Former Slaves and the Underground Railroad in Brookville, PA
By Koren M. Conway
Black slaves were known to all of the 13 original states, but were not brought to Pennsylvania until the year 1681. Slavery was a big thing until gradually the act of abolition was put in demand by March of 1780. By this time slavery had existed over a long period of 16 years from 1824 to 1840. During this time a group of people called the abolitionists formed the Underground Railroad, a secret way for slaves to escape to freedom. The abolitionists were clever people, so they used railroad terms. One such term refers to the houses the slaves would stay at. They were called stations, and the fugitives were called freight or packages. The agents who made the network were referred to as conductors. These agents were risking their lives for aiding and abetting runaways. The punishment was severe, either death or a heavy fine not everybody could pay, if caught.
Several Jefferson County conductors worked on a line that started in Baltimore and continued through Bellefonte, Grampian Hills, Punxsutawney, Brookville, Clarington, Warren, then crossed Lake Erie into Canada.
A man by the name of Elijah Heath and his wife were agents in Brookville. Elijah and his wife were just a few of the abolitionists. The abolitionists would assist black runaways by clothing, feeding, sheltering, and directing them to Canada. A Pickering street home, which is now the residence of the Edwin Thompson family, was formerly built and owned by Mr. Heath. The owner during the year 1902 was Dr. C.M. Matson who discovered a tiny room attached to the basement, also being accessible from the outdoors. This little room was apparently designed to hide runaways as they made their way to Canada. The room is still there today.
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