Seeking Freedom—Stories and Tales of Helping Slaves
Want to learn about how Upper Valley community members helped slaves get to Canada and freedom? Thetford (VT) Elementary School was the place for a fascinating and informative talk on the Underground Railroad by author and educator Michelle Arnosky Sherburne earlier this evening (April 11, 2019).
Author Michelle Arnovsky Sherborne shows a photo of a slave collar found under the granite front step of a home in S. Woodstock.
Interestingly, according to Arnosky Sherburne, Lyme, NH and Thetford, VT were unusual among towns on the Underground Railroad, a moniker so named because it was a pathway for slaves to move from the southern U.S. through the Northeast and on into Canada where slavery didn't exist and slaves couldn't be pursued by their owners. It wasn't a real railroad, but a network of people and homes that passed slaves from place to place—on foot, by carriage, under hay bales in hay wagons at night—each time getting them farther north to freedom. Thetford and Lyme had networks of many people and houses within each town. Most other towns along the Railroad merely had a single house or person willing to help. So, from the early days, these two towns on opposite sides of the Connecticut River worked together to help others in danger and in need.
One of the slides presented shows a vast network from Texas to Maine that formed the Underground Railroad.
Books by Arnosky Sherburne—she's written four in four years on slavery and the Underground Railroad!
The VT Standard reported on the 2001 find of this rare slave color, a weighty object and artifact. Grueling to wear due to its weight.
Back in the 1800's, if you even said slavery was a bad thing here in VT or NH, you risked a great deal, including being considered a radical, unpatriotic, or a traitor. You'd have jeopardized your family, your business, and, if you were a public figure, you may have lost your job and social standing. Priests, even in VT, lost their pulpits, and people were removed from their church's for stating they were anti-slavery. There were riots on State Street in Montpelier in 1835 when a church held a service run by a minister who was a slavery abolitionist. Yet, the Underground Railroad thrived here in VT and NH, with people choosing to do the right thing for slaves despite the risks to themselves and their families. Vermont, however, was the first state in the nation to abolish slavery.
The speaker describes a photo of a prominent house in Lyme, NH that housed and helped slaves.
Arnosky Sherburne conveyed a great deal of information in her one hour talk. I'd have stayed for more if she had kept going, and I was interested to ask some questions, but she had plenty of people clamoring for her attention. What I learned was that there was a Quaker network throughout Vermont that helped slaves move northward. There were no maps and no directions given to slaves. It was all done by passing a slave to the next person on the Railroad. Trust was huge. People wanted to help. And this bit of history has made us what we are here in the Upper Valley today, a strong and vibrant community that cares for one another, particularly in times of great need. I'm happy to live here and be your neighbor.
Steve Niederhauser of the Thetford Historical Society introduces the evening's speaker. This is part of a regular Thursday program of events
Dave Celone of E. Thetford, VT writes as Poetic Licence here on the dailyuv.com on many things great and small that impact the Upper Valley region of NH and VT. Please leave a comment or question below if you wish. And please do click on the blue Subscribe button at top to sign up to receive the occasional post from PoeticLicence in your email inbox. Thanks for reading!