My last blog post dealt with ancestors in my family tree known to have held enslaved people during the early years in America. This blog post turns the coin and gives a story of another family branch known to actively work to provide escaped slaves a path to freedom in the mid-1800’s. For many who escaped slavery, Maine was near the end of the road to freedom before they reached Canada, but it was also a last chance for those in pursuit to block their path to freedom.
Sympathizers throughout the country included Baptists, Quakers, Shakers and Masons, many of which became involved in aiding enslaved people running to escape their bondage. Laws requiring the return of slaves, and rewards offered by southern owners, created a society of assistance which required navigating with secrecy and extreme caution.
Many in Maine joined forces and developed a system of safe houses and routes to help escaped slaves heading toward freedom in Canada complete the last leg of their dangerous trip. The Underground Railroad was a secret system of linked individuals and safehouses that assisted the travel of the people who had escaped slavery travel northwards towards safety.
In the Brunswick and Topsham areas of Maine, however, parts of the Underground Railroad were actually underground. Both communities had a network of tunnels that were constructed of red brick paving, side walls that were up to 5 feet wide, and arched ceilings. The tunnels linked several of the safe houses in each community and facilitated the passage of many either on foot or by small wagon. Many of those fleeing slavery arrived by boat and were then put into a safehouse and/or used the tunnel network until arrangements were made for the next step of the journey.
As antislavery groups formed in communities, they often included influential residents that became deeply involved in the Underground Railroad. The tunnels built in Topsham connected about five of the homes or properties of wealthy individuals. Other homes were also used as safehouses in the area. A number of homes belonging to members of the local Antislavery Society were even remodeled with hidden places and passages to allow hiding spaces and accommodations for those in need.
One of the safehouses located in Topsham was the home of David Scribner, my 2nd great grandfather, located at 20 Elm Street. By 1830, David was a Deacon of the Topsham Baptist Church and later became a Vice President of the Topsham Antislavery Society formally established in 1838.
David Scribner achieved success in business as a part owner in both a grain company and a lumber mill. David also served one term as a representative in the Maine Legislature from 1838-1841. As a Deacon of the Topsham Baptist Church for over 60 years, David was commonly known as Deacon David or Deacon Scribner for most of his life.
David was born in 1795. His father, Edward Scribner, died in 1804 at the age of 37 after serving in the Revolutionary War. David was only nine years old at the time, the only son, and the eldest of 5 children. There was no time for him to attend school but he worked hard to continue his education through books for the rest of his life. David married Islethera Howland in 1821 with whom he had 7 children before her death. David later married a widow, Mary Ann Quint Whittemore and they had another 2 children. Deacon David Scribner died in Topsham, Maine in 1890 at 94 years of age.
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Edward Scribner (1766 – 1804)
Deacon David Scribner (1795 – 1890)
Islethera Howland Scribner (1802 – 1843)
Mary Ann Quint Whittemore Scribner (1808 – 1887)
– Jane Scribner McCrary