The Road That Led To Somewhere by Dr. Bryan E. Walls
I would first like to thank, professor Kim Davis director of the Adrian College Sojourner Truth Technical Training Center, a comprehensive center for Underground Railroad Research Training and the first of its kind in the United States. The John Freeman Walls Historic Site and Underground Railroad Museum is honored to be a partner with Adrian College, the Sojourner Truth Institute and the International Network to Freedom Association in this innovative, and visionary project.
The Underground Railroad is one of the most important stories in North American history that has a message for us today. Every good story has a beginning, middle, and end. The end had names of places such as Adrian Michigan and the John Freeman Walls farm, outside of Windsor on land purchased from the Refugee home Society and the abolitionist, Henry Bibb.
(Where have we been, where are we going, and how can we make a difference?)
In 1793 John Graves Simcoe, the First Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada as Ontario was first called, said during the first legislative assembly at Niagara-on-the-Lake, “There should no longer be discrimination between those of African Ancestry and those of European Ancestry.” Until then there had been enslavement in Upper Canada, but because of the passing of this legislation, enslavement was curtailed and eventually abolished completely. Finally the fugitive enslaved of the nineteenth century had somewhere to run to and the Underground Railroad Freedom Movement began. The Underground Railroad was not a train running under the ground from the South to the North, but a secret network of good people helping others to freedom in the Northern United States and Canada. It was also The First Great Freedom Movement in the Americas and the first time that people black and white and of different races and faiths worked in harmony for freedom, justice and the tolerance of the differences of others. The unparalleled hardships that the fugitives faced as enslaved became insignificant compared to the joys brought by their taste of freedom. My great-great-grandfather John Freeman Walls experienced this taste of freedom.
Today, we see that intolerance and hate still exist as was exemplified by the tragic events of September 11, 2001 and we must ask ourselves “Where are we going?” We must look to history for part of the answer. The Underground Railroad history tells us that we must continue to strive for a world of peace, harmony and tolerance of the differences of others.
In my discussion today of Underground Railroad Freedom Movement, I will reference excerpts from my research for The Key to The Road That Led to
Somewhere. More specifically how it relates to Underground Railroad Activities on the Maritime Great Lakes, and my ancestors escape to the Toledo, Ohio; Adrian, Michigan area and then on to Canada.
This manuscript presents the original facts and documents upon which The Road That Led to Somewhere is founded. This book tells the story of my ancestors journey on the Underground Railroad, from Rockingham County, North Carolina to the Refugee Home Society in Ontario, Canada in 1846. It is my purpose to, by the end of my presentation, satisfy both head intellect and heart.
All Aboard: At the entrance to the John Freeman Walls Historic Site and
Underground Railroad Museum of Ontario Canada, there is an historic plaque that reads:
(Appendix #1). In 1846 John Freeman Walls, a fugitive slave from North Carolina, built this log cabin on land purchased from the Refugee Home Society. This organization was founded by the abolitionists Henry Bibb, publisher of the Voice of the Fugitive, and the famous Josiah Henson. The cabin, subsequently served as a terminal of the underground railroad and the first meeting place of the Puce Baptist Church. Although many former slaves returned to the United States following the American Civil War, Walls and his family chose to remain in Canada. The story of their struggles, forms the basis of the book “The Road That Led To Somewhere” by Dr. Bryan E. Walls.
This untold true story of United States and Canadian History, centers around the
twenty acre piece of property that was part of the Refugee Home Society holding at Puce
River in Essex County, Canada West. The property has been in our family now for five
generations. After purchasing the property from my Aunt Stella in 1976, I recall her telling me to go into the log cabin and get a letter from an old trunk. The letter was dated
December the 19th, 1854, and reads as follows: (Appendix #2) (Actual spelling used)
Respected friends I embrace this opportunity of writing a few words we are well I have not been healthy of late there has been the flux and that colerd man died with colary and several more that came here to see thee. I wish you to write how you are satisfied we have a boy boarding going to school and he wants to go to Canida some time we have not had any account from you of late
Your well wishing friend:
To John and Jane Walls
I wish you to wright to me soon and let me know how you are satisfied and how you are gitting along.
Ephraim and Mary Stout, were Quaker abolitionists in Indiana. The Quakers keep
very good records and they can be found in the Spiceland meetings and Fairfield meeting of their genealogical records. In the letter the Stouts were letting my ancestors know that they were sending passengers on the Underground Railroad, and if they made it to Canada to
give them some help and hospitality.
Aunt Stella passed away in 1988, at 102 years of age, but not before telling me many
stories of old time things which became the pages of The Road That Led to Somewhere.
She was a wonderful lady, who in my quest for thoroughness and accuracy, was of great benefit. She was twenty-three when John and Jane died, she remembered much of what they had told her, and agreed to meet with a lawyer and sign a statutory declaration of truth. My grandfather Frank Walls who was nine when John and Jane died, also signed a
declaration of truth as he too was able to remember much of what he was told.
