Guns Drawn Against Slave Catchers – Underground Railroad

This excerpt from “The Underground Railroad” by William Still documents the escape of a group of fugitives who drew guns when accosted by slave catchers.

Six had escaped by stealing their master’s horses and carriage. They were stopped by a group of white men and were forced to brandish their concealed weapons.

Four of the six got away. This excerpt describes the dramatic scenes. The successful fugitives were:

  • Barnaby Grigby, alias John Boyer
  • His wife, Mary Elizabeth
  • Frank Wanzer, alias Robert Scott
  • Emily Foster, alias Ann Wood

You may be surprised to hear that the end result was a wedding of two of these four. Read on…

[Any headings and italicized text in the excerpt below were added by the website editor. The rest is verbatim from the book apart from some changes to the punctuation.]

Excerpt – Escape By The Master’s Horses And Carriage

All these persons journeyed together from Loudon Co., Virginia on horseback and in a carriage for more than one hundred miles.

Availing themselves of a holiday and their master’s horses and carriage, they as deliberately started for Canada, as though they had never been taught that it was their duty, as servants, to “obey their masters.”

In this particular showing a most utter disregard of the interest of their “kind-hearted and indulgent owners.”

They left home on Monday, Christmas Eve, 1855, under the leadership of Frank Wanzer, and arrived in Columbia the following Wednesday at one o’clock.

As willfully as they had thus made their way along, they had not found it smooth sailing by any means. The biting frost and snow rendered their travel anything but agreeable.

Nor did they escape the gnawings of hunger, traveling day and night.

Accosted By A Group Of Six

And whilst these “articles” were in the very act of running away with themselves and their kind master’s best horses and carriage – when about one hundred miles from home, in the neighborhood of Cheat river, Maryland, they were attacked by “six white men, and a boy,”.

[This group] doubtless, supposing that their intentions were of a “wicked and unlawful character” felt it to be their duty in kindness to their masters, if not to the travelers to demand of them an account of themselves.

In other words, the assailants positively commanded the fugitives to “show what right” they possessed, to be found in a condition apparently so unwarranted.

The spokesman amongst the fugitives, affecting no ordinary amount of dignity, told their assailants plainly, that “no gentleman would interfere with persons riding along civilly” – not allowing it to be supposed that they were slaves, of course.

These “gentlemen,” however, were not willing to accept this account of the travelers, as their very decided steps indicated.

Having the law on their side, they were for compelling the fugitives to surrender without further parley.

Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!

At this juncture, the fugitives verily believing that the time had arrived for the practical use of their pistols and dirks, pulled them out of their concealment – the young women as well as the young men – and declared they would not be “taken!”

One of the white men raised his gun, pointing the muzzle directly towards one of the young women, with the threat that he would “shoot,” etc.

“Shoot! shoot!! shoot!!!” she exclaimed, with a double barrelled pistol in one hand and a long dirk knife in the other, utterly unterrified and fully ready for a death struggle.

The male leader of the fugitives by this time had “pulled back the hammers” of his “pistols,” and was about to fire!

Their adversaries seeing the weapons, and the unflinching determination on the part of the runaways to stand their ground, “spill blood, kill, or die,” rather than be “taken,” very prudently “sidled over to the other side of the road,” leaving at least four of the victors to travel on their way.

Not All Got Away

At this moment the four in the carriage lost sight of the two on horseback.

Soon after the separation they heard firing, but what the result was, they knew not. They were fearful, however, that their companions had been captured.

The following paragraph, which was shortly afterwards taken from a Southern paper, leaves no room to doubt, as to the fate of the two.

Newspaper Account

Six fugitive slaves from Virginia were arrested at the Maryland line, near Hood’s Mill, on Christmas day, but, after a severe fight, four of them escaped and have not since been heard of. They came from Loudoun and Fauquier counties.

Though the four who were successful, saw no “severe fight,” it is not unreasonable to suppose, that there was a fight, nevertheless; but not till after the number of the fugitives had been reduced to two, instead of six.

As chivalrous as slave-holders and slave-catchers were, they knew the value of their precious lives and the fearful risk of attempting a capture, when the numbers were equal.

The party in the carriage, after the conflict, went on their way rejoicing.

Four Arrive In Philadelphia

After their pressing wants had been met by the Vigilance Committee, and after partial recuperation from their hard travel, etc., they were forwarded on to the Vigilance Committee in New York.

In Syracuse, Frank (the leader), who was engaged to Emily, concluded that the knot might as well be tied on the U.G.R.R., although penniless, as to delay the matter a single day longer.

Doubtless, the bravery, struggles, and trials of Emily throughout the journey, had, in his estimation, added not a little to her charms.

Thus after consulting with her on the matter, her approval was soon obtained, she being too prudent and wise to refuse the hand of one who had proved himself so true a friend to Freedom, as well as so devoted to her.

A Joyous Wedding

The twain were accordingly made one at the U.G.R.R. Station, in Syracuse, by Superintendent Rev. J.W. Loguen.

After this joyful event, they proceeded to Toronto, and were there gladly received by the Ladies’ Society for aiding colored refugees.

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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.

Black History Of Names

Our website tracks the black history of names, including some mentioned in this excerpt. Check out these articles: