Local role of underground railroad is focus of speech

January 29, 2007|by JENNIFER FITCH

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Thomas Gerhart describes the role of Franklin County, Pa., in the underground railroad's successes with one word - paramount.

He excitedly talks about how the raid in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., was planned in Chambersburg, Pa., and how Osborne P. Anderson, the only black to survive the assault, traveled through Franklin County to freedom in Canada.

"The reason he made it ... was because of the effectiveness of the underground railroad in Franklin County," Gerhart said.

Gerhart, a historian working with the research of Temple University's Charles L. Blockson, will be the featured speaker at Allison-Antrim Museum's monthly meeting scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 8, at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Greencastle. The meeting is open to the public.

Gerhart, of Greencastle, believes that views about the underground railroad have been changing in the last decade, and he thinks it is being treated with more respect and intrigue. Gerhart hopes this will lead to a greater understanding that the slaves' quest for freedom was tied to every culture.


"Someday, instead of saying 'black history month,' we'll be saying 'American history month, specializing in black history,'" Gerhart said. "It's American history month."

That begins with piecing together escape information, primarily from letters, Gerhart said.

Of Pennsylvania's underground railroad routes, one primary entrance point was South Mountain. From there, freedom-seekers from Virginia traveled through Rouzerville - "right next to the new Wal-Mart was an underground railroad location" - and to Caledonia, Gerhart said.

"That route is loaded with information about the underground railroad that a lot of people don't know about," he said.

Slaves, who were still being actively caught and auctioned in Hagerstown, also followed modern-day Pa. 997 through Quincy, Mont Alto and Brownsville, Pa., on the way to Caledonia. They found havens in Snow Hill Nunnery and Mont Alto, Gerhart said.

Another route through Mercersburg, Pa., took slaves west before heading north, he said.

"True freedom was in Canada," Gerhart said.

If you go

What: Allison-Antrim Museum's monthly meeting and guest lecture by historian Thomas Gerhart regarding the underground railroad in Franklin County, Pa.

When: Thursday, Feb. 8, 7 p.m.

Where: Downstairs social room at Evangelical Lutheran Church, 130 N. Washington St., Greencastle, Pa.

For more information, call the museum at 717-597-9010.

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