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Amos Norris on the Road to Freedom: from Loudoun County to Niagara Falls

black canadians outside farmhouse
Colored Photograph Canada side of Niagara Falls 1911 Detroit Publishing Company, Courtesy Library of Congress

Free black man, Amos Norris, was mentioned in a previous post on Nest of Abolitionists. His story deserves closer attention for what it tells us about the Underground Railroad in Loudoun County. It is hard to imagine the lives of the people who risked everything in their attempts to escape slavery; for that reason, a Dillwyn Parrish letter from August 1860 is insightful.

Philadelphia Quaker Dillwyn Parrish was a family friend of Loudoun County Quakers Samuel M. and Elizabeth Janney. Both families were active in the anti-slavery movement. Parrish wrote Samuel M. Janney frequently, including a letter on August 10, 1860; the complete August 10, 1860 letter is in the Samuel M. Janney Papers collection at the Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College, and can be read here.

old quaker photograph

Dillwyn Parrish mentions in the letter that he and his wife Susanna had recently been travelling with Edward and Alma Hopper. Alma was a daughter of Lucretia and James Mott, and Edward Hopper, the Mott’s son-in-law, was a lawyer. All came from strong anti-slavery, abolitionist backgrounds. The portion of the letter focusing on Amos Norris and the free black community in Canada at Niagara Falls is transcribed below:

                                                                                                Concordville, Del

8 mo 10 1860

My dear Friend

            We have been spending several weeks in this pleasant locality, where we are enjoying the rest & quiet so necessary to those who spend a large part of their lives in the noise & excitement of a busy city. As it seems long since we have heard from thee directly, I thought a few minutes might be employed in addressing thee…

            … I will proceed to discharge a promise made a few weeks since to a colored citizen of Canada & will premise it by saying that Edw’ [Edward] Hopper & myself had some business which called us into Ohio, & concluded to take ourselves & wives to Niagara on our return –

            While we were admiring the beautiful scene before us, Seated on the bank of the river, I was approached by a colored man, who enquired if I was from Loudoun Co. Va Upon my answering in the negative, he apologized by saying that he thought I resembled Mr. Saml [Samuel] Janney – This led to considerable conversation in which our whole party were very much interested, & the particulars of which I will not now detail. Suffice it for the present to say that he preferred Canada to Virginia & left Loudoun in 1850. His name is Amos Norris. He lived at one time with Nathan Janney & married Amanda Mann, whose Sister Betsy Lambert lived with thee when he last heard from her – Amos is doing well – owns a little farm with comfortable buildings & has a good carriage & pair of horses which are employed in conveying visitors to the points of interest in the neighborhood – We found upon enquiry he was a thriving, respectable man, doing well every way, & a faithful Subject of the Queen – He took us to see David Dangerfield (alias Webster) in whose case Edward Hopper was employed when he was captured at Harrisburg & an attempt made to return him to his master in Loudoun Co. We found him [Dangerfield] living Comfortably in a neat house with sufficient ground to raise his own provision, & it was difficult to realize that the fine bright eyed man before us, was the same Daniel that Edw’ [Edward Hopper] & myself saw hand cuffed in one of our Court rooms in Philad’ [Philadelphia] – about 2 years before. The interview between Daniel & the Company will not soon be forgotten by any of us – We were informed that about 200 fugitives live within 2 miles of the Falls of Niagara on the Canada side, & that they are remarkable for their good Conduct & thrift. They enjoy of course equal privileges with the whites & there appeared to be no distinction – But to return to Amos – He says it is a long time since his wife has heard from his Sister Betsey & he fears the latter may have miscarried. He desires to hear from her & request the letter may be directed to Amos Norris – Drummondsville, Canada West Niagara Falls – He says they have written Several letters to his sister Betsey within a few months. Shouldst thou think it preferable, a letter to him might be enclosed to me & I will forward it from Philad.

            I regret that our absence prevented our seeing thy daughter in law & her afflicted child … If in the City when she returns from New York, we shall hope to see her at our house…

            We shall probably remain here about 2 weeks longer & shall be glad to hear from thee. With love to thy family, in which my S. [Susanna] joins. I conclude, thy cordial friend.

                                                                                    Dillwyn Parrish

Souther newspaper $100 Reward slave ad

Amos Norris attempted to escape enslavement in 1827, as shown in this Loudoun County “Genius of Liberty” newspaper $100 Reward ad (Courtesy of Bronwen Souders’ research at Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA.) According to what Norris tells the Parrish and Hopper party visiting Niagara Falls in 1860, he successfully left Loudoun County in 1850, either through another escape attempt or as a free man. More research is needed to complete his story.

