This excerpt from “The Underground Railroad” by William Still documents the escape of five slaves from the eastern shore of Maryland.
Cyrus Mitchell had enough of being hired out and ill-used. He recruited four of his friends to strike for freedom.
They were helped on their way to Philadelphia by Thomas Garrett, the renowned abolitionist Quaker. Garrett wrote to William Still to tell him to expect the five in Philadelphia and help them on to Canada.
The five men adopted aliases for safety:
- Cyrus Mitchell alias John Steel
- Joshua Handy alias Hambleton Hamby
- Charles Dulton alias William Robinson
- Ephraim Hudson alias John Spry
- Francis Molock alias Thomas Jackson
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.
Any headings and italicized text in the excerpt below were added by the website editor. The rest is nearly verbatim from the book. There are some changes to the punctuation.
Excerpt – Arrival Of Five From The Eastern Shore Of Maryland
The following letter from the fearless friend of the slave, Thomas Garrett, is a specimen of his manner of dispatching Underground Rail Road business.
He used Uncle Sam’s mail, and his own name, with as much freedom as though he had been President of the Pennsylvania Central Rail Road, instead of only a conductor and stock-holder on the Underground Rail Road.
9 mo. 26th, 1856.
RESPECTED FRIEND: WILLIAM STILL
I send on to thy care this evening by Rail Road, 5 able-bodied men, on their way North; receive them as the Good Samaritan of old and oblige thy friend,
The “able-bodied men” duly arrived, and were thus recorded on the Underground Rail Road books as trophies of the success of the friends of humanity.
Cyrus Mitchell alias John Steel
Cyrus is twenty-six years of age, stout, and unmistakably dark, and was owned by James K. Lewis, a storekeeper, and a “hard master.”
He kept slaves for the express purpose of hiring them out, and it seemed to afford him as much pleasure to receive the hard-earned dollars of his bondmen as if he had labored for them with his own hands.
“It mattered not, how mean a man might be,” if he would pay the largest price, he was the man whom the storekeeper preferred to hire to.
This always caused Cyrus to dislike him.
Latterly he had been talking of moving into the State of Virginia.
Deciding to escape
Cyrus disliked this talk exceedingly, but he “said nothing to the white people” touching the matter.
However, he was not long in deciding that such a move would be of no advantage to him.
Indeed, he had an idea if all was true that he had heard about that place, he would be still more miserable there, than he had ever been under his present owner.
At once, he decided that he would move towards Canada, and that he would be fixed in his new home before his master got off to Virginia, unless he moved sooner than Cyrus expected him to do.
Those nearest of kin, to whom he felt most tenderly allied, and from whom he felt that it would be hard to part, were his father and mother.
He, however, decided that he should have to leave them. Freedom, he felt, was even worth the giving up of parents.
Believing that company was desirable, he took occasion to submit his plan to certain friends, who were at once pleased with the idea of a trip on the Underground Rail Road, to Canada, etc; and all agreed to join him.
At first, they traveled on foot; of their subsequent travel, mention has already been made in friend Garrett’s epistle.
Joshua Handy alias Hambleton Hamby
Joshua is about twenty-seven years of age, quite stout, brown color, and would pass for an intelligent farm hand.
He was satisfied never to wear the yoke again that some one else might reap the benefit of his toil.
His master, Isaac Harris, he denounced as a “drunkard.”
His chief excuse for escaping, was because Harris had “sold” his “only brother.”
He was obliged to leave his father and mother in the hands of his master.
Charles Dulton alias William Robinson
Charles is twenty-two years of age, also stout, and well-made, and apparently possessed all the qualifications for doing a good day’s work on a farm.
He was held to service by Mrs. Mary Hurley.
Charles gave no glowing account of happiness and comfort under the rule of the female sex. Indeed, he was positive in saying that he had “been used rough.”
During the present year, he was sold for $1200.
Ephraim Hudson alias John Spry
Ephraim is twenty-two years of age, stout and athletic, one who appears in every way fitted for manual labor or anything else that he might be privileged to learn.
John Campbell Henry, was the name of the man whom he had been taught to address as master, and for whose benefit he had been compelled to labor up to the day he “took out.”
In considering what he had been in Maryland and how he had been treated all his life, he alleged that John Campbell Henry was a “bad man.”
Not only had Ephraim been treated badly by his master but he had been hired out to a man no better than his master, if as good.
Ephraim left his mother and six brothers and sisters.
Francis Molock alias Thomas Jackson
Francis is twenty-one, an able-bodied “article,” of dark color, and was owned by James A. Waddell.
All that he could say of his owner, was, that he was a “hard master,” from whom he was very glad to escape.