|The Rev. Joshua Young|
In the same way, evidence in the files of Underground Railroad history has to be checked against its surroundings, and against other nearby evidence. A perfect example comes from mentions of the Rev. Joshua Young, who became a minister at the Unitarian church in Burlington, Vermont, in 1852. Noted for his anti-slavery views, he is quoted as having said that "every sea-port was a station" for the Underground Railroad in New England -- a phrase that may reflect some of his experience before coming to Burlington, when he served on the coast, in Boston (ordained there in 1849; the New York Times mentioned this date in Young's 1904 obituary). In Vermont, he had a "troubled ministry, and the controversy over his views on slavery compelled him to resign," says the current history of Burlington's Unitarian Universalist church. But before he did so, he became famous in 1859 as the minister who presided over the funeral of African American rebel John Brown, after Brown was hanged for leading a raid at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. No wonder people connected him then, and connect him still, with abolitionist groups and the Underground Railroad! He also left behind letters that include his wife's involvement and that of several other Burlington activists.
How often, while in Burlington, Vermont, did this minister shelter fugitives? Recorded numbers of African Americans passing through the area are relatively small. The most quoted source for Vermont Underground Railroad statistics, the work of Joseph Poland and Wilbur Siebert, has been largely discredited. And Jane Williamson, director of Rokeby, Vermont's Underground Railroad museum and former home of the Robinson family, suggests that the politics of Burlington at the time -- heavily dominated by South-favoring "Democrats" (the political parties were different then!) -- would have made the town a less likely area for active assistance to fugitives.
One letter quoted by the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association, written by a Rhode Island Quaker, Elizabeth Buffum Chace, includes her recollections as she looked back in the year 1891, and she mentioned the Rev. Young as being part of the "Vermont road" for fugitives.
How old was she when she wrote that letter? Could she be thinking of one particular fugitive, rather than a pattern of fugitives? What evidence is there for others working with the minister, such as Salmon P. Wires or Prof. Geo. W. Benedict, also of Burlington?
A good challenge for history detectives: Find out everything possible about Mrs. Chace and about Burlington in the 1850s and weigh the evidence, as Shawna and Thea do for "North Upton" in the book The Secret Room. Do the same for your own town -- I'm especially interested in hearing about any place where Quakers were known to live in the 1800s. Let me know what you find out, would you please?