Blairsville Pennsylvania maybe a small town of around 4,000 people. However it played its part with the Blairsville PA underground railroad and the history of slavery in America. So you can imagine my interest in such significant history whilst I was passing through this typical example of small town America.
What was the underground railroad?
The underground railroad was a network of routes and passages with safe houses which allowed slaves to escape from the Southern States and head north or even to Canada. Many slaves found freedom through this network in the early 1800s. The underground railroad was a network set up by abolitionists and Quakers as momentum grew to abolish slavery, leading ultimately to the American Civil War.
How was Blairsville involved?
Whilst only a small town Blairsville PA contained some staunch abolitionists in the likes of John Graff and Lewis Johnston.
In fact Johnston played host to an escaped slave called Richard Newman. Newman is famous in the town since in April 1858 he was accosted in the street by 3 out of towners seeking to catch escaped slaves. The incident led to local town residents to come to Newman’s rescue. Things became violent with shots fired and a near riot ensued. Rumour has it that 80 armed men were ready in waiting to come and assist Newman. It was only the mayor and local constable intervening which prevented a major lynching from happening.
Celebrating the underground railroad today
Whilst spending my time in Blairsville PA I couldn’t help but notice numerous leaflets promoting the Blairsville PA underground railroad experience. This is actually a seasonal (summer time) exhibit including re-enactments, museums and walking tours.
In fact, I was actually there out of season but I could follow elements of the walking tour by myself. It is possible to complete a more detailed walking tour which can take around 3 hours. This will reveal various historic houses and places where secret tunnels were located. Of course these tunnels were all part of the underground railroad allowing safe movement of slaves escaped from the south.
Places such as the Alexander Graff House which had a tunnel from the nearby Conemaugh River to the John Graff House across the road. John Graff was a successful businessman and also ran for State and National political offices on his abolitionist values.
You can find out much more about the history of the underground railroad at the Underground Railroad History Centre at 214 S. East Lane or The Historical Society of the Blairsville Area found at 116 E. Campbell Street.
Whilst it was not an overwhelming writer of the history of slavery in America, the underground railroad of Blairsville was significant for many. I don’t know how many slaves managed to escape through Blairsville PA but it will have changed their life forever. Ultimately it played a part in the course of history we know today.
When I travel I am always fascinated to know the history of somewhere. Not only is it of interest to know what I can do there today, I like to know why a place is as it is. Although it was many years ago now I did study some American history at school. Seeing the celebration of the Blairsville PA underground railroad makes this history tangible. By knowing this history a place becomes a lot more interesting for me.