William T. Kelley: The Underground Railroad in the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delaware

Published in the Friends Intelligencer  55 (1898): 238, 264-5, 379.  William T. Kelley was born near Preston, Maryland, Fourth Month 19, 1828, the son of Jonah Kelley, a minister in the Society of Friends. Kelley was an elder of North Fork Monthly Meeting. He died at his home near Preston, Ninth Month 14, 1902 [Friends Intelligencer 59 (1902): 679]

            The history given in the INTELLIGENCER by Dr. Magill, of the Underground Railroad, with is pathetic closing, the capture of Basil Dorsey, and of his trail, has been exceedingly touching and interesting. [1] But I regret that so able a writer should have begun at the middle, and not at the beginning of his subject. I think that an addition to his account, starting from the beginning of the fugitives’ trip in the South that would be equally worthy to be recorded, as here it was that it “tried men’s souls.” If no one else supplements Dr. Magill’s account, I will try to add some things that came mostly within my own knowledge, leaving to others whatever they may wish to add, for there were other underground routes, especially in Ohio and Indiana, from Kentucky.

Our settlement, Northwest Fork Monthly Meeting of Friends, in Maryland, is the most southern of our branch, being one hundred miles south of the Pennsylvania line, and only twenty miles from Cambridge, the most southern end of the fugitive’s route. And as our friend has clearly shown that it was almost entirely run though Pennsylvania by Friends, so it was here through this peninsula, -- the “Eastern Shore” of Maryland and Delaware. There were some good colored men, also, who were agents. Unfortunately, there were others who would sell—betray- their own color for gold, and at least one have of the poor fugitives who started for the North were captured and sent to slave prisons, to be sold to “negro traders,” to go to Georgia and other places, to work in rice swamps or on cotton plantations. In Georgia, it was computed that slaves under the overseer, with his “cat o’nine tails,” – a whip that had nine cords, that would bring the blood from bared backs at every stroke, -- would live an average of seven to fourteen years. This was shocking for humanity to contemplate—a system of murder by degrees.

            Cambridge, in Dorchester county, Maryland, was the most southern point at which I have any knowledge of an agent, one of our Friends, ever living, yet there were fugitives from beyond, who came to us, inquiring for “the Quakers,” Nearly sixty years ago, there lived in Cambridge, an eminent and good man, and later on in his life Maryland greatest “Abolitionist,” the friend and advisor, not only of the poor slave, but also to President Lincoln; -- the poorest in the land, and the most exalted sought his advice. His name was Francis S. Corkran, the father-in-law of our friend, Eli M. Lamb, of Baltimore. [2] He was suspected of being an agent, and learning that his life was in danger, he left Cambridge for Baltimore, where he suffered severe persecution, -- mobs, clothing torn from his back, loss of many thousand dollars in costs, and perhaps imprisonment. Part of this was for rescuing a slave girl, but in after years it was clearly proved (as he always thought), that she had been kidnapped and, was of free birth.

            The Northern States had only one slavery law, the “fugitive law,” but the Southern States had many. Our lives and homes were at all times in jeopardy, and it was no wonder that we here in the South despised the system as northern men could not do. We felt what they could not feel. Yet, as far as my knowledge extends, not a single Friend ever advised a slave to leave his master or mistress, but rather did advise, considering the great risks to run, that it might be better for them to remain, and be more obedient to their masters, and then we hoped their masters would treat them more kindly. But whenever they did come to us, with a full determination to brave all risks, often showing evidences of cruelty, sometimes even in tattered garments stained with blood, not one of us, notwithstanding the great risks we had to run, ever refused to take them in. We fed, we clothed, and directed them onwards toward the North Star, which we particularly requested them  to learn which it was, -- that it would surely guide them northward. We often conveyed them to other Friends, but they often traveled along, through swamps and by-ways. Public roads were avoided. We sometimes hired trusty colored men to go with them.

            Nearly fifty years ago, one Daniel Hubbard, a worthy free colored man, a ship carpenter who stood some six and a half feet high, had accumulated a nice little farm in our neighborhood, which should have been home for himself, wife and children. But by the laws of Maryland no colored man could then own land, nor could it descend to his children by legal title. Some fugitives coming to the home of my father, Jonah Kelley, -- doubtless many may yet remember him as a worthy minister in our Society, and a strong anti-slavery man, -- these fugitives were directed to Daniel’s house. As many “slave catchers” were known to be on ahead of them, and the owner offered a large reward for their recapture, our colored friend deemed it best to secrete these fugitives a few days, and did so, but often a watch was kept on us all, sometimes for days and weeks together. So in this case, the fugitives were captured, and Hubbard barely escaped lynching, and became at once a fugitive himself to save his life. He fled to Philadelphia, leaving his wife and children to follow him as best they could. He lost most of his several years’ hard earnings, but in Philadelphia he again became a prominent man among his color before he died. [3]

            Some time before the circumstances last narrated, Joe. Ennals, of Dorchester county, who lived ten miles below us, a prominent slaveholder and “negro trader,” said to have been at one time a member of the Legislature of Maryland, (on his farm was the celebrated Ennals’s Spring, where Methodists for many years held their camp meeing), -- this Ennals lost some of his slaves, and it was said they were conveyed from here to the next station or settlement of Friends by Arthur Leaverton, of whom I shall speak later. One of them arrived safely in Philadelphia, but there he was betrayed and captured, and the noted Isaac T. Hopper was sent for to attend the trial.

