This excerpt from “The Underground Railroad” by William Still documents the escape of three brothers from Virginia.
Jackson Turner arrives in Philadelphia first and is followed later by Isaac and Edmondson. What stands out about this trio is that their elderly blind father was residing in the city and had thought he wouldn’t meet his sons again.
The description of the two reunions will bring a lump to my throat.
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 verbatim from the book apart from some changes to the punctuation]
Excerpt – Reward For Jackson Turner
In May, 1857, Jackson had fled and was received by the Vigilance Committee, who placed him upon their books briefly in the following light:
[The book reproduces the advertisement for a reward placed by Jackson’s owner]
“RUNAWAY—Fifty Dollars Reward
Ran away some time in May last, my Servant-man, who calls himself Jackson Turner.
He is about 27 years of age, and has one of his front teeth out. He is quite black, with thick lips, a little bow-legged, and looks down when spoken to.
I will give a reward of Fifty dollars if taken out of the city, and twenty five Dollars if taken within the city.
I forewarn all masters of vessels from harboring or employing the said slave; all persons who disregard this Notice will be punished as the law directs.
Petersburg, June 8th, 1857.”
Jackson’s Account To The Committee
Jackson is quite dark, medium size, and well informed for one in his condition. In Slavery, he had been “pressed hard.”
His hire, “ten dollars per month” he was obliged to produce at the end of each month, no matter how much he had been called upon to expend for “doctor bills, &c.”
The woman he called mistress went by the name of Ann Colley, a widow, living near Petersburg.
“She was very quarrelsome,” although a “member of the Methodist Church.”
Jackson seeing that his mistress was yearly growing “harder and harder,” concluded to try and better his condition “if possible.”
Having a free wife in the North, who was in the habit of communicating with him, he was kept fully awake to the love of Freedom. The Underground Rail Road expense the Committee gladly bore.
Jackson Meets His Father
Jackson found his poor old father here, where he had resided for a number of years in a state of almost total blindness, and of course in much parental anxiety about his boys in chains.
On the arrival of Jackson, his heart overflowed with joy and gratitude not easily described, as the old man had hardly been able to muster faith enough to believe that he should ever look with his dim eyes upon one of his sons in Freedom.
After a day or two’s tarrying, Jackson took his departure for safer and more healthful localities, – her “British Majesty’s possessions.” (This refers to Canada).
The old man remained only to feel more keenly than ever, the pang of having sons still toiling in hopeless servitude.
Isaac And Edmondson Turner Meet Their Father
In less than seven months after Jackson had shaken off the yoke, to the unspeakable joy of the father, Isaac and Edmondson succeeded in following their brother’s example, and were made happy partakers of the benefits and blessings of the Vigilance Committee of Philadelphia.
On first meeting his two boys, at the Underground Rail Road Depot, the old man took each one in his arms, and as looking through a glass darkly, straining every nerve of his almost lost sight, exclaiming, whilst hugging them closer and closer to his bosom for some minutes, in tears of joy and wonder,
“My son Isaac, is this you? my son Isaac, is this you, &c.?”
The scene was calculated to awaken the deepest emotion and to bring tears to eyes not accustomed to weep.
Little had the old man dreamed in his days of sadness, that he should share such a feast of joy over the deliverance of his sons.
But it is in vain to attempt to picture the affecting scene at this reunion, for that would be impossible.
Of their slave life, the records contain but a short notice, simply as follows:
Notes On Isaac And Edmondson
Isaac is twenty-eight years of age, hearty-looking, well made, dark color and intelligent.
He was owned by Mrs. Ann Colley, a widow, residing near Petersburg, Virginia. Isaac and Edmondson were to have been sold, on New Year’s day; a few days hence.
How sad her disappointment must have been on finding them gone, may be more easily imagined than described.
Edmondson is about twenty-five, a brother of Isaac, and a smart, good-looking young man, was owned by Mrs. Colley also.
“This is just the class of fugitives to make good subjects for John Bull,” thought the Committee, feeling pretty well assured that they would make good reports after having enjoyed free air in Canada for a short time.