Perinton and the Underground Railroad

By Daniel Smith

While it is very well-known that anti-slave abolitionists Frederick Douglas lived in Rochester, NY, and Harriet Tubman lived nearby in Auburn, it is not as widely publicized that Perinton, New York was the home of several people instrumental in aiding slaves escape to freedom on the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad was a secret trail of safe places along a route from Wilmington and Baltimore, through Philadelphia, New York City, Syracuse, Rochester, and finally to St. Catherine's, Ontario Canada.

Slaves could not stop in the northern states, because slave catchers from the south were allowed to recapture slaves in all states. It began operating in the 1830's and was run by white people, black people, and people of all different denominations. The Underground Railroad stations could be anything from a hollowed-out tree, to a barn, church, or house.

MasonRd.173RamsdellLot221.ms09It took about a day to walk between stations, and they were usually marked by a candle or light. In the mid-to-late 1800's, several Underground Railroad stations operated in Perinton, New York.

One was a house that still stands today at 173 Mason Road, owned by Gideon and Jeremiah Ramsdell. Gideon Ramsdell was a Quaker, who did not believe in slavery and who opened his home to fugitives on their way to Canada.

Ramsdell house at 173 Mason Road is a documented stop on the Underground Railroad.

Another local connection is mentioned in a newspaper article that tells about a gatepost near the intersection of Turk Hill Road and Steele Road. Elizabeth Shilling's mother is reported to have put sandwiches there for fleeing slaves. Her family also gave money to a conductor, Samuel Williams, who in turn gave it to needy slaves. A large hollow tree at the same location is gone now, but probably served as a hiding spot for the runaways.

WhitneyRd2187TalmanIsaac1900-1940tpm00227croppdThe Isaac Talman house at 2187 Whitney Road and the Darius Tallman/Butler House at 2381 Whitney Road are both considered stops on the Railroad. Darius Tallman is one of Isaac Talman's sons. A second son, John lived in the house at 2187 Whitney Road. His son, John Jr., referred to his father as a "Black Republican" and shared stories of families that were hidden at the house and then transported under blankets by lumber wagon to the next station.

The Talman house at 2187 Whitney Road.

John was a banker who also owned the Talman building, which was used by Frederick Douglass to publish his Underground Railroad paper, The North Star. Frederick Douglass was a prime stationmaster, and both his office and home were used as stops. Mary E. Fitzhugh was married to John Talman. She and other Fitzhugh family members aided runaway slaves in nearby Rochester, along with Quakers, Isaac and Amy Post, Presbyterians, Samuel D. Porter and his sister Maria, and Congressman Gerrit Smith.

PittsfordVictorRoad-1041-v2-2010Web400According to stories passed down through the years, the Collins family house at 1041 Pittsford-Victor Road was also a stop on the Underground Railroad. The Perinton maps of 1852, 1858, and 1872 list that property as belonging to H. Collins. The "H" could refer to Harkeline, his brother Hiram, or his brother, Homer.

In 1989, the home was designated as a Perinton Historic Landmark.

This home at 1041 Pittsford-Victor Road, a Perinton Historic Landmark, was on the Hamlet of Bushnell's Basin & Ayrault house tour.

While researchers disagree on the actual list of all stops in the Rochester area, it is clear that there were definitely several in the Fairport, Perinton area. I feel proud to be part of a community that bravely aided in the fight to abolish slavery.


The map of 1858 shows the location of J. C. Ford and S. Williams homes, both neighbors mentioned in the account, per sidebar, written by Elizabeth N. Shilling about the Underground Railroad.




Daniel Smith

Congratulations to Daniel Smith a winner of a 2015 Perinton Historical Society Scholarship! Daniel has received a $1,000 scholarship towards his first year of tuition at John Carroll University.


The letter below is from a collection of the archives of Marjorie Merriman, one, a pioneer and incredibly active member of the Perinton Historical Society.

Fairport, NY
March 4, 1939

Dear Mrs Bown,

As I am laid up with a broken arm, I spend much time reading over old letters and papers and have learned some things I never knew before. They are from the pen of my brother, Charles Wesley Ford, who died January 17, 1928.

He writes in a letter written in 1856: “Our folks had company on Saturday afternoon. They were Mr. and Mrs. John Woolston, Mr. and Mrs. William Woolston and Mr. and Mrs. Erastus Ford. Of course they talked politics.

A fugitive slave law was then in force – that everyone must turn out with horses and dogs, with hue and cry at the call of United States Marshalls, pursuing runaway slaves. It also imposed a fine of $1,000.00 and two years in prison for refusing to join in arresting or in feeding or helping fugitives.

Our mother vowed she would feed fugitives, officials or no. They would not keep her long in jail or get any dollars from her. She actually put sandwiches on our gatepost by the path across the swamp into the woods for strangers to help themselves. I remember some years afterward that very early one morning our neighbor, Mr. Samuel Williams came to our back door with a young colored man saying: “We must help this man. We can’t give him any money, but we can lend him some”, which they did, including also a lunch. Some twenty or more years later, this brother heard a colored man tell of an experience of his describing the place, the woods used at the time, the swamp, the path across the swamp into the woods, and he felt it must be the same man. This happened on the Turk Hill Road about five miles south of Fairport. Very few people living know the truth of this.

Elizabeth N. Shilling

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