The History Center on Main Street, 83 N. Main Street, Mansfield PA 16933
Tri-Counties Genealogy & History by Joyce M. Tice
Underground Railroad
Bradford County PA
Chemung County NY
Tioga County PA

Pitts Mansion in (maybe) Seneca County is listed in Arch Merrill's work
as being on the Undergound Railroad
Article: Underground Railroad
Chemung County
Article by Helen Mac Dougall Samson (1909-1995) in 1976
Sent in by Walt Samson
Retyped by Debbie Hansen
Photos by Joyce M. Tice April & May 1999
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John Jones, remembered as the sexton of the Elmira First Baptist Church who was in charge of the burials of all-Confederate dead from the prison camp was also very active in the Underground Railroad movement before the war. He was a slave on a Virginia plantation in 1817 when he, his two brothers and two other men decided on the dangerous journey north. They reached Elmira safely and John stayed for the rest of his life. He was known to have been quietly in command of the operation in the city and was assisted by well-known men and women of the community, among them Jervis Langdon and William K. Beecher. Two are known to have hidden escapees in their homes. Riggs Watros and a Mrs. Culp. There must have been others but it was a very secret operation as everyone was not in favor of abolition and it was illegal to help these slaves trying to reach Canada.

These groups of fugitives were collected and escorted north by certain of their people who made the trip many times guiding the frightened slaves who, otherwise would have had no help but the sight of the North Star which many followed as it led them steadily north and to freedom. The route, as pictured in an issue of the Historical Journal, led from Philadelphia, through Harrisburg, Williamsport, Elmira and north to Seneca Lake, then west to St. Catherines, Ontario. Elmira was the only main station between Philadelphia and Canada.

Some of the people remained for a time in the vicinity and in July, 1845 there were at least 17 fugitives in and around Elmira. Five were known to have jobs on a local farm and the total number passed through was well over 800.

After the completion of the Northern Central Railroad in 1850, Jones stepped up his efforts on the part of his people. He made friends with employees of the railroad and they stowed away untold numbers of slaves in the baggage cars and the trembling fugitives crouched among the trunks as the train steamed along to Watkins Glen and, finally directly to St. Catherines. Most were carried at night in farm wagons or covered carriages from home to home where they rested and ate and moved on again after dark. It was a sort of relay race to freedom with danger to everyone concerned.

A few of the houses where the fugitives were sheltered have been identified but there must have been more whose secret was never disclosed. The so-called "1812 house" near Big Flats had an unusual supporting beam under the fireplace. In reality, it conceals a tiny underground room dug just outside the foundation. The oldest home in Burdett, Schuyler County was found to have drawings on a fireplace that had been covered over for generations. They showed a bird in flight, a pointing hand and letters indicating food, flight and rest in a small pit under the floor if danger was near. A sign near Gabriel’s Junction near Watkins Glen used to tell of "Luther Cleveland and wife who sheltered slaves and helped them on their way to Canada" at the old home nearby. John Jones’ small house back of the church was known to have sheltered 30 men, women and children on the same night. It is a fascinating story with much never told because of the danger to the brave people who helped, as well as to the escaping slaves.

Harriet Tubman, Famous Conductor on the Underground Railroad, 
lived in Auburn NY later.

The Oldest House in Burdette is mentioned in this article.

First Added to the Site  on 23 DEC 2002
By Joyce M. Tice

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The History Center on Main Street, 83 N. Main Street, Mansfield PA 16933