York’s Underground Railroad Heroes: Joseph Wickersham

Famed publisher and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison (above) was a friend of York County activist and school teacher Joseph Wickersham (National Archives)

In the early 1800s, York County, Pennsylvania, played an important role in the growing movement to abolish slavery. Many people in southern York County were ambivalent to slavery or tolerated it; others actively supported the trade by hiring slaves from their Maryland masters for temporary work. Along the Susquehanna River, people were more tolerant of former slaves, often taking in runaways into the growing black population of the southeastern townships such as Fawn and Lower Chanceford.

To the north, where a belt of thriving Quaker meetings stretched at intervals across the county and into Adams County, abolitionists and civil rights activists fought to assist runaway slaves and improve the lot of free blacks in Pennsylvania. Over time, York County attract the attention of some nationally known abolitionists and freedom workers, including Lucretia Mott, George Woodward, Harriet Tubman, and others, including Boston-based publisher William Lloyd Garrison.

He was friends with a number of leading Quakers in the Newberry-Lewisberry area, including Joseph Wickersham.

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York’s Underground Railroad Heroes: Joseph Garretson

Detail from a PowerPoint slide by Scott Mingus. Map is from the 1860 Shearer & Lake Map of York County (YCHC)

Jim McClure and I will be co-presenting a talk on the Underground Railroad in York County, Pennsylvania, at the February 15 monthly meeting of the York Civil War Round Table (250 E. Market Street, York; free admission and parking). I will discuss 10 sites/people who were conductors/stops on the secretive Underground Railroad network to freedom here in this county.

One of the people I will discuss is Joseph Garretson, a peaceful Quaker farmer turned activist in Newberry Township in northeastern York County. His modest farm saw one of the most tragic events in the history of assisting fugitive slaves/freedom seekers in this county.

Come on out to the YCWRT meeting and hear much more on Garretson and other brave conductors, for whom blindly obeying the federal Fugitive Slave Law meant far less than human compassion and basic morality. They were willing to risk their own freedom and finances to help fellow human beings in time of need.

Here’s Garretson’s story.

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Yankees and Rebels both camped on Wrightsville farm

Detail from a 1931 aerial photo (Hagley Library Digital Collection, Wilmington, DE)

The last of June 1863 were momentous times for the citizens of Wrightsville, Pennsylvania. Situated on the western bank of the Susquehanna River, the town was the western terminus of what was then the world’s longest covered bridge. The Northern Central Railway’s spur from York ran into Wrightsville and across the bridge to Columbia in Lancaster County. A busy turnpike ran through town, connecting Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and a host of small towns in between. The remnants of the defunct Tide Water and Susquehanna Canal ran south from the town toward Havre de Grace, Maryland. Lumberyards and ironworks lined the riverbank.

Wrightsville was a bustling, prosperous town of a little more than 1,000 residents in 1863. The routine had been broken by news of a possible Confederate raid into Pennsylvania, and Governor Andrew G. Curtin had called for 50,000 volunteers to join the state’s emergency militia to serve until the Rebels left the commonwealth.

Colonel Jacob G. Frick led the 27th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia into Wrightsville, having traveled by train from Harrisburg south to Columbia. Most of the men crossed the long bridge into Wrightsville and camped on the Joseph Detweiler farm (shown in the above photograph to the right center) for several days.

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Save the Mifflin House: why we all should care.

A few months ago, I was among a small group of fellow history buffs who were invited on a personal tour of the historic Mifflin House, known to its Quaker founders as “Hybla,” just outside of Wrightsville, Pennsylvania. A generation later, the property, then known as the Huber farm, was a part of the Civil War battlefield for the skirmish of Wrightsville as state militia denied the Confederate army a key river crossing.

I documented the potential threat to the property in two Cannonball blog posts (click here, and then here to read them as background material).

In recent days, the Mifflin House has been back in the news as the threat of its destruction appears to have increased. Preservation Pennsylvania has named it as one of the most threatened properties in the commonwealth that deserve to be kept for posterity.

I asked several area historians and preservation-minded residents to weight in on why Hybla must be saved. Here are some of the initial responses. More to come in future posts.

#NotMyWreckingBall #SaveHyblaNow

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York CWRT Feb. 15: Jim McClure & Scott Mingus discuss the Underground Railroad

On February 15, 2017, please join the York Civil War Roundtable in its 20th Anniversary Year, welcoming authors Scott Mingus and James McClure to our meeting for their combined presentation on the  Underground Railroad in York County, Pennsylvania. The monthly meeting is at 7 p.m. at the York County History Center, 250 E. Market Street in York. Admission and parking are both free, and the meeting is open to the public.

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10-year-old girl escaped from Hanover just as the battle erupted

The Picket, Hanover’s landmark monument to its Civil War battle, was once in the middle of the traffic circle (Author’s postcard collection)

Imagine going about your daily business when suddenly word comes that enemy troops are fast approaching and a battle looms. You are far from your home, potentially caught up in the path of the fighting. Already armed soldiers on horseback are encircling the town and cutting off access to the roads. People are rushing around the streets, hoping to find shelter.

Now, imagine you are only ten years old.

And, it’s your birthday.

