Madison County Historical Society


 A Stop on the Underground Railroad


In the early 1800s, several Hicksite Quaker families established homesteads near Spring Valley, an area east of Pendleton, Indiana.  They had come westward from Pennsylvania and other eastern states.  With these families came beliefs against slavery, the bearing of arms, and the ill treatment of Native Americans.  Some of these earliest settlers were William Williams, Daniel and Elizabeth Nicholson, Jonathan and Ann Thomas, John J. and Rebecca Lewis, Neal Hardy, Solomon Fussell and Joseph and Elizabeth Rogers.

In 1836, the Fall Creek Meeting House was constructed.  This building would become a landmark in the Underground Railroad movement.  The Meeting House was completed in time for the marriage of Solomon Fussell to his second wife, Hannah Lewis.  The Meeting House was one of the stations on the Underground Railroad and "many slaves were aided here on their journey to freedom."  Frederick Douglass, a notable abolitionist, was scheduled to speak in Pendleton in September 1843.  However, when he appeared, an anti-abolitionist mob attacked and almost killed him.  Charles Fussell and his wife, Rebecca,  interceded and rushed him away to Neal Hardy's home where he recuperated.  After this incident, the Fussells were threatened and harassed by anti-abolitionists and eventually moved back to Chester County, Pennsylvania. 

Families Involved

The widow of Daniel Nicholson, Elizabeth, was very active in helping slaves escape through the Underground Railroad.  She would knit stockings and socks for the fugitive slaves.  In the spring, she would go from house to house asking for yarn.  If it wasn't spun, she would take rolls home, spinning them herself, knit, and send them with other such clothing as she could collect, to some station on the underground railroad, all the while attending to her domestic duties.  Her son, Valentine Nicholson, and his wife, Jane, operated an underground railroad station in Harveysburg, Ohio.

In "The First 100 Years", authors Hayse Huey and Chester A. Garretson, relate a story of two farmers who made plans to help slaves along the underground railroad.  Two neighboring farmers, Edward Roberts and Joel Garretson, having farms east of Pendleton had joined together and took their hogs to market in Cincinnati for slaughter.  While there they had talked to several anti-slavery sympathizers.  Upon returning home, they learned of a family on their way from Richmond, Indiana to points north via the underground railroad. 

Edward and Joel constructed a false bottom for their box bed wagon.  When the family arrived at the appointed time and placed a few miles east of Pendleton, they were quickly loaded into the secret compartment of the wagon.  The wagon was loaded with hay and sacks of corn and wheat which were taken to a grist mill at Wabash.

The trip was made with only one disturbing incident when four men on horse-back rode along side, inquiring if the farmers "had seen or heard of a family of Negro slaves in the vicinity".  Edward Roberts, Joel Garretson, John Boston, and Charles Jacobs each continued to play an active role in the pre-Civil War days in helping run-away slaves escape along the underground railroad.  It should be noted that Charles Jacobs was married to Esther Ann Fussell, whose family was very active in the underground railroad in Pennsylvania.

Other Stations

The Gilmore Homestead in New Columbus(Ovid) was noted for using its upstairs attic as a haven for fugitive slaves.  Morris Gilmore would drive to the Methodist Church in Mechanicsburg and return with fugitives.  When word would come that it was safe, he would return them to Mechanicsburg.

One of the Underground Railroad stations was at the home of John Swain, Sr.  His farm lay directly on the line between Madison and Henry counties.

Isaac Adamson was active in the movement who lived close to Middletown.  The Simon Summer Depot was a station.  John Swain sent the fugitives to Westfield which would take them through Madison County.  Sources say that they would send them on to Fairmount.  

In her book, "History of Mechanicsburg" by Elizabeth Weeks, she notes that "Many a negro slave was brought here from Greensboro by Daniel Saint who always came in the night, rapped at the door, stepped aside, where he could not be seen when the door was opened, and with a laconic 'Here's your goods', sped away in the dark."

Excepts taken from an article written by Barb Donnell of the Pendleton Public Library.  The article appeared in the Herald Bulletin on the History Page, October 10, 2010.

Madison County Historical Society|15 West 11th Street, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696|(765)683-0052|