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Tour of Underground Railroad sites planned Sunday near Mansfield

February 12, 2008
MANSFIELD — Former university professor Ron Remy will conduct a tour of several ‘‘Underground Railroad’’ sites in the borough this weekend.

The tour will meet at the McDonald’s Restaurant at 2 p.m. Sunday and take about an hour, Remy said.

Remy, 71, a retired education professor, also is a history buff and member of the Pennsylvania Bucktails, a Civil War re-enactment group which marches in parades and provides gun salutes at various veteran’s holiday events.

He will lead whoever is interested on the tour up North Main Street to two houses it is said were used by original residents to hide escaped slaves during the Civil War years, as well as through the nearby Prospect Street Cemetery, where several Civil War soldiers are buried.

‘‘This is part of what we are doing for Black History Month,’’ Remy said.

The stories of escaped slaves staying at so-called ‘‘safe houses’’ in the borough is all word of mouth, passed down from one generation to the next, according to Remy.

‘‘What they were doing was illegal so they didn’t document it in any way,’’ he explained.

Violators of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 faced a $1,000 fine and a year in the county jail, Remy said.

The length of time escaped slaves were reported to have stayed at the two homes, both among the oldest in the borough, would vary, but usually no more than a day or two, depending on how far they had to travel to get to the next safe house, he said.

One of the safe houses was the Ezra Davis house at 304 N. Main St., built in 1834.

‘‘Safe houses were identified by a lit candle in the window’’ he said.

Remy, whose grandparents were part of the Underground Railroad in California, Pa., said in addition to research in the National Archives, and conversations with local historian Chester Bailey, he also spoke with Bessie Griffin, the granddaughter of John Howe, about 10 years ago when she was 104.

The house where Howe lived upstairs, at 241 N. Main St., was the Henry Allen house and he was said to have hidden slaves in the attic of the house.

Allen was an attorney and one-time mayor of the borough.

According to one of the stories, a slave girl who was probably in her late teens passed away in the Davis house after being brought there via the ‘‘railroad.’’

‘‘No one knows how she died, but it was probably illness,’’ Remy said, as conditions for runaway slaves, especially in winter, were harsh.

The unnamed girl was said to be buried in the Davis family plot of the cemetery, though there is no grave marker to indicate it.

Most escaped slaves’ comings and goings were never seen during the daylight hours, Remy said.

‘‘They probably came up the rail line from Blossburg and avoided coming up Main Street so they wouldn’t be seen, and it was probably at night,’’ he said.

The runaway slaves risked being caught by the ‘‘slave catchers,’’ hired by southern plantation owners to bring them back.

Though it often ran along railroad tracks, the Underground Railroad was not always along a rail line, but rather was a multi-state network of safe houses and people willing to provide shelter for runaway slaves from the south, oftentimes fleeing for their lives.

Many of the thousands of slaves who fled slavery during the Civil War years passed through the borough, Remy said, as this is one of the most often used routes, starting in Washington D.C., traversing through the state to Harrisburg, then north to Williamsport and the northern tier communities and then on to Elmira and Canandaigua, N.Y. eventually leading to freedom in Canada.

One other safe house was located in Covington and one in Tioga, he added.

The grave of a black Civil War soldier who lived in Mansfield is marked only by his last name, ‘‘Brown,’’ with the letters U.S. C.T. are inscribed on the bottom of the stone, which mean ‘‘Colored Troops.’’

Also included on the tour will be the gravesites of several other Civil War soldiers from the borough.



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