Just a reminder that February is Black History Month. Come visit the Underground Railroad display featuring Catherine Harris. Catherine was born in 1809, in Meadville, Pennsylvania, and was born a “free woman.” Catherine and her daughter moved to Jamestown from Buffalo in 1831. In 1835 Catherine married her second husband John Harris and they moved to a small house on W. Seventh Street.
Catherine Harris earned a living as a seamstress, maid, washerwoman, and nanny in Jamestown. She also ran a stop on the Underground Railroad. Although her house was small, 16 feet in length, she was able to shelter up to 17 freedom seekers in her attic. The freedom seekers were escaped slaves from other states brought to her by white abolitionists. Catherine would hide them, clothe and feed them until they were taken to the next link in the chain of Underground Railroads. The goal of the freedom seekers was to cross over into Canada. Very few escaped slaves remained in the area because the bounty hunters were always on the lookout for those who had escaped slavery.
The Underground Railroad is misunderstood by many people. One had to be secretive if they had any part in assisting the “fugitives.” There were people who sympathized with the abolition movement, but it was still illegal to help or be involved with the Underground Railroad. It was a moral issue verses a legal issue. Assisting a fugitive could get you arrested. Many church congregations were torn apart over this issue. Remember that you could own slaves in the state of New York.
A myth about stops on the Underground Railroad: The houses connected with the Underground Railroad did not have underground tunnels. The freedom seekers would hide in barns, lofts, attics and root cellars. People will tout that their old house was part of the Underground Railroad because they find an old root cellar, however, with research the owners find out that their house was built after the Civil War.
Please visit our Underground Railroad exhibit in the lower level of the Fenton History Center. The museum is open Monday- Saturday, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm.
Authors note; My family in Chagrin Falls, Ohio were abolitionists and their house was a stop on the Underground Railroad. They hid the freedom seekers in their upstairs loft.