Uncategorized

“Westward Ho” along the Underground Railroad

escaping slaves on horseback
Wilbur Siebert’s 1905 map of “Routes of the Underground Railroad 1830-1865”

Because of high land prices in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, by the 1730’s and 1740’s, Quakers began moving south into Virginia. There were still occasional native American Indian raids in some northern Virginia counties, as we know from the Lydia Janney Brown journal. Some of the immigrating Quaker families settled in or near the Loudoun County villages of Lincoln (Goose Creek), Waterford, Hillsboro, and Union (Unison).

By the turn of the 19th century it was northern Virginia farmland that was prohibitivly expensive for some farmers to afford. Young generations left Virginia for the new western states of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and eventually, Iowa. All of these were “free states,” meaning slavery was not practiced within their borders. That fact was another reason immigrating from Virginia was attractive to Quakers.

Ohio was one of the primary destinations for Loudoun County Quakers. A good source of information on Quaker settlement into Ohio is found at Karen Campbell’s blog: Quaker Genealogy in Southwest Ohio

One consequence of Quakers settling in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and western regions was they frequently brought anti-slavery and abolitionist beliefs with them to the state in which they now lived. Additionally, the knowledge of routes taken from Virginia to Ohio over roads, rivers, and mountains was useful information to future travelers, including those escaping slavery. It is not impossible to imagine that Virginia Quakers with friends and family members in the free states of Ohio or Pennsylvania, would help enslaved men and women seeking freedom find their way to Quaker safe houses across the Ohio River.

Samuel M. Janney lincoln virginia
Samuel M. Janney was an elder of the Society of Friends and had a prominent role in ministering to fellow Quakers in both well established Meetings as well as the new western frontier of Ohio, Illinois, and Iowa. Courtesy Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA

As a ministering elder of the Quaker faith, Samuel M. Janney, of Goose Creek Meeting, occasionally traveled to far flung cities and towns in the newly established Quaker communities of the western states. He was able to see family members and former Lincoln, Virginia friends on these trips. Janney wrote about the trips in his Memoirs. One of the destinations of his 1844 trip was an abolitionist stronghold, Green Plain Meeting in Ohio. This little Quaker community was being torn apart by a disagreement over how politically involved Quakers should be in the fight against slavery. Many Ohio Quaker members didn’t agree with overt abolitionist actions. Other members felt called to actively participate in helping enslaved fugitives escape to freedom. A conflict that threatened the entire Quaker Green Plain Meeting had ensued. Samuel M. Janney came all the way from Virginia to attempt to resolve the conflict, as is mentioned in his Memoirs:

Samuel Janney and Lincoln traveling companion Isaac Nichols went from Lincoln, Virginia into Ohio, where they visited several Quaker Meetinghouses, including Green Plain.

An excerpt from Janney’s Memoirs: “In the year 1844 I visited some of the meetings of Friends in Ohio. My principal concern was to endeavor to heal the dissensions that unhappily prevailed, and which had caused a separation in Green Plain Meeting. The anti-slavery movement and agitation gave rise to dissension among Friends, in consequence of some members being exceedingly active in the measures pursued by the Abolitionists; while others, more conservative, were unwilling to join in the movement and were opposed to their meeting houses being opened for abolition lectures. The conservative members were sincerely opposed to slavery and usually bore their testimony against it in a quiet way, but they generally took no part in the concealment and transportation to Canada of fugitive slaves, very many of whom passed through Ohio and were helped on their way by the Abolitionists.

        This difference of sentiment and action … for several years was brought to a crisis by a protest issued by some of the Abolition Friends against certain expressions, condemning their proceedings uttered by a ministering Friend.

The Yearly Meeting then directed that Green Plain Quarterly Meeting should be laid down. The committee then advised the few conservative Friends who concurred with the Yearly Meeting’s decision, to withdraw and set up a meeting for worship and a Monthly Meeting at a private house, which they did, and attached themselves to Miami Quarterly Meeting.

        The anti-slavery Friends still kept up their Monthly and Quarterly Meetings at Green Plain.

        Such was the state of things among them in the spring of 1844, when accompanied by my friend Isaac Nichols, I visited those meetings.

