This excerpt from “The Underground Railroad” by William Still describes how two fugitives escaped by schooner from North Carolina to Philadelphia.
Unlike many other fugitives who told their stories to the Philadelphia committee of the Railroad, these two said that they didn’t experience severe physical abuse. But they couldn’t tolerate the institution of slavery any longer and were prepared to risk death to escape it.
They have a very difficult passage while concealed below decks due to the other goods being transported by the helpful captain.
One of the fugitives, Abram Galloway, returned to North Carolina and was elected to the senate.
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 – Rare Travelers From North Carolina
The Philadelphia branch of the Underground Rail Road was not fortunate in having very frequent arrivals from North Carolina.
Of course such of her slave population as managed to become initiated in the mysteries of traveling North by the Underground Rail Road were sensible enough to find out nearer and safer routes than through Pennsylvania.
Nevertheless the Vigilance Committee of Philadelphia occasionally had the pleasure of receiving some heroes who were worthy to be classed among the bravest of the brave, no matter who they may be who have claims to this distinction.
About Abram Galloway
Abram was only twenty-one years of age, mulatto, five feet six inches high, intelligent and the picture of good health.
“What was your master’s name?” inquired a member of the Committee.
“Milton Hawkins,” answered Abram.
“What business did Milton Hawkins follow?” again queried said member.
“He was chief engineer on the Wilmington and Manchester Rail Road”
(not a branch of the Underground Rail Road), responded Richard.
“Describe him,” said the member.
“He was a slim built, tall man with whiskers. He was a man of very good disposition. I always belonged to him; he owned three. He always said he would sell before he would use a whip.
His wife was a very mean woman; she would whip contrary to his orders.”
“Who was your father?” was further inquired.
“John Wesley Galloway,” was the prompt response.
“Describe your father?”
“He was captain of a government vessel; he recognized me as his son, and protected me as far as he was allowed so to do; he lived at Smithfield, North Carolina. Abram’s master, Milton Hawkins, lived at Wilmington, N.C.”
[Website note: Abram’s father was a white man with some status.]
Why Abram Decided To Escape
“What prompted you to escape?” was next asked.
“Because times were hard and I could not come up with my wages as I was required to do, so I thought I would try and do better.”
At this juncture Abram explained substantially in what sense times were hard, &c. In the first place he was not allowed to own himself; he, however, preferred hiring his time to serving in the usual way.
This favor was granted Abram; but he was compelled to pay $15 per month for his time, besides finding himself in clothing, food, paying doctor bills, and a head tax of $15 a year.
Even under this master, who was a man of very good disposition, Abram was not contented.
In the second place, he “always thought Slavery was wrong,” although he had “never suffered any personal abuse.”
Toiling month after month the year round to support his master and not himself, was the one intolerable thought.
About Richard Eden
Abram and Richard were intimate friends, and lived near each other.
Being similarly situated, they could venture to communicate the secret feelings of their hearts to each other.
Richard was four years older than Abram, with not quite so much Anglo-Saxon blood in his veins, but was equally as intelligent, and was by trade, a “fashionable barber,” well-known to the ladies and gentlemen of Wilmington.
Richard owed service to Mrs. Mary Loren, a widow.
“She was very kind and tender to all her slaves.” “If I was sick,” said Richard, “she would treat me the same as a mother would.”
She was the owner of twenty, men, women and children, who were all hired out, except the children too young for hire.
Besides having his food, clothing and doctor’s expenses to meet, he had to pay the “very kind and tender-hearted widow” $12.50 per month, and head tax to the State, amounting to twenty-five cents per month.
It so happened, that Richard at this time, was involved in a matrimonial difficulty.
Contrary to the laws of North Carolina, he had lately married a free girl, which was an indictable offence, and for which the penalty was then in soak for him—said penalty to consist of thirty-nine lashes, and imprisonment at the discretion of the judge.
So Abram and Richard put their heads together, and resolved to try the Underground Rail Road.
They concluded that liberty was worth dying for, and that it was their duty to strike for Freedom even if it should cost them their lives.
The next thing needed, was information about the Underground Rail Road.
Before a great while the captain of a schooner turned up, from Wilmington, Delaware. Learning that his voyage extended to Philadelphia, they sought to find out whether this captain was true to Freedom.
To ascertain this fact required no little address. It had to be done in such a way, that even the captain would not really understand what they were up to, should he be found untrue.
In this instance, however, he was the right man in the right place, and very well understood his business.
Threat Of Being Smoked To Death
Abram and Richard made arrangements with him to bring them away; they learned when the vessel would start, and that she was loaded with tar, rosin, and spirits of turpentine, amongst which the captain was to secrete them.
[The loaded turpentine becomes a problem later.]
But here came the difficulty.
In order that slaves might not be secreted in vessels, the slave-holders of North Carolina had procured the enactment of a law requiring all vessels coming North to be smoked.
To escape this dilemma, the inventive genius of Abram and Richard soon devised a safe-guard against the smoke.
This safe-guard consisted in silk oil cloth shrouds, made large, with drawing strings, which, when pulled over their heads, might be drawn very tightly around their waists, whilst the process of smoking might be in operation.
A bladder of water and towels were provided, the latter to be wet and held to their nostrils, should there be need. In this manner they had determined to struggle against death for liberty.
Turpentine Worse Than Smoke
The hour approached for being at the wharf. At the appointed time they were on hand ready to go on the boat; the captain secreted them, according to agreement.
They were ready to run the risk of being smoked to death; but as good luck would have it, the law was not carried into effect in this instance, so that the “smell of smoke was not upon them.”
The effect of the turpentine, however, of the nature of which they were totally ignorant, was worse, if possible, than the smoke would have been. The blood was literally drawn from them at every pore in frightful quantities.
[I interpret this as heavy nosebleeds.]
But as heroes of the bravest type they resolved to continue steadfast as long as a pulse continued to beat, and thus they finally conquered.
Safe Arrival To Philadelphia
The invigorating northern air and the kind treatment of the Vigilance Committee acted like a charm upon them, and they improved very rapidly from their exhaustive and heavy loss of blood.
Desiring to retain some memorial of them, a member of the Committee begged one of their silk shrouds, and likewise procured an artist to take the photograph of one of them; which keepsakes have been valued very highly.
In the regular order of arrangements the wants of Abram and Richard were duly met by the Committee, financially and otherwise, and they were forwarded to Canada.
What Became Of The Two
[The book reproduces a letter from Richard that states that he is in good health in Canada. He intends to open a shop. Abram’s future is even more remarkable. Read on…]
Abram, his comrade, allied himself faithfully to John Bull [Canada under British rule] until Uncle Sam became involved in the contest with the rebels.
In this hour of need Abram hastened back to North Carolina to help fight the battles of Freedom. [The Civil War].
How well he acted his part, we are not informed.
We only know that, after the war was over, in the reconstruction of North Carolina, Abram was promoted to a seat in its Senate.
He died in office only a few months since [the book was published in 1872].