            It is many years since I read the account of the trial, but if  I mistake not, it was in the main as follows: When the trial was about to commence, Isaac T. Hopper soon learned that the fugitive was really Joe Ennals’s slave and that he had plenty of evidence to prove it. An effort was therefore made to purchase his liberty, and the price was agreed upon, but when the money was about to be raised, Ennals refused to sell at any price. Isaac then determined that the slave should not go back into bondage. Seeing that the judge’s mind was not clear, Isaac asked for a postponement, to get witnesses, as was supposed, in the fugitive’s favor, telling the judge that he would enter into a bond “to the State of Pennsylvania,” in the sum of fifteen hundred dollars, to deliver the fugitive into court at ten o’clock next morning. This the judge agreed to. The bond was made out and duly signed, and Isaac and the colored man departed. Next morning Isaac was at the place of trial walking around, and when the case was called the judge asked for the man. Isaac replied that he “had been looking around the court-room, but that he could not see him there,” and intimated to the judge that if he did not make his appearance soon, he supposed he would have to pay fifteen hundred dollars, “whenever the State demanded it of him.” There was a commotion in the court room! Ennals’s council and the judge reached for the bond. Here they were dumbfounded; the bond was given to the State and not to Ennals.

            The claimant had been outwitted. The character of Isaac T. Hopper was too well known for the slave-holder ever to expect to see his human property again, and having been at great expense with his rewards, his deputy slave catchers, the trial, etc., and being one hundred and fifty miles from his home, among “Abolitionists,” the next morning he hunted Isaac up, and then was willing to sell. In consideration of all the circumstances, Isaac offered him about one-fourth of his first offer, and this Ennals accepted. The emancipation paper was made out and the money paid, and the slave-holder left Philadelphia a wiser, and probably a sadder man. [4]

Jacob Leaverton and his wife, Hannah W. Leaverton, the latter a minister among Friends, were noted Abolitionists. Their home was the main stopping place for the Underground R.R. in our neighborhood. They were descendants of the band of “New Quakers,” or Nicholites, who were noted Abolitionists of the this county (Caroline) during the last century. [5] This was before the birth of the martyred Elijah P. Lovejoy, or William H. Seward, Charles Sumner, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, or President Lincoln. One morning, during wheat harvest, whilst a number of hands were at breakfast, a bright colored girl walked up and was seen by all. She had blood stains on her garments caused by punishment. Some one in the company had seen her before. She was taken in, fed, and clothed. That night Jacob’s carriage was seen on the road going northward, though no one inside was recognized. The next morning the slave-owner traced the fugitive and called at Jacob’s house, inquiring for his slave girl. Jacob said in substance that he supposed she had been there, and that he had carried out the Scriptural injunction, that he “took her in, fed her, gave her another garment, instead of her bloody one, and let her pass on.” For these things he was sued and the slave owner had many witnesses summoned. The case was removed to another county for trial and postponed for several years before it came up. Jacob had counsel employed, but in part pled his case, and quoted to the court several scriptural injunctions, one of which was “Thou shalt not deliver to his master the servant that has escaped from his master unto thee.” But the case went against him, costing him one or two farms to settle it. More than that, attending court in inclement weather, and being an old man, he was taken sick and soon passed away.

            The trial made many friends to the cause. The appearance of a plain old Friend in court, with his broad beaver hat on, pleading the cause of humanity, was an object lesson. After the trial, some liberated their slaves, some others willed them to be free at their death.

            Hannah Leaverton later moved out west to a son’s, in Indianapolis. She was called a beautiful speaker, was a very large woman, and she was much afflicted before she went West, where she died, I think, about 1860.

            Some sixty years ago there lived in Philadelphia a high-spirited young man, richly endowed by nature, both mentally and physically. He visited his sister, that spiritually minded and lovely woman, Patience Hunn Jenkins, of Camden, Del., then young in the ministry among Friends. [6] The brother was John Hunn, and on leaving his sister, she caught hold of him and said, “Throw off they Babylonish garment, and I am lead to believe that if thee is faithful, thee will also be made a preacher.” [7] This dear sister’s remarks doubtless made a deep impression on him, and soon after his return to Philadelphia he took the costly cloak to a tailor and had a whole suit of plain clothes made out of it, and the next time she met him he was in a plain Friends’ garb, with a broad-brim hat on. The two came together and visited our meetings in Caroline, and though a mere boy, I well remembered that he preached, and it then appeared to me that he was the most remarkable man I had ever seen or heard. He was a handsome, tall, and in person finely developed,-- a “Nature’s nobleman.” His hair was as black as a raven, his manner the most courteous and humble, and as gentle as a child. I still remember his text; my impression is that the sermon was the first he ever preached: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, he hath sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captive, recovery of sight to the blind, and set at liberty them that are bruised; to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”

