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Stop number 12.

This story comes from the book The Trackless Trail by Frances Cloud Taylor.  Mrs. Taylor was a co-founder of the Kennett Underground Railroad Center along with Mary Dugan.  These two ladies loved Chester County and especially Kennett Square.  They worked tirelessly to bring the stories of the Underground Railroad to light, both writing and researching around the area.  

The Wheelbarrow

     James Walker, a freed Negro who lived on South Union Street in the Borough of Kennett Square, often helped Thomas Garrett in his anti-slavery activities.  A very touching story revolves around this dedicated man and his modest home.

“Sometime during the 1850’s, a young Negro man, who was a slave in Maryland, made an attempt to gain his freedom.  He was being carried to Wilmington on a train run by an engineer who was an abolitionist.  The engineer smuggled the slave aboard the train and warned him to leave the train before pulling into the Wilmington station.  At a signal from the engineer, the slave leaped from the train, and in so doing, severely injured his foot.  After pulling into the Wilmington station, the engineer informed a Negro porter of the accident and instructed him to go to the spot with a wheelbarrow.  The injured slave was taken to the home of friends and was soon brought to Kennett Square in the dead of night.  

Here he was placed in the home of James Walker, a prominent and respected black man who lived at 303 South Union Street.  Dr. Johnson, a well-known Kennett doctor, was called and, due to the mangled condition of the foot, had to amputate the heel and toe.  The slave was hidden for many weeks over the small kitchen in the rear of the house, taken care of by the Walker family and nursed by Esther Hayes.  Dr. Johnson visited him every night under cover of darkness.  Slowly, he improved.

Eventually word reached Kennett that the slave’s “master” had discovered his whereabouts, and he had to be moved at once. A wagon was secured, and one cold, sleeting night, Jesse and Samuel Pennock drove through the ally behind James Walker’s house and loaded the suffering slave into the wagon.  Jesse Pennock alone accompanied the injured man, and as the night was dark and the roads very slippery, he had to lead the horse, feeling his way along the side of the road.  After travelling for five miles, he arrived at the house where he had intended to leave the sick man, but he was refused help since the owners did not wish to become involved in harboring a fugitive.

After covering several more miles, Mr. Pennock stopped at the home of still another abolitionist.  Again, he was refused.  By this time Jesse Pennock was almost frozen with the cold and sleet, and the groans of the injured man added to the horror of the night.  At his next stop he was successful.  And Josiah Jackson took up the burden and delivered the wounded slave to the Underground Railroad station of Zebulon Thomas in the Chester Valley.  From here he was taken to the home of Graceanna Lewis and sisters in the vicinity of Kimberton, north of Downingtown.  After the Lewis sisters had nursed him back to health, he was given money and sent to Francis Jackson, an abolitionist living in Boston.  Here Jackson fitted him with an artificial foot and sent him to Haiti.

Several years later, while Dr. Johnson was sitting in his office, he was visited by a well-dressed Negro man who asked the doctor if he knew him.  The doctor promptly replied that he could not place him.  Thereupon the man introduced himself as the slave that the doctor had visited so many times in the dark attic at 303 South Union Street a number of years before.  He was well dressed and walked without any sign of lameness.  He had come back to thank those who had done so much to help him secure his freedom.  He went by the name of Johnson Hayes Walker, taking his name from his three benefactors.”

(This story is taken from Walter Grayson’s historical sketch of the Underground Railroad in the Kennett Square Centennial book of 1955.)

Your last story, for now, can be found in the backyard of the Kennett Heritage Center.  This little building called “The Annex” holds more information about the Kennett Underground Railroad.  You can find an Underground Expert in the KURC room inside the Kennett Heritage Center and more members, equally as expert, in the Annex.


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