In the story of Captain Baylis bringing fifteen freedom seekers out of Norfolk that I posted on April 20th, I left out details on some of the difficulties they faced before reaching the canal. One of those difficulties occurred while they were still at the Norfolk docks. When they believed they hear the approach of a watchman, they entered shallow water and hid behind a boat. After standing there for about an hour and a half, an oyster boat out of Philadelphia picked them up and transported them to the schooner. In another incident, not in the report because it occurred in the Delaware Bay and did not relate to the report, William Still recounts another narrative involving an oyster boat (page 481):
CROSSING THE BAY IN A SKIFF. WILLIAM THOMAS COPE, JOHN BOICE GREY, HENRY BOICE AND ISAAC WHITE.
These young bondmen, whilst writhing under the tortures heaped upon them, resolved, at the cost of life, to make a desperate trial for free land; to rid themselves of their fetters, at whatever peril they might have to encounter. The land route presented less encouragement than by water; they knew but little, however, concerning either way. After much anxious reflection, they finally decided to make their Underground Rail Road exit by water. Having lived all their lives not far from the bay, they had some knowledge of small boats, skiffs in particular, but of course they were not the possessors of one. Feeling that there was no time to lose, they concluded to borrow a skiff, though they should never return it. So one Saturday evening, toward the latter part of January, the four young slaves stood on the beach near Lewes, Delaware, and cast their longing eyes in the direction of the Jersey shore. A fierce gale was blowing, and the waves were running fearfully high; not daunted, however, but as one man they resolved to take their lives in their hands and make the bold adventure.
With simple faith they entered the skiff; two of them took the oars, manfully to face uncertain dangers from the waves. But they remained steadfast, oft as they felt that they were making the last stroke with their oars, on the verge of being overwhelmed with the waves. At every new stage of danger they summoned courage by remembering that they were escaping for their lives.
Late on Sunday afternoon, the following day, they reached their much desired haven, the Jersey shore. The relief and joy were unspeakably great, yet they were strangers in a strange land. They knew not which way to steer. True, they knew that New Jersey bore the name of being a Free State; but they had reason to fear that they were in danger. In this dilemma they were discovered by the captain of an oyster boat whose sense of humanity was so strongly appealed to by their appearance that he engaged to pilot them to Philadelphia.
The role of Philadelphia oyster boats in the Underground Railroad may warrant a separate investigation beyond the report I made to the Network to Freedom project about the canal. A researcher might want to start with the fact that John David Oliver, a founding member of Philadelphia’s first Vigilance Committee in the 1840s and a committee board member in the 1850s, was an oyster dealer.
 “Oyster Boats Captured,” Cecil Democrat, November 1, 1851.
 Cecil County, Docket 10.14, case 1074, October 6, 1852, Court House Records Collection, Historical Society of Cecil County.
 “Committed to Jail,” Cecil Whig, May 2, 1857; “Supposed Runaways Arrested,” Cecil Democrat, May 2, 1857.
 William Still, Journal C of Station 2, William Still, 1853, 4 (footnote 4), Historical Society of Pennsylvania, http://hsp.org/journal-c-of-station-no-2-william-still-1853-4.