            After meeting, John Hunn and his sister Patience took dinner at my father’s, and I saw the suit of clothes. He had them on, and I heard the sister tell what she said to him about the “Babylonish garment,” and her impression that he “would also have to preach.” (These, as I remember, were the words or the substance.) After this visit John Hunn often visited us. He found a fruitful field here for his doctrines. His voice was of a rich, mellow accent, not high, but fatherly, and his thrusts into creeds, hirelings, and slave-holding oppression, were keen and searching, and when wrapped in a prophetic vision, as he saw in the future abolition of slavery, and in his denunciation of the creeds of men, he was as fearless as a lion. The five Friends’ meetings,-- Marshy Creek, Center, Northwest Fork, Neck, and Bridgetown or Tuckahoe, -- almost made Caroline an abolition county, and it had but few slaves, while its surrounding counties, Talbot, Dorchester, Queen Anne, and Sussex in Delaware, had their thousands. One man alone, it is said, Colonel Lloyd’s father, in Talbot county, had at one time “nine hundred and ninty-nine, and that he left home one morning to purchase another to make one thousand, but on his return with his slave he was met by some one and informed that in his absence one of them had died, so that the thousand was still one short.

            In my day it has been more to John Hunn’s labors and preaching that the Underground Railroad was kept running through Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland than to any other person. After his marriage and settlement on a farm at or near Cantwell’s Bridge, (Odessa), in Delaware, hundreds flocked to him to save them from the galling chains of slavery, and it was there that the noted case of Samuel Hawkins and family came to him, in 1845, from William Hardcastle, of Queen Ann county, Maryland. John Hunn and Thomas Garrett, of Wilmington, were sued over this case, and it was tried by the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Judge Taney, in 1848 (two years before the Dred Scott decision), who fined them “to the extent of very dollar they possessed in the world.” Here “thousands of dollars were swept from John Hunn at a stroke,” and he and his family ruined. A report of the case is given in “The Underground Railroad, a Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters,” etc. by William Still, of Philadelphia, published in 1871. [8]

            Preston, Md.                                                                          William T. Kelley.

           



[1]   Edward H. Magill, “The Underground Railroad,” Friends Intelligencer 55 (1898): 124-5, 142-4,  159-61, 180-1, originally given as a lecture to the Bucks County Historical Society, and later published in a more complete version as “When Men Were Sold, Reminiscences of the Underground Railroad in Bucks County and Its Managers,”  in A Collection of Papers Read Before the Bucks County Historical Society 2 (1909): 493-520.

[2]   Possibly Francis S. Cockran, died 11 Mo. 13, 1886, aged 72, at Lutherville, Baltimore County, Maryland, a member of Baltimore Monthly, see Friends Intelligencer 43 (11 Month 20, 1886): 744; Eli Matthews Lamb, died 1 Month 25, 191l, see Friends Intelligencer 68 (1911): 77.

[3]   For a contemporary account, see Friends Intelligencer 15 (3 Month 27, 1858): 24-25.

[4]   Lydia M. Child, Isaac M. Hopper: A True Life  (Boston: Jewett, 1854)  records two incidents involving a Joseph Ennells, the first, pp. 82-88, in 1802; and the second, 126-9, undated.  Neither incident matches the description given by Preston. Child does include an 1808 case, pp. 149-57, involving a $1000 bond to the United States. In this incident, the individual attempting to recover a fugitive is described as a “planter from Virginia.”

[5] See Kenneth L. Carroll, Joseph Nichols and the Nicholites (Easton, Maryland, 1962).

[6] Prudence Hunn Jenkins, born 8 Month 23, 1805, daughter of Ezekiel and Tabitha Newell Hunn, Kent County, Delaware; married George W. Jenkins, who died in 1833; married Jabez Jenkins in 1835; acknowledged as a minister in 1844; died 4 Month 27, 1884, at Camden, Delaware, see Friends Intelligencer 41 ( 5 Month 17, 1884): 218, and 42 (6 Month 27, 1885): 314-5.

[7]   John Hunn, born 6 Month 25, 1818; “an abolitionist from his 27th year”;  died 7 Month 6, 1894, Friends Intelligencer  51 (8 Month 11, 1894): 505-6.

[8] William Still, The Underground Railroad (Reprint: Chicago: Johnson, 1970): 649-50, 741-5; see also James A. McGowan, Station Master on the Underground Railroad: The Life and Letters of Thomas Garrett (Moylan, Pennsylvania: Whimsie Press, 1977): 48-69, for a modern evaluation of the sources.