History 47 (Fall 1979): 258-275; Thomas D. Morris, Free Men All: The Personal Liberty Laws of the North, 1780-1861. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), 219.

xxii. John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger, Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999): 160, 286-289.

xxiii. This report was found by Raymond Paul Zirblis, Friends of Freedom: The Vermont Underground Railroad Survey (Montpelier: Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, 1996); “Hold the Miscreant Up that Freemen May See Him!” Green Mountain Freeman 23 August 1844 and “The Georgia Slaveholder and His Catchpole,” Green Mountain Freeman 20 December 1844.

xxiv. Joseph H. Beale to Rowland Thomas Robinson, 12 July 1844. Rowland Thomas and Rachel Gilpin Robinson Papers, Rokeby Museum.

xxv. Rachel Gilpin Robinson to Ann King, 9 January 1844. Ann King Papers, Rokeby Museum.


* This paper was published in Passages to Freedom: The Underground Railroad in History and Memory, edited by David Blight (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 2004). The book is no longer in print.