In order to turn family legend into verifiable family history I have continued to
research, the result being this 132 page manuscript of documented facts, that will soon be
published as a companion to my book, the preface reads.
Companion Volume to “The Road That Led To Somewhere”
In this work the genealogical research behind the book “The Road That Led To
Somewhere,” is unveiled.
Genealogical researchers, Dr. Bryan E. Walls and Reverend Floyd B. Walls agree with what the Hon. William Jay wrote in the 19th century about Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. “It is more easy to make, than refute a charge of exaggeration against a work of historical significance, and dramatic truth; but this book is as impregnable against such a charge, as Euclid's Geometry, since, like that, it consists of propositions and demonstrations. The book is not only true, but unquestionably true.”
The Road That Led To Somewhere is an important, unique and unquestionably true
story, also. The following is a mosaic of facts to address demands not usually made on a literary work. However, The Road That Led To Somewhere has a purpose to entirely transcend the artistic one. It tells a story, without historical grudges, that weaves conflict and resolution; romance and tragedy into a unique book. A book that binds two countries and diverse people together with love.
The author will now begin at mile 1 and proceed along the course of the story, from
the first page, and develop, as far as necessary, the plethora of facts that prove the truth of
Aunt Stella, my grandfather Frank and others were not given to exaggeration,
regarding the stories that they shared about escape on the Underground Railroad on land
or the Maritime Great Lakes. Let me now refer to Aunt Stella’s own words by sharing
pertinent excerpts from her statutory declaration of truth: (Appendix #3)
The statutory declaration of truth made concrete the fact that John and Jane
desired to enter into an interracial marriage (Appendix 4-5), and knew that they could not
remain in North Carolina during slavery. A law was passed in 1715 in North Carolina that
forbade and criminalized African-Americans and White marriages. In 1838 another North
Carolina marriage law declared void all interracial marriages to 3rd generation.
Aunt Stella also mentioned something about a boat called the Pearl captained by a
Mr. Sloan. And said that John and Jane and other slaves that they had aided had come to
Amherstburg on the Pearl.
I had heard of the story of the 77 slaves who in 1848 had quietly slipped away from
their quarters in Washington City, Georgetown and Alexandria, and tried to escape on a 54 ton, bay-craft schooner waiting in the Potomac River, captained by Mr. Edward Sayres.
However, my challenge was to find a Pearl on the Great Lakes circa 1845.
The following are excerpts from The Key to The Road That Led To Somewhere, highlighting what I learned during my research of Underground Railroad activities on the Maritime Great Lakes: (Appendix 6,7).
“The fugitives’ graves reminds us of the almost forgotten years of the Underground Railroad which wrote a strife-torn and dramatic chapter at every port on the American and Canadian shores of Lake Erie.
Canada was a free land, hospitable to Negroes who fled to her protection from slavery in the South. She admitted them to citizenship on equal terms with the Dutch from Pennsylvania and the Irish from Dundalk. Negro refugees escaped to Canada by the thousands. They began to arrive there before 1800. The Indians of Chief Brant’s refugee tribe, who were settled by the British government along the Grand River after the Revolutionary war, were among the first to receive the Negroes and give them succor. Escaped slaves were crossing the Western Reserve in growing numbers by 1815. Joseph Pickering saw several of them during his journeys about the north shore of Lake Erie in 1825-1826...
The quickest and friendliest route into Canada led across Lake Erie from its many port cities. And the route from the South to the Lake Erie shore was the Underground Railroad. Many stories survive to explain the origin of the name. They all agree on the central point of the mysterious disappearance of the fugitives once they crossed the Ohio River. The Rush R. Sloane version has greatest currency. A Kentucky slave named Tice Davids (Davis in some accounts) was whipped by his master and threatened with being sold down the river in 1831. He fled across the Ohio River. His master went over to bring him back, but Tice had simply disappeared. The Kentucky master gave up the pursuit, saying that his slave “must have gone off on an underground road.”
The name stuck like a badge. Ardent antislavery men like Levi Coffin of Cincinnati and the Reverend John Rankin of Ripley operated two of the most famous terminals of the road to freedom on the Ohio river. Rankin aided Eliza and her child after they had crossed the floating ice. Levi Coffin, “president” of the Underground, sent hundreds of slaves out of Cincinnati with instructions which guided them from friendly house to house up to Lake Erie and across to Ontario. He got back regular reports of their ultimate safety in Canada. The Prince of Wales in 1860 visited the settlements in Canada which were main terminals of the Road. When he came to Cincinnati, he took off his hat and made a graceful bow as he drove by Coffin’s house in an open carriage. People said he was paying respect to this end of the route “so that he could make a correct report to the Queen.”
