It was one of the best kept secrets in history. A secret route that spanned 40 years. The underground railroad, was a path to freedom. A path that traveled right through Pennsylvania. From the deep south to Canada routes varied and stops changed over a span of 40 years.
The underground railroad consisted of a group of safe houses that would work together to move slaves from one destination to another. Among their destinations were stops in Pennsylvania.
“ Pennsylvania, based on its geographic location really became a major player in the underground railroad and a lot of slaves were coming up right over the Mason Dixon Line and the legacy associated between Pennsylvania and Maryland,” says Daniel Roe, Director of Education at the York County Heritage Trust
Locally, York and Adams counties have homes that have been documented as stops along the underground railroad.
“ York kind of emerged as one of the last dropping off points before crossing the Susquehanna River so there was a lot of activity here locally,” says Roe
The Goodrich House and the Willis House are two homes in York county where slaves would be welcomed. Adams County also has documented stop known as McAllister’s Mill and William Wright’s home. Those who opened up their home to slaves faced serious consequences if they were caught.
“Persons who aided or hindered person’s coming up from the south trying to retrieve their property could face imprisonment up to six months , or $1,000 fine is about $28,000 in today’s money,” says Wayne Motts, CEO, The Civil War Museum
Historians agree on the legitimacy of some stops along the Underground Railroad. But places like the Dobbin House in Gettysburg have yet to be documented even though legend has it that crawl spaces there were used to hide slaves.
“ Not a lot of information has been found on the Underground Railroad which makes a lot of sense because why it wouldn’t be ,” says Roe
With all that secrecy it may even be surprising as to how slaves knew where to stop along the Underground Railroad.
“ People speculated that people would paint a white circle on their chimney or they hang a sheet out at a certain location but more likely there were agents that assist people coming through this area,” says Timothy Smith, Research Historian at the Adams County Historical Society
The Underground Railroad was a thread that ran through our region that ended up becoming part of the fabric of our history.
“ It’s a lot of local lore and legend. Some of it’s myth some of it’s fact that you try to piece together to try and come up with the full story,” says Roe