I thought I had finished matching reports from the Cecil Whig and Cecil Democrat that I had on file to the reports in the records of William Still and Sydney Gay. But while reviewing Still’s Underground Railroad narratives I spotted one more, two halves of the same event.
In July, 1858, the Cecil Democrat reported that Benjamin Chambers had pursued two men attempting to escape from him. When Chambers reached Wilmington, Delaware, he managed to arrest Jake just as he was about to board the train for Philadelphia. According to the Democrat, Jake claimed that a white man persuaded him to escape. Jim, the other man fleeing for freedom, arrived safely in Philadelphia, where Still picks up the narrative without reference to the escape (Underground Railroad, 469). Unmentioned in the newspaper, Jim’s wife, Mary Ann, had accompanied him, having escaped from Elias Rhoads, who resided in the same area of the county.
Jim resented that Chambers would hire him out and then keep all the pay. A number of arrivals at Still’s office had expressed resentment over being hired out and receiving nothing for their toil. Slaves were already forced to work without pay for their enslavers, but to be hired out and receive nothing in return added to the sense of injustice, and underscored the absence of control over their own lives. But what worried Jim most, and led to the decision to run, was that Chambers son was expecting to inherit Jim soon, and he made it clear that he intended to sell him. “The manner of the son stirred Jake's very blood to boiling heat it seemed. His suffering, and the suffering of his fellow-bondsmen had never before appeared so hard. The idea that he must work, and be sold at the pleasure of another, made him decide to "pull up stakes," and seek refuge elsewhere.” Still added to the narrative that “such a spirit as he possessed could not rest in servitude.”
The map shows the location of Benjamin Chambers’s properties, and illustrates how close he lived to Delaware. The road into leading into Delaware is named Woods Road today. Still does not say at what point Jim and his wife connected with the Underground Railroad, but for Jim, Jake, and Mary Ann to buy train tickets in Wilmington they either had their own funds, or this is where the Underground Railroad assists in the escape.
Notice that in the same area of the map as Chambers, are two properties of Samuel Smith, who is located even closer to the state line than Chambers. I am adding a second narrative from William Still (Underground Railroad, 472) to this post because of the proximity of the two sets of properties.
The arrival of George Robinson, age 21, in Philadelphia was in 1858, the same year as the arrival of Jim and Mary Ann. Robinson gave the same reason for fleeing. “George Robinson stated that he came from a place about one and a half miles from the Chesapeake Bay, one mile from Old town, and five miles from Elkton, and was owned by Samuel Smith, a farmer, who was ‘pretty cross and an ill man.’ George's excuse for withdrawing his valuable services from Mr. Smith at the time that he did, was attributable to the fact, that he entertained fears that they were about to sell him. Having cautiousness largely developed he determined to reach Canada and keep out of danger.”
For those who wish to see the original narratives, click here and scroll down to 469 for the first one and 472 for the second.