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Salem Community Patriot

June 4, 2010 - 5

Historical Society Meeting Celebrates Salem’s 260th Anniversary, Spotlights Slave Trade

by Robyn Hatch

This month’s meeting at the Historical Society was full of information on the Underground Railroad and slave trade. The meeting started off with Howie Glynn, president, discussing all the things that had been accomplished by his term in office. Not only has the membership grown, but new chairs have been supplied for the meetings. The Historical Society has really become an exciting place to meet and learn about Salem and other historical facts. This has been accomplished through aggressive board members and a general interest by the members.

Eleanor Strang, retired director of the Kelley Library, made her speaking debut with an incredible topic on the Underground Railroad and the

system and, therefore, used other creative methods to attain liberty. The shortage of evidence indicates that scholars probably will never fully learn the real significance of the Underground Railroad. Indeed, a few journals that have survived over the years suggest that the true heroes of the underground were not the abolitionists or sympathizers, but those runaway bondsmen who were willing to risk their lives to gain freedom. Again, the escape network

Te meeting celebrated Salem’s 260th birthday

owners. Most regarded the underground as “organized theft” and a threat to their livelihood. The most intriguing feature of the Underground Railroad was its lack of formal organization. Its existence often relied on concerted efforts of cooperating individuals of various ethnic and religious groups who helped bondsmen escape from slavery. To add to its mysterious doings, accounts are scarce for individuals who actually participated in its activities. Usually agents hid or destroyed their

was solely “underground” in the sense of being an underground resistance. The network was known as a “railroad” by way of the

use of rail terminology in the coding. The Underground Railroad consisted of meeting points, secret routes, transportation, and safe houses, and assistance provided by abolitionist sympathizers. Individuals were


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Eleanor Strang, retired director of the Kelley Library, makes her entrance to speak

people it affected. She had powerful slides and much researched information for all to hear. Sheets were also passed with Websites, historical properties, and further information for all to have. The night finally ended with a huge birthday cake to celebrate Salem’s 260th birthday, which occurred the same day of the meeting (May 11).

According to underground_railroad, The Underground Railroad was perhaps the most dramatic protest action against slavery in United States history. These operations of escape networks began in the 1500s, and were later connected with organized activity of the 1800s. Neither “underground” nor a “railroad,” this informal system arose as a loosely constructed network of escape routes that originated in the South, intertwined throughout the North, and eventually ended in Canada. Escape routes were not just restricted to the North, but also extended into western territories, Mexico, and the Caribbean. From 1830 to 1865, the Underground Railroad reached its peak as abolitionists and sympathizers who condemned human bondage aided large numbers of bondsmen to freedom. They not only called for slavery destruction, but also acted to assist its victims. The Underground Railroad secretly resisted slavery by helping runaways to freedom. It confronted human bondage without any direct demands or intended violence, yet its efforts played a prominent role in the destruction of the institution of slavery. The work of the underground was so effective that its action intimidated slave

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Eleanor Strang

Howie Glynn goes over all of the year’s accomplishments with the Historical Society

personal journals to protect themselves and the runaways. Only recently, researchers have learned of the work rendered by courageous agents such as David Ruggles, Calvin Fairbank, Josiah Henson, and Erastus Hussey. The identity of others who also contributed to this effort will never be fully recognized. Though scholars estimate that Underground Railroad conductors assisted thousands of refugees, the total number of runaways whom they aided to freedom will never be known simply because of the movement’s secrecy.

Conductors usually did not attempt to record these figures, and those who did calculated the number of runaways whom they personally helped. Moreover, these estimations should consider that some runaways never took part in the underground

often organized in small, independent groups, which helped to maintain secrecy since some knew of connecting “stations” along the route, but few details of their immediate area. Escaped slaves would move along the route from one way station to the next, steadily making their way north. “Conductors” on the railroad came from various backgrounds and included free-born blacks, white abolitionists, former slaves (either escaped or manumitted), and Native Americans. Churches often played a role, especially the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Congregationalists, and Reformed Presbyterians, as well as certain branches of the Methodist church and American Baptists.

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