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.