Coffin often raised money and bought tickets to send fugitives up to Lake Erie by rail at night. And once they reached the lake ports they were seldom retaken.
Their destination might be any of the towns on the shore between Buffalo and Detroit. Those two cities were especially favored because they were separated only by the Niagara and the Detroit rivers from Canadian soil. But Westfield and Fredonia, Dunkirk and Erie were often their embarkation points in the East, and friendly captains would touch a Fort Erie to let the fugitives go ashore before the vessels anchored at Buffalo. Thousands crossed at Detroit.
Every port on the Ohio shore of the lake was a terminus of the Underground. There were eight important stations. Conneaut was the end of one route that led through eastern Ohio and the Western Reserve. Ashtabula was the terminus of four routes, Painesville of three, Cleveland of four or five, Lorain and Huron of one each, Sandusky of four and Toledo of four or five.
The landlady remembered as a girl seeing the slaves being rested and fed there for their final journey down to the lake. Other such rooms are exhibited at various places along the lake. For, though Ohio was not all abolitionist, there were many zealous men who would do almost anything to aid fugitives and thwart the searches of an irate owner. Judge Jabez Wright was the first to receive them in the Firelands. David Hudson, founder of the lake port of Huron, was an ardent worker in their behalf. John Brown’s father helped them and passed his ardor on to his famous son, who made trips to Canada to see how the refugees were faring in their new homes.
Those who were friendly to the fugitives came to understand one another and to know which houses were open day or night, which families would feed or clothe the Negroes and which would give them money or speed their passage to Lake Erie.
The resourceful Yankees and Quakers were endlessly ingenious in finding ways to speed the slaves on to the lake, The late Professor Edward Orton of Ohio State University recalled seeing two sleigh loads of them brought in from the Western Reserve to his father’s house in Buffalo in 1838 to be passed on into Canada. Certain ships on Lake Erie became known as friendly to fugitives. The Arrow, operating from Sandusky, was known as an abolitionist vessel. The United States the Bay City, The Mayflower, all sailing between Sandusky and Detroit, the Forest Queen, the May Queen and the Morning Star, all out of Cleveland, and the Phoebus out of Toledo, regularly took on fugitives. They would stop at Malden on their way up the Detroit River and set the slaves free. William Wells Brown, himself a fugitive, was employed on one of these ships; he became well known for his activity in taking Negroes aboard and delivering them from Cleveland to Canada without fare. His ship seldom sailed without first taking on a group of these frightened men and women who huddled together on the wharf in the Cuyahoga. He gave passage to sixty-nine of them in the year 1842. Hubbard & Company, forwarding and commission merchants of
Ashtabula, would hide them in their warehouses and send them across to Port Burwell at night. L. S. Stow, on the Milan-Huron Canal, used to see them venturing out of hiding to get exercise while waiting for passage on a friendly ship.
Some captain made special voyages for running them across Lake Erie. Captain George Sweigels got $35 for sailing a group of them in a small boat by night from Sandusky to Point Pelee in 1853.
Once aboard a ship bound for Buffalo or Detroit the slaves were safe, unless a storm drove them back to the American shore. There were a score of refugee ports on the Ontario shore of Lake Erie from Windsor to Port Colborne and Fort Erie. Sandwich and Amherstburg, being handy ports of call for all vessels going up the Detroit River, became favored gateways into Canada. Anthony Bingey of Amherstburg said that when he went to that village to live in 1845, fugitives were arriving in companies of fifteen or more and that these mounted in numbers in the years following until it was not uncommon to see thirty of them getting off the lake vessels and ferries at this point. Colchester, Kingsville, Point Pelee, Port Stanley, Port Burwell and Long Point all received a goodly share. Many went up the Thames and filtered into the unsettled lands of Ontario West...
Captain John brown, Jr., who after toil rests in the peaceful cemetery on South Bass. He was the oldest of John Brown’s sons and shared with the illusion that the slaves could be freed without bloodshed. His son John fought on for the cause of freedom.
He built a comfortable home with a big open porch around it among the trees on the south shore. He lived there quietly for thirty-three years. Presidents, statesmen and industrial barons visited the modest hero and recluse. His unaffected simplicity and dignity when confronted with this marked attention is a part of his permanent legend on the island.
Negroes whom he had helped to free often called at Put-in-Bay to pay their respects to him. Another of the brothers, Owen, also lived on the islands for two decades. He was even more picturesque than John, Jr. He had helped his father on the Underground railroad, and had gone with him on the Harper’s Ferry adventure.”
Through the Ontario Historical Society, of which I am a past president, I learned even more about my ancestors Underground railroad Activity along the Puce River Settlement of the Refugee Home Society. A rare publication titled Pioneers of the Scotch Settlement was written by, historian and professor, Malcolm Wallace. He grew up in the nineteenth century in this settlement which included the lands of the Refugee Home Society. His research shed even more verification of the truth of the story related to me by Aunt Stella and my grandfather Frank.