That was the situation little Sarah Adams faced on Tuesday, June 30, 1863, when Confederate cavalrymen under Major General J.E.B. Stuart rode toward Hanover and surprised an unsuspecting column of Pennsylvania cavalry who were passing through the area. Fighting began raging along the Westminster Road and the Frederick Road. It was the opening movements of the Civil War battle of Hanover, which would soon grow into the largest known armed conflict in the history of York County, Pennsylvania.

Here is little Sarah’s story, as told decades later on her 85th birthday in the pages of the June 30, 1938, York Gazette and Daily, on the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Hanover. Her story has rarely been told in previous accounts of the battle.

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Hanover “Emergency Men” Sought State Pensions as Veterans

As tens of thousands of Confederates threatened to invade southern Pennsylvania in mid-June 1863, Republican Governor Andrew G. Gregg, a staunch ally of President Lincoln, issued a proclamation seeking volunteers to join several proposed regiments of Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia for the duration of the emergency. Known colloquially as “Emergency Men,” more than 7,000 volunteers flooded into Harrisburg, enough recruits to form seven full regiments of state militia.

The problem was that the governor had called for 50,000 men, more than seven times the number that actually showed up to serve. Part of the unexpectedly weak turnout was confusion over whether the volunteers would really only serve during the emergency and then would be mustered out back into civilian life, or would they be forced into 3-year regiments? Another factor was the season of the year. It was summer harvest time, and many Pennsylvania farmers and farm workers wanted to stay home and gather their crops and hay. Others had already served in the military and figured they had performed their duty. And, finally, anti-war sentiment was growing in Pennsylvania. Judge George Woodward, a “Copperhead” pro-peace Democrat was gaining support in southern Pennsylvania.

A company of the new 26th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia had been raised in Hanover from men from the surrounding area as far south as Union Mills, Maryland. They traveled to Harrisburg, mustered in, received their weapons and training, and were soon on a train heading back through Hanover to defend Gettysburg. On a rainy, dismal June 26, west of Gettysburg, they retreated in the face of Jubal Early’ oncoming veteran Rebels. At least 175 of their number, including more than a dozen York Countians, were taken prisoner in separate skirmishes at Marsh Creek, Gettysburg, and the Henry Witmer farm. They were eventually paroled, minus their shoes and equipment.

Years later, the surviving emergency men sought formal pensions as Civil War veterans, much like their counterparts in the longer-term regiments. Here is an article on the subject from the February 6, 1908, issue of the York Daily.

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School group in 1895 explored old Civil War fortifications along Codorus Creek

A 15-yard long linear section of old Civil War earthworks on a particular hill in southern York County overlooking the Northern Central Railway. (Scott Mingus photo)

During the late spring of 1863, railroad and civic officials throughout south-central Pennsylvania feared that Robert E. Lee’s oncoming Confederate Army of Northern Virginia might target the transportation infrastructure, in particular railroads and bridges. Efforts were made at several locations in York County to guard the vital Northern Central Railway, a key supply line for the Union army. The single set of railroad tracks ran through York Haven, Mount Wolf, Emigsville, York, Jefferson Station, Hanover Junction, Glen Rock, and Shrewsbury Station (now Railroad) before entering Baltimore County, Maryland. Efforts were being made to double track the route north from Baltimore City, but that would not be completed until after the Civil War.

Railroad work crews, civilian volunteers, and members of the 20th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia hastily dug earthworks, rifle pits, and other defensive positions on high ground overlooking certain bridges. They established campsites along the railroad near York Haven, the Gut, Emigsville, the Howard Tunnel, Hanover Junction, and Larue. A few of these old earthworks remain in a few places. In some areas, they are almost imperceptible; in others, they are deeper and easier to spot.

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Hanover woman reportedly married wounded soldier she nursed to health

The York Daily on December 2, 1887, reprinted a story from the Hanover Spectator about an unnamed Hanover woman who had nursed a badly wounded soldier, shot at the battle of Gettysburg, back to health and then married him. Such incidents were not unknown in York County; there are a few accounts of patients at the U.S. Army General Hospital in York who married local women who had nursed them or ministered to them. The chief surgeon of the hospital, Dr. Henry Palmer of Wisconsin, also wed a young woman during the war.

Here is the story of the Hanover woman and her beau.

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4,000 attended parade & dedication of Dover’s Civil War tablet to Jeb Stuart: Part 4

Reuben Becker Jr. painted this depiction of Jeb Stuart’s narrow escape during the battle of Hanover. (Scott Mingus photo; painting is at Guthrie Library)

More than 4,000 people had crammed into tiny Dover, Pennsylvania, on November 23, 1907, to watch a parade and then attend the unveiling ceremonies for a metal tablet commemorating Dover’s role in the Gettysburg Campaign; specifically, Jeb Stuart’s stay at Dover on July 1, 1863.

After giving the historical context as to the importance of preserving local history, keynote speaker Robert C. Bair, the president of the Historical Society of York County, discussed a mysterious Bible salesman who traveled all over York County for ten days in May 1863 and then guided the Rebel forces into downtown York a little more than a month later. Bair then gave some background on Stuart’s mission, his entry in Maryland and Pennsylvania, the capture of a lengthy, slow-moving Union wagon train in Rockville, Maryland, and the fighting at Hanover.

We pick up Bair’s narrative as he talks about Stuart and his time in Dover after pulling our of Hanover on the afternoon of June 30, 1863.

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