Reprint of an article written in the Washington Observer,
Washington, PA, November 6, 1884. Submitted by Lorraine
OLD SLAVERY DAYS
HISTORY OF THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD
Continuation of a Thrilling Story – Adventures of the Runaways Near Pittsburg
More Light on an Old Mystery
Persons in this Vicinity who Conducted the Organization – Episodes
Some of the stories related by Old George Walls border so closely upon the romantic that we would hesitate to give them a place were they not corroborated by the statements made by the most respectable citizens of Washington and Washington County. We have thought proper to give these stories in the language employed by Old George. The first is …
THE RANDOLPH RUSE
“One of the most ticklish cases I had any hand in was the Gillespie case. A young man named Gillespie brought a slave from Carolina – I think ‘twas South Carolina. That was nigh