Welcome to your last stop! We hope you enjoyed your walk.
We will use this last stop to explain how we know all these stories. Again, we will have Chris Densmore, our scholar, retired curator, researcher, former board member of KURC and a good friend, explain.
How Do You Know That?
Telling the Underground Railroad Story in Chester County
How do you learn all this history? Many people didn’t particularly like history in school. Most people don’t read the “academic” books and scholarly articles produced by history professors. An “academic” book by an “academic press” may be read by a very limited number of specialists.
But people have a voracious appetite for learning about history. Their sources? Some historical sites like the Liberty Bell Pavilion and Independence Hall in Philadelphia and Gettysburg draw millions of visitors each year. People plan vacations around visiting these sites, and they learn about history from park rangers, historical re-enactors, visitor centers, and roadside markers. Far larger numbers absorb history through movies, television programs, and novels. For children, one example is the “American Girl” series. For adults, the choice of reading material on slavery and the Underground Railroad ranges from Tracy Chevalier’s The Last Runaway to the racks of historical novels, westerns, spy novels and romance novels available at the local supermarket. Next time you pass by the display of current romance novel titles, note how many of them have historical themes. Novels they are, but often authors are very interested in total accuracy of the background even if the storyline might seem a little heated.
A lot of people seem to think that every historical topic has been covered. Interested in Abraham Lincoln? Just go to the Bayard Taylor Library and read about Lincoln and borrow movies and recorded books about Lincoln. No problem. But the Underground Railroad in Chester County is another matter. Yes, there are books by Robert Smedley, William Kashatus and Frances Taylor, but they only tell parts of the story. Where is the rest? Waiting to be discovered in old newspapers, diaries, and official records by people like the late Mary Dugan and the Kennett Underground Railroad Center. Historical fiction is all very well, but right here in Chester County we have thrilling accounts of people escaping from slavery and people like the Barnards, Darlingtons, Fussells and others, at great risk, standing up to slave catchers and kidnappers.
And how do we tell these stories? Many of these stories that are just now being rediscovered deserve to be in the history books, but they will reach the most people as stories told through the Underground Railroad Tours of the Kennett Underground Railroad Center, as part of local festivals, and as talks for community groups. And, after we’ve told of some interesting incident, we can say that this story is so much better than all those novels because our stories are real, about real people, and these people were our neighbors, and then we can point to the Longwood Progressive Friends Meetinghouse, to the Cox House, to the Fussell House and numerous other sites. And, in the sense of local pride, that our area is unique in having so many sites that can be directly and accurately connected to the “Trackless Trail” to freedom.
Thanks so much for taking our walk today. We have many more stories and you have yet to meet all the people involved in the Underground Railroad in this area. Come back and see us. Our office is located in the Kennett Heritage Center and it is from there that we teach, research and tell our stories. In the Annex behind the Kennett Heritage Center, you will find your goodie bag waiting for you. Be sure to pick it up and browse the other information you will find there.
We would also like to invite you to become a part of KURC. Just leave your email address and we will keep you informed about our activities and programs throughout the year. We will also send you more of our stories.
We hope you enjoy the rest of your day!