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Digital Bookshelf: Recollections

Rutherford Family (1845)

Members of the Rutherford family were some of the leading abolitionists and white Underground Railroad operatives in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania region. Notable figures included William and Samuel Rutherford. This episode receives frequent mention in local histories of the Underground Railroad.

Henry “Box” Brown (1849)

Henry “Box” Brown’s escape from slavery in March 1849 was probably the best known of his era, mostly because it was so unusual and dramatic. Brown and a brave friend (Samuel A. Smith) literally shipped him in a box from Richmond to Philadelphia. His miraculous survival captivated the northern public. Eventually, Brown became a popular lecturer and performer in England before he finally returned to the U.S. in the 1870s. William Still was present at Brown’s “resurrection” in Philadelphia and re-told the story in his 1872 monograph on the Underground Railroad.'

William Parker’s Story (1851)

William Parker was an escaped slave from Maryland who had settled in southern Lancaster County and became a leader of the local black community. Parker spearheaded much of the resistance against slave-catchers and kidnappers whose activities constantly threatened black residents in the region. It was William Parker, more than anyone else, who was the leader of the resistance at Christiana in September 1851. The excerpts from this recollection, which was ghostwritten for Parker, describes some of his background and his version of the events on September 11, 1851 that led to the death of Edward Gorsuch. Parker escaped from Lancaster County after the riot and eventually resettled to Canada with his family.

Dr. Thomas Bayne (1855)

One of the more memorable stories of the Underground Railroad concern a black dentist named Sam Nixon who later became known as Dr. Thomas Bayne (c.1824-1888). Dr. Bayne began his life as a slave named Sam in North Carolina who escaped, but was eventually captured and purchased by local dentist in Norfolk, Virginia. The dentist, impressed by Sam’s intelligence, trained him in the profession. Sam Nixon, who was literate and obviously gifted, later told William Still that his owner had not only taught him about the practice of dentistry, but also allowed him to keep the firm’s books and make house-calls all over the town. This independence allowed Nixon (Bayne) to work covertly as an agent for the Underground Railroad, helping fugitives find schooner captains who would carry them to Philadelphia.

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