C & D Canal, Perryville Railroad Site, and Hays-Heighe House Added to NPS Underground Railroad Network

Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore Railroad Notice to Colored People, 1858,  Source:  New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore Railroad Notice to Colored People, 1858, Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

The National Park Service recently announced the inclusion of a number of additional sites on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.  The Network is part of a NPS initiative to integrate local historical places into the larger narrative about the Underground Railroad, and the federal agency periodically issues a call for nominations.  For the 28th round of applications, which are peer reviewed to assess validity, three sites in this region were accepted for placement on the registry.

The three sites were:  1) the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal; 2) the Perryville Railroad Site; and 3) The Hays—Heighe House on the campus of Harford Community College.

The Canal and Perryville Railroad sites were researched by Independent Scholar and Historian Milt Diggins.  Milt has written a book that examines the story of a slave catcher and kidnapper working this region in the decades leading up to the Civil War.  The title will be released in 2015.  At Harford Community College, Iris Barnes and the staff of the Hays-heighe House prepared the nomination.

The “canal, build in 1829 by investors, provided a route for freedom seekers on steamboats, schooners, and other water craft,” Diggins wrote in his report. “Boats entered at Elk River in Cecil County, Maryland and exited at Delaware City, New Castle County, Delaware. This eliminated approximately 300 nautical miles between Baltimore and Philadelphia. This Chesapeake Bay to Delaware River route to Philadelphia was also safer for smaller watercraft than a voyage into the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay. William Still and Sydney Gay recorded escapes on steamboats and schooners passing through the canal. Local newspapers reported unsuccessful canal-related escapes, and complained about suspicious Philadelphia oyster boats assisting escapes. When some freedom seekers fled from the lower Eastern Shore, a newspaper commented that the close watch kept on the canal would make it difficult for them to pass that way.” Click here to read the full report.

The Perryville Railroad site was previously announced, but here is what diggins wrote in his summary:  “The Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad Steam Ferry Landing site in Perryville, Maryland, at the mouth of the Susquehanna River, is relevant to the resistance to slavery.  The site is associated with famous and lesser known escapes, and one kidnapping and rescue of a free Pennsylvania citizen. At the Susquehanna River, trains stopped in Havre de Grace, passengers and cars crossed on the railroad ferry, and resumed their journey from Perryville. Frederick Douglass escaped on this railroad in 1838, and the Crafts in 1848. Charlotte Giles and Harriet Eglin escaped from Baltimore on this railroad. Henry “Box” Brown was freighted across on the ferry in 1859. Rachel Parker was kidnapped on the last day of 1851 by Thomas McCreary, who Frederick Douglass and other abolitionists referred to as “the notorious kidnapper from Elkton.” Part of the drama of her abduction, her rescue, and her pleas for freedom unfolded at the railroad site in Perryville. In 1853, Aaron Digges, fleeing from a Baltimore butcher, entered the train at the Susquehanna crossing, but he fell into the hands of Constable Thomas McCreary.”  Click here to read the full report.

The Hays-Heighe House nomination was also announced earlier.

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