Thursday, June 3, 2021
Rain, Temperature 68 Degrees
Exploring Woodlawn Cemetery, City of Elmira, NY
I’m not even going to comment on the weather. Except to say this is really getting old!
So, after we visited the grave site for Mark Twain on our way out we noticed this monument. Immediately, my curiosity was roused. What was the connection between the Underground Railroad, Elmira, and Woodlawn Cemetery?
Time for some investigation.
The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early to mid-19th century. It was used by enslaved African Americans primarily to flee into free states and Canada.
A number of routes ran through New York but the most famous and most successful was the route that ran through Elmira. Elmira was a natural hub since it is at the center of several river valleys, which have always been the basis for transportation routes. The Elmira route started in Philadelphia, went through Williamsport, PA, then Elmira, NY and on into Canada.
Of the many individuals who worked on the railroad in Elmira the most noted one was John Jones. He escaped to Elmira on the railroad and then decided to settle there. Between the years of 1851 and 1860 documentation shows that he helped over 800 fugitive slaves to escape through Elmira. However, many considered Elmira a safe place and like it so much that they subsequently settled there.
Jones sheltered them either in his own home or at The First Baptist Church of which he was the sexton. He often received fugitives in groups of six to ten but at times groups of thirty or more would arrive together. It is said that when the railroad was in existence every church in Elmira assisted in harboring fugitives.
In 1850 when the New York and Erie Railroad Line came to Elmira Jones’s legacy really began. By making friends with railroad employees he induced baggage men to stow away fugitive slaves. The car in which they hid became known as The Freedom Baggage Car. Those going on beyond Elmira usually departed on the 4:00 am train since it was considered the safest, as it did not change cars until it reached St. Catherine’s, Ontario.
But Jones could not have done it alone. Some of Elmira’s most respected citizens (all listed on this monument) helped in this noble and illegal effort by providing overnight accommodations, money, food or clothing to make their stay and subsequent journey possible. These individuals provided a network of support at great risk to themselves, their families and their business reputations.
One of the most famous was none other than Mark Twain’s father-in-law who is also buried at Woodlawn Cemetery. He was a prominent abolitionist and active in anti-slavery causes who helped in the funding of Jones’s operation. He also spent a great deal of his money on various social causes of that day and age.
There is so much more to be told about the Underground Railroad and its significance to our country’s history but time and space does not permit going further. I encourage you to Google it and discover for yourself the many people who risked their lives and everything they had to make it work. It’s a fascinating history that we should all be familiar with.
Tomorrow, we soar!
Our day on The Road of Retirement has come to an end. If you’ll excuse me its time now to go build an ark. Just big enough for the two of us and my stuffed dog, Harper. He is the only animal allowed on! Have a good evening.
Thanks for taking the time to read our blog. We always appreciate your company, your comments, and your suggestions. Remember, take time to stop and smell the roses and live each day that God gives you to the fullest.
These are the voyages of Elvira and her two intrepid travelers. Our continuing mission: to explore as many new states as possible, to seek out new acquaintances and make new friends, to boldly go where we have never been before.
See you on down the road!