The area of Canada near the United States border and adjoining water ways was a popular place for blacks to settle, escaping the U.S. Fugitive Slave Law. This border region became the final stop on the Underground Railroad. Black communities flourished all along above Lake Erie and Niagara Falls, as can be seen from the map below.

old canada map with niagara falls
“Southwestern Counties of Canada West – showing the principal stations of the free colored population” PAMPH 1855 #41. Courtesy Archives of Ontario.

Though the Canadian border was relatively safe for free blacks, it was still dangerously close to the United States’ slave trade. An October 1850 letter written by Mr. S. Wickham to Canadian border resident B.D. Stevenson makes the point that “slave catchers” were freely operating in area (transcript shown below the handwritten facsimile):

19th century handwritten letter about slave catchers
Letter dated Oct. 12, 1850 from S. Wickham warning of slave-catchers in the United States D. B. Stevenson fonds Correspondence for 1850, letter from S. Wickham to D. B. Stevenson October 12, 1850 Reference Code: F 499 MU 2885 Courtesy Archives of Ontario
Transcript: Oswego October 12th 1850 Mr Stevenson I rite these few lines to inform you and all my old picton friends that these few lines leaves me in good health and hoping these will find all my acquaintences in the same pleas sir give my love to my aunt Dinah Caty and Jane bennet tell them I say they must not come to the States but stay in the land of freedom [if] wile they have good homes for the law is so [now ] all through the united States that the slave holders can take their slaves were ever they can find them and since that law pased here has bin several colard people taken some of wich was borned free but they had not their free papers and would not be allould proper time to send for them neither a friend I expect to leave the States the last of [boating] for no colard person is safte in any part of the States my advice to all colored people to stay in Canada wither they are free or fugatives. Mr Stevenson pleas send this within letter to Mr Wm. W. Cunningham by some trusty person for I have sent several letters and received no answer Respectfully yours from S. Wickhampleas excuse my bad pen

Letter dated Oct. 12, 1850 from S. Wickham to D.B. Stevenson warning of slave-catchers in the United States. Reference Code: F499MU2885 Courtesy Archives of Ontario.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dillwyn Parrish, Edward Hopper and their wives were visiting the Niagara Falls for it’s natural beauty, but they also were abolitionists and would have known that free blacks had settled into the area after escaping the United States. Parrish’s letter makes clear that it was Edward Hopper who asked about another free black, Daniel Dangerfield, who was living in the vicinity. Parrish’s letter to Samuel M. Janney incited interest in Janney to see the place himself, and he himself made the trip to Niagara Falls and Canada in 1868.

black canadians outside farmhouse
Free Black Settlers in their Sunday best, possibly Essex County, [ca. 1900]
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds Ref: F 2076-16-3-4 Archives of Ontario

Daniel Dangerfield is also mentioned in Parrish’s August 1860 letter to Samuel M. Janney. His escape from Loudoun County and eventual recapture in 1859 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania had caused a national outcry on both sides of the slavery divide. A two day trial was held in Philadelphia before a packed courtroom, including Quakers who were central to Dangerfield’s defense. Edward Hopper, travelling with Parrish in August 1860, had been Dangerfield’s defense lawyer at the acclaimed trial. Prosecutors sought to return Dangerfield to his former “master,” but they lost the court case, which resulted in Daniel Dangerfield’s freedom. It was one of the rare moments of moral success in a 19th century legal system stacked against freemen and the enslaved. Much credit goes to the Pennslyvania Anti-Slavery Society, who used the protection their white, middle-class backgrounds afforded them to mount a legal challenge on Dangerfield’s behalf.

photograph of quakers and abolitionists in Philadelphia
Executive Committee of the Pennslyvania Anti-Slavery Society, 1851. Standing, from left: Mary Grew, Edward M. Davis, Haworth Wetherald, Abby Kimber, J. Miller McKim, and Sarah Pugh. Seated, from left: Oliver Johnson, Margaret Jones Burleigh, Benjamin C. Gacon, Robert Purvis, Lucretia Mott, James Mott. Courtesy of Friends Historical Society, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA

A good synopsis of Daniel Dangerfield, who renamed himself Daniel Webster, can be found on the Dickinson College “House Divided” site and in a Pittsburgh Gazette article. A Loudoun County government website referring to Daniel Dangerfield (Webster) is here. Dillwyn Parrish’s letter to Samuel M. Janney helps fill in biographical detail about Daniel Dangerfield Webster’s life after the momentous court case of 1859: we see he must have felt it was safer to move altogether out of the United States. It is satisfying to learn that both he and Amos Norris were left along to lead peaceful, productive lives.

Niagara Falls illustration by George Wallis (1811-1891) Courtesy Library of Congress

Canada’s Niagara Falls border area and its black citizens became influential, and by the early 20th century gave name to the “Niagara Movement,” which sought advancement of civil rights. More information about the “Niagara Movement” can be found at this History.com website.

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