Marvin House Members Learn About Underground Railroad

Members of the Marvin Community House learned more about the fascinating history of the Underground Railroad in Jamestown and Chautauqua County at their February luncheon.

B. Dolores Thompson, Paul Leone and David Shepard were the guest speakers on the topic, “Jamestown’s Connection to the Underground Railroad.”

The Underground Railroad was a network of people who were willing to risk their lives to escape slavery or to help others in their escape. It was like a web, shooting out in every direction, and one piece of that web traveled through Jamestown. Homes, churches and various buildings were used to shelter slaves while on the road to freedom.

Catherine Harris was a conductor who offered shelter in her home and was one of the first black citizens of Jamestown. Harris was also one of the few black conductors and possibly the only female conductor in the United States. She reportedly hid 17 slaves in the attic of her small home at one time. In 1881, her home at 12 W. Seventh St. later became the site of the first African-American church in Jamestown, the AME Zion Church. The church later relocated and is the historic Blackwell Chapel AME Zion Church.

Silas Shearman was a “rabid abolitionist” at a time when active opposition to slavery was most unpopular. He became conductor of the railroad and helped to obtain food and clothing for the slaves, in addition to raising money and finding transportation as they headed north to Canada. The expression, “Follow the North Star” was actually told to the slaves during their quest for freedom.

The Underground Railroad Tableau is a result of the vision and dedication of a group of persistent local individuals. It consists of three life-sized bronze figures that honor Jamestown’s notable Underground Railroad participants: Catherine Harris, Silas Shearman and an anonymous fugitive slave. Interestingly, the State Police Forensics Lab was instrumental in creating computer images that showed how Harris and Shearman’s faces would have looked in 1850, thus allowing for accurate bronze images. The tableau is located in Dow Park at the corner of Washington and Sixth streets, the original site of the Jamestown Cemetery.

Beth Trosper, Marvin House president, thanked the February volunteers who served at the luncheon. Helen Patti and Jane Winter were greeters, Janet Gibson and Sonja Burkett served as cashiers, and Helen Peterson gave the invocation. Door prizes were awarded to Mary Benson and Beth Trosper. Bonnie Larkin celebrated her February birthday with a special cupcake and decorated candle.

The March 21 meeting will feature Lisa Goodell, executive director of the Chautauqua Blind Association, who will present the program, “Blind Sight.” She will talk about the numerous advancements made in the field, as well as the services available and the successful collaboration with other community agencies.