This excerpt from “The Underground Railroad” by William Still documents the escape of Sheridan Ford who hid in the woods before getting onto a steamboat.
Many of the fugitives wanted to get to Canada, which was out of the clutches of the slave-catchers.
But Sheridan had his mind set on Boston. Why?
“He had heard the slaveholders curse Boston so much, that he concluded it must be a pretty safe place for the fugitive”.
About The Book
“The Underground Railroad” was published in 1872. The book gives the testimonies of hundreds of slaves who escaped to freedom using the network of agents and safe houses.
The author, William Still, was a black abolitionist and businessman who was a key member of the Philadelphia stop in the freedom network.
The book is in the public domain. It can be found in the Library of Congress.
Excerpt – Account Of Sheridan Ford
[The headings and text in italics were added by the website editor. The rest is verbatim from the book. The “Vigilance Committee” referred to below was a group of Philadelphians who ran the local station on the Underground Railroad. They include the author of the book.]
About the twenty-ninth of January, 1855, Sheridan arrived from the Old Dominion and a life of bondage, and was welcomed cordially by the Vigilance Committee.
Miss Elizabeth Brown of Portsmouth, Va. claimed Sheridan as her property. He spoke rather kindly of her, and felt that he “had not been used very hard” as a general thing, although, he wisely added, “the best usage was bad enough.”
Sheridan had nearly reached his twenty-eighth year, was tall and well made, and possessed of a considerable share of intelligence.
Not a great while before making up his mind to escape, for some trifling offence he had been “stretched up with a rope by his hands,” and “whipped unmercifully.”
In addition to this he had “got wind of the fact,” that he was to be auctioneered off; soon these things brought serious reflections to Sheridan’s mind, and among other questions, he began to ponder how he could get a ticket on the U.G.R.R., and get out of this “place of torment,” to where he might have the benefit of his own labor.
In this state of mind, about the fourteenth day of November, he took his first and daring step.
Excerpt – From The Woods To A Steamboat
He went not, however, to learned lawyers or able ministers of the Gospel in his distress and trouble, but wended his way “directly to the woods,” where he felt that he would be safer with the wild animals and reptiles, in solitude, than with the barbarous civilization that existed in Portsmouth.
The first day in the woods he passed in prayer incessantly, all alone.
In this particular place of seclusion he remained “four days and nights,” “two days suffered severely from hunger, cold and thirst.”
However, one who was a “friend” to him, and knew of his whereabouts, managed to get some food to him and consoling words; but at the end of the four days this friend got into some difficulty and thus Sheridan was left to “wade through deep waters and head winds” in an almost hopeless state.
There he could not consent to stay and starve to death. Accordingly he left and found another place of seclusion—with a friend in the town—for a pecuniary consideration.
A secret passage was procured for him on one of the steamers running between Philadelphia and Richmond, Virginia.
Excerpt – Sheridan’s Wife And Children
When he left his poor wife, Julia, she was then “lying in prison to be sold,” on the simple charge of having been suspected of conniving at her husband’s escape.
As a woman she had known something of the “barbarism of slavery”, from every-day experience, which the large scars about her head indicated – according to Sheridan’s testimony.
She was the mother of two children, but had never been allowed to have the care of either of them.
The husband, utterly powerless to offer her the least sympathy in word or deed, left this dark habitation of cruelty, as above referred to, with no hope of ever seeing wife or child again in this world.
Excerpt – Bound For Boston
The Committee afforded him the usual aid and comfort, and passed him on to the next station, with his face set towards Boston.
He had heard the slaveholders “curse” Boston so much, that he concluded it must be a pretty safe place for the fugitive.