“Oh lawd … save these your chill’en!” Maimy cried her prayer softly as they trudged along the river bank.
It was a moonless night. They were 15 between women and children who’d run away from various plantations in Maryland. They’d been gathered in one “way station” in Pennsylvania. The owners of the farm were Quakers, also known as Friends. Maimy and her group had been hiding in their cellar now for almost 5 days waiting for the new moon.
The slave hunters had come by the day before with their dogs. It had been hard to keep the baby silent. They wouldn’t be safe until they reached Canada. Sure, Pennsylvania was a free state, but black people had no rights and everyone was obliged to return runaway slaves to their owners … thanks to the Supreme Court of the United States, in the Dred Scott decision.
Soon they would cross the river and exchange guides Maimy thought. They’d been told that their new guide who would take them the rest of the way to Canada was an ex-slave. He’d risked his life and freedom for nearly 10 years to help his people.
An owl hooted. The group stopped, hearts in their throat. Then their guide hooted too. Soon a black man with a “red injun” came up to their leader.
“Okay ev’rybody … we’s gonna cross this here river and go through a mountain pass. You’s gonna be in Canada next week. Just have faith and walk.” said the black man.
And they did.
Written for Mindlovesmisery’s Menagerie
The link provided in this post informs us that very often slaves never went farther than Pennsylvania especially where there was a large community of Quakers and free “people of color”. My story is just a mish-mash of various stories I’ve heard since I was a kid and shouldn’t be taken seriously, though I’m sure that maybe somewhere in history a Maimy must have existed … but maybe she was an Armenian, a Kurd or a Jewish woman (et cetera) running from some other “master” though not necessarily because she was a slave, but just because she’d been born into the wrong ethnic group.
Over the last century and into this new century we’ve seen over and over again masses of people having to leave their homes due to war, political upheaval, racial intolerance and famine. The underground railroad is for me just a symbol of all those throughout history who have helped the down-trodden find a place of safety to live.