In way of credibility Malcolm Wallace the historian was born in 1873, he received his early education in the Windsor Schools, and later entered Toronto University, where he was graduated in 1896, and received a fellowship from the Chicago University, where he was graduated in 1899. In the same year he was proffered a professorship at Beloit College, Wisconsin, which he accepted, and is considered one of the most brilliant young educators in that state. In 1902 he married Miss May Pit Kin, a member of a very prominent family of Chicago. The following excerpts are taken from Ontario History, and the publication by Malcolm Wallace, about the Puce River Settlement of the Refugee Home Society, that emptied into Lake St. Clair.
“The Negroes indeed formed a very substantial portion of the early population of Essex. In 1846 there were 174 of them among the 985 inhabitants of Amherstburg; in 1860 that town contained 800 Negroes and 1200 Whites according to the Report of the American Missionary Society. “The Report issued in 1859 reports the Rev. Mr. Hotchkiss [a Negro preacher who required total abstinence from his members] is located at Rochester, but is also looking after missions at Little River, Pike’s Creek and Puce River...At Puce River there are twenty-five members, with religious services well attended. Near the corner of the Puce River and the Base Line there were at one time a school and three Negro churches--the Baptist, A.M.E. Zion; and B.M.E. From time to time the members assembled in great numbers for baptism in the lake, or for barbecues in Manuel Eaton’s Grove on the Base Line. Many of them became moderately successful farmers. Manuel Eaton had a small factory where he made potash and pearl-ash from the wood ashes that he collected about the country, and for many years Albert Scott, (an ancestor of mine), was in great demand as a veterinary doctor. Perhaps the most picturesque Negro family on the Puce were the Walls. Mr. Walls had been a slave , and when he fled to Canada he was accompanied by his master’s wife and three daughters. They had three sons, all of whom became successful farmers. Mrs. Walls’ white daughters grew up to marry Negro husbands.
Although there was unlimited Canadian enthusiasm for providing a refuge for the coloured man, he was as a rule, and in spite of the Buxton example, segregated in church, school, and social relations. His white neighbors felt genuine respect or the best Negroes; men like Tom and Josh Lucas, (is an ancestor on my mother’s side, she was a Lucas), for instance, who owned a large scow (boat), the Keepsake, and prospered in their business, lived in the village of Puce, and found only friendliness and goodwill among their neighbors. But white prejudice prevented their admission to actual social equality. In the abounding democracy of the farm community the Negro hired help occasionally ate their meals with their white employers, though not always. Moreover, there was no objection to admitting an occasional Negro child into the white school. Beyond this the colour bar was fixed.
After the American War many Canadian Negroes returned to the United States. Perhaps they instinctively sought a warmer climate than even that of Essex County; perhaps the landless among them sought for better opportunities of employment. Today their numbers are greatly reduced; indeed, except in Windsor, there is only a sprinkling of coloured people in the county.”
Malcolm Wallace devotes an entire section on the work that Reverend William King of the Buxton Settlement did in this area of Essex County, including the owning of land. This research of Wallace and other documentation that I have uncovered leads me to the conclusion that Reverend William King, and Jane King’s ancestry can be traced back to the same clan in the old world they did know and were friendly to each other. Aunt Stella told me that John and Jane’s home was a favorite place of hospitality to many traveling ministers. I have expanded on the above facts in the Key to The Road That Led To Somewhere.
In conclusion, my search for the Pearl has lead to a plethora of documentation supporting Aunt Stella and grandfather Frank’s declaration of truth. Mr. David Hamilton an authority on the Great Lakes, has told me that the name Pearl was a common name given to ships on the Great Lakes in that era. And I do know that Toledo was a port of departure, for the enslaved.
I also know that the Underground Railroad was the first great freedom movement in the Americas, and the first time that good people Black and White, and of different races and faiths worked together in harmony for freedom and justice. Listen with your head and hearts to the original song, “Only the Rainbow” produced by Mickey Yannich of Sayre City Records, Sayreville New Jersey which is from a forth coming concept album inspired by the pages of my book, The Road That Led To Somewhere.
Walls, Dr. Bryan E. The Road That Led to Somewhere, Olive Publishing, 1980.
Hatcher, Harlan, Lake Erie, Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis-New York, 1945.
Wallace, Malcolm, Poineers of the Scotch Settlement, Ontario Historical Society Volume XLl reprint 1949.
Butler, Stella Statutory Declaration of Truth, Baksi-Baksi, Barristers & Solicitors, 1982.
Walls, Dr. Bryan E. The Key to The Road That Led to Somewhere, manuscript.