        On reaching Green Plain we attended the meeting held at Abel Walker’s on First-day morning, and had an appointed meeting in the afternoon in the old meeting house. In the latter, I was led to call the attention of Friends to the only foundation on which the Church can be established, which is Christ, or the revelation of Divine power in the soul, and if any man build upon this foundation, his building must be of heavenly materials, that is to say, those principles of righteousness which are “the fruits of the spirit,” but if we build of earthly materials, “wood, hay or stubble,” our work will be “tried by fire.” The meeting was solemn, and I thought favored with a sense of the Divine presence, During the week we visited a number of families of Friends, engaging with them in Divine worship, and seeking counsel of the Lord. Our visits were well received, and in some families there was much tenderness of spirit.

        On Seventh day a conference or convention of anti-slavery Friends was held at Green Plain meeting-house, which we attended. This meeting had been announced some months before, and was intended for consultation concerning the difficulties at Green Plain, and to consider what course should be pursued. The invitation was extended to Friends at a distance, and the object being consistent with the main purpose of our visit, we felt it our duty to attend.


Joseph A. Dugdale (1810-1896) was a minister, farmer and social reformer, influential in the abolitionist movement. Courtesy Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA

        In the morning we met at Joseph A. Dugdale’s, who, being one of the committee, had drawn up an address to the Yearly Meeting agreeably to what he considered the conclusion of the conference, but he was not satisfied with it, and said he was now prepared to surrender the whole power to the Yearly Meeting by submitting to its decision…they were willing to submit, by yielding up their books and papers, and laying down their meeting.

         I concluded to leave them and proceed on my way. At Cincinnati I received a letter from him as follows, to wit: –

        The result anticipated was not realized, the reconciliation I hoped and labored for was not effected, but I returned home with the reward of peace, feeling that I had made a sincere and earnest effort to restore harmony among Friends that I loved.

        The result was a schism in that meeting, a considerable number of families resigned or were disowned, and they organized another Society under the name of Progressive Friends.”

Ruth Dugdale (1802-1898) Quaker Iowa abolitionist
Ruth Dugdale (1802-1898) Quaker Iowa abolitionist and wife of Joseph Dugdale. She, along with her husband and mother-in-law Sarah Dugdale, were prominent national leaders in women’s suffrage, abolitionism and other progressive movements. Courtesy Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA

Joseph Dugdale’s wife, Ruth, was friends with famed abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass. Douglass was supportive of Ruth Dugdale’s efforts on behalf of both abolitionism and women’s suffrage. Here is a letter Douglass wrote Ruth Dugdale in 1848, in which he thanks her for, among other things, her encouragment of his newspaper venture, North Star. Transcript below the letter image:

frederick douglass black abolitionist
frederick douglass black abolitionist
Courtesy Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA

Frederick Douglass to Ruth Dugdale

Rochester – 15th Dec. 1848

My Dear Friend:

            Your words of kindly greeting have come safely to hand, – and I wish it were in my power, to make such a response to it, as its loving and sisterly spirit deserves. In the process of public engagements by which I am ever surrounded I find it difficult to write letters to many dear friends whose communion would always afford me happiness.

                        I feel greatly pleased with your kind expressions and aspirations for the “North Star.” The paper should have a risen among you, but for the “green eyed monster” jealously – which even has a place among those from whom better things ought to have been expected. It may all however turn out for the best. Though my bodily presence is not in the North Start shines there as well as upon New York. – and I believe there is as many readers of it in that state as in this. Your reference to the malign prejudice acknowledge man and respect him in our all wise Creator may see fit to send him in the world.

                        My Dear sister, what a work is before us how much remains to be done in this cause – and kindred ones – how much faith in the truth we do nee, to battle against the allied hosts of wrong every where developed. The land staggers with treachery and ruinous disorders” and power put must be the element which shall restore it to peace, health and order. My Dear sister – your sympathy and aid is gratefully appreciated by me although I seldom see you. I received a copy of the proceedings of your meeting at Green Plain and Hope that I shall to give some extracts from when to the readers of the North Star.

                        With best love to yourself and Dear Husband. I am most sincerely yours,

                                                                                                Frederick Douglass

The Dugdales eventually left Ohio for Chester, Pennsylvania then in 1862 they moved to Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. They joined the Iowa Society of Friends at Prairie Grove Meeting; when Samuel M. Janney made a trip there in 1864 he was heartily welcomed by Joseph and Ruth Dugdale. Records show that in November 1869 the Dugdales visited Lincoln’s Goose Creek Meeting. The abolition struggles and disagreements of 1844 Green Plain, Ohio were long in the past. The fight over what to do about slavery was being settled by a nation at war.

0 comments on ““Westward Ho” along the Underground Railroad

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: