appoquinimink friends meeting house
They rode beneath vegetables in hay wagons; they came packed in shipping crates; they ran through the swamps in the night, reaching for the light in the distant window, the bounty hunter hot on their heels. The Appoquinimink Friends Meeting House, in Odessa, Del., provided a safe hiding place when you were a slave running up from the South for your freedom, where you could get food, clean, dry clothing, money and be guided on your way to the next stop. The Meeting House, added to The Network to Freedom in 2008 by the National Park Service, was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
This, one of the smallest Friends Meeting Houses in the nation, placed on the National Historic Register in 1972, has just one room with a small room upstairs. There are no windows along the pent eaves on the sides of the building. Local Quakers, some at the expense of getting caught and losing their own property, hid runaway slaves in a small alcove under the eaves, pictured here. Prominent among them was conductor Thomas Garrett, born in 1789 on his family’s farm, Thornfield, west of Philadelphia. The Garrett family held abolitionist beliefs. When Thomas was a boy, a family paid servant was abducted by men intent on selling her as a slave in the South. The men were tracked down and she was returned. Thomas never forgot the incident, though, and it served to intensify his abolitionist beliefs. Coincidentally, I grew up in Drexel Hill, Pa., on land that was once Thornfield. The Garrett home still stands and is open for tours.
You might imagine then, what a curious phenomenon I found at age 10, when our family moved from Drexel Hill 30 miles south to Wilmington, Del., to encounter segregation — separate water fountains, restrooms, schools, movie theaters…. Delaware was a border state during the Civil War, divided. Indeed, before the War, many runaway slaves hidden in the Appoquinimink Meeting House came from plantations in lower Delaware and the adjacent Eastern Shore of Maryland. Here is a link to the magazine story I wrote about The Appoquinimink Friends Meeting House and the Underground Railroad: The Quest.
Hannah Whiteall Smith was also a part of the friends and she wrote a book that is still being read by some people to this day. I have read her book, The Christian Secret of a Happy Life, and marvelled at her wisdom. I believe she was born in 1832 in Germantown, Penn. (Not sure about that).
Thank you for highlighting this in your 5 Day Challenge. Many people are unaware of the number of people that helped with the Underground Railroad. Many people of my colour survived and were not recaptured or hung because of the people who were willing to risk there lives to help..
The name Hannah Whiteall Smith is familiar, Patricia. I may have encountered her in one of my readings or video documentaries. I try to read and watch everything I can on the slaves, bolitionists and the Underground Railroad. There are alcoves in walls of buildings in our town, and buildings, that are believed to have been on the Network to Freedom, though nothing has yet been proved.
This is an integral and monumental part of our history that of course we weren’t taught in school. I have William Still’s book (the abridged version) and a few related others here in my home library. How brave and wise those people were. I am awed.
As an aside, Germantown is a section in the northwest area of Phila., the “Quaker City.” My paternal great grandparents lived there for a time. Though my great grandparents died before I was born, I remember as a small child hearing my grandparents discuss the Civil War. They must have heard stories from my great grandparents, who were born in the 1850s. I was too young to understand or recall what they discussed. Too bad there are no hidden tapes. 😉
The photo of the space under the Friends Meeting House here doesn’t do it justice. You can’t stand up in it. It is very small. I held my film camera at the opening and fortunately got this good picture.
Nor did I know, I must add, that I grew up on land that was part of Thornfield, the Garrett farm. Of course, many things in the area are named Garrett, including Garrett Road, that we traveled often; yet I didn’t know at that time who Thomas Garrett was. Even though we lived on what once was his family land and I attended school on that land, we never studied him. Also, the Methodists and others did much to help the abolitionist cause, but that wasn’t the focus of my story here.
Good on Thomas Garrett and others of his ilk who did what they could to prevent slaves being sold. Sadly, for many a long while, we had the same thing here in South Africa, whites and blacks for separate entrances and exits, loos, beaches, buses and heavens knows what else while we lived under apartheid. Now there is no such thing but the memories linger on.
I will read the link to the magazine article on this Samantha at a later stage thank you for providing it (load shedding keeps on happening – black outs, in the middle of winter). Keep on crusading with your pen; these are stories that need to be told.
Thanks, Susan. The only blacks I knew growing up were our housemaids. Then, I moved to Washington, D.C., and worked with a green-eyed, light-skinned beautiful woman who told me her stories of growing up in Northern Virginia (across the Potomac from D.C.), having to ride in the back of the bus even when there were seats up front, and traveling with her family through the South — you had to plan well where you could stop for food, restrooms and gasoline.
Thankfully, much of that kind of discrimination is in the past.
Thanks. I’ll keep writing them; these stories are important to be told, as you say.
Hi Samantha … it is sad – yet heritage and life stories are built on these eras. Thankfully some escaped and got free again … this reminds me of Solomon Northrup in 12 Years a Slave – who was a black man born free … but was re-enslaved … very good film – interesting history to be reminded/told about.
But checking up on Solomon Northrup – because I knew about the violinist .. but couldn’t remember ‘from where’ exactly … I found a story about a slave who settled in Cornwall and performed around Cornwall, rather than risk going to London. Fascinating – I’d never heard of him either … I might write about him at some stage.
Thanks – great story line .. cheers Hilary
Hi Hilary — Yes “12 Years a Slave” captures (as it were) this story completely. In 1850 our U.S. Congress enacted The Fugitive Slave Act, as you may know, mandating that all runaway slaves, even in the North, be captured and returned South. If a Northern sheriff didn’t capture one he knew to be a slave, then the sheriff was heavily fined.
One former slave, Frederick Douglass, spoke for abolition, and went to live in London, I believe, so he wouldn’t get caught, even though by then he was a free man. He loved the English and they loved him. He stayed for many years, but was eventually drawn back to work for the cause. After the end of our Civil War, Frederick Douglass spoke at our local Smyrna (Delaware) Opera House, for which I volunteer these days.
Do write about the slave who settled and performed in Cornwall. I’d love to know it.
Thanks so much for coming by. I enjoy your visits.
The really sad part is this almost sounds like the Jews hiding from Nazi Germany. It is so sad that treating people so badly is a part of our history. Excellent post.
The same story repeats itself, Gwynn. This is why I chose to write on this subject, for the deeper meaning, hoping that somebody in addition to you will read it and take thought. This is my personal crusade as my fingers ride the battlefields of history upon the pen.
Thanks for your complimentary comment.