Recollections of the Underground Railroad.
We had also agencies and stations at Baltimore–Jacob R. Gibbs and our lamented friend; Darius Stokes. At Alexandria we had a host of true friends. Now for the modus operandi:
The Central Lodge being at Washington city all communications were directed there, and at a given signal the “Pilgrims” came. Hayricks, stables, kitchens, cellars (and on one occasion a cess-poll), were brought into requisition as places of concealment until the scouts had been out and returned, when all being quiet, a little band was started for the “promised land.” The solemn obligation was for “Liberty or Death,” and not unfrequently the latter was attained. Our faithful operator would notify the “Craft,” and all things being well, seventy–two hours would place them beyond danger.
Of course it would seem almost incredible that we should have traitors in our camp, but such was the fact; and just here we may as well mention a few of the most conspicuous, with some of the results:
In the Fall of ’43 we had twelve or fourteen stowed away in the stable-loft of a very wealthy gentleman and a Federal officer, Michael Larnard, Esq., for whom our agent Tom Tilly, was coachman. They had been there about fourteen days, and were on the eve of starting, but treachery intervened. One miserable negro named George Dunbar, the “property” of Issac Trunnell, a police officer of Georgetown, for a paltry sum in addition to his freedom, bartered the liberty of the whole. Trunnell received the reward, about $2,500. But our faithful “little band” could not be thwarted thus, and in less than eight days nine of the party were recaptured and on their way rejoicing. But we must relate the circumstances. At their arrest they were conveyed to “Williams’ Pen,” for safe keeping, previous to their shipment South. This place is as memorable to our people as Libby Prison will be to loyal Americans for centuries. It was a large brick building, and was in the center of a six acre lot, surrounded by a picket fence, the “pen” itself enclosed by a brick wall; the interior arrangement, such as stocks, chains, hand-cuffs, etc., of the latest and most approved pattern. The outer guards, four fine Spanish blood-hounds; the inner guard consisted of four American blood-hounds of equal ferocity, armed with knife, pistol, and the equally terrible raw-hide thong. Indeed, to the observer this would be a formidable fort to assault, and yet, strange to say, four men unarmed, save by inspiration, did storm and take the same, formidable as it was. Terry, Tilly, and two others, entered the inclosure, put the “outer guard” to sleep, cut a hole through the wall, sawed the inner bolts of the doors, loosed the captives and marched them off to the “land of the free.” Dunbar, their betrayer, enjoyed the pleasure of sin “for a season,” loathed and despised, and the last we heard of him he was a hated leper, dragging out a miserable existence in Baltimore.
Our next undertaking was a regular stampede from Maryland. We met at Banning’s Bridge, and mustered seventy strong at starting, but through some misunderstanding the wrong road was taken, and consequently they were tracked, and after a severe encounter, with the loss of three killed and many wounded, they were forced to surrender to superior numbers, who well armed. When the return caravan passed through Washington a perfect panic prevailed among the slaves; and of the free colored people there were many who left for fear of the threats which were made against them being carried out. Many of their houses were searched for “incendiary papers,” but fortunately they were too well posted.
Usually while these excitements prevailed in one neighborhood, light raids would be made in others, so that while they would capture one party, another would “run the blockade.” The week following we paid a visit to the “Lodge,” and found everything in “apple pie order.” Very soon was seen in the National Inteligencer the following advertisement:
Run away from the subscriber, on or about the day of , my negro girl Lizzy–calls herself Elizabeth Taloe. Said negress is about 19 years old, fair complexion, straight hair, dark hazel eyes, is quite intelligent, and will probably pass for white. I will give the above reward if she is returned to me, or secured in jail so that I can get her. MRS. TALOE.
Poor Lizzy, she was safe from her cruel pursuers, and reached the “Northern Terminus” in due course of mail. This was indeed an interesting case. A poor girl, as fair as her mistress, and yet a slave, forbidden to associate with her own people for fear she would be “contaminated,” and dare not think of love, save to such as should be assigned to her. But we will not dwell on this particular case, although it is one of those peculiarly hard ones, for just now we remember another running parallel to this, though resulting more fortunately for the intended victim.
There lived in the First Ward a well-to-do widow, Mrs. K., who had a son and daughter–the daughter a lady of splendid accomplishments, and withall a very clever “young mistress;” the son was a gentleman of fine attainments, a surgeon in the U.S. Army at one time, and at the time we write of an auditor in the Bank of the M–––––lis. In this family there was another, who, though not so accomplised, was quite as fair, and surpassingly beautiful. She it is who will furnish the subject for our next chapter.
"Recollections of the Underground Railroad," San Francisco (CA) The Elevator, September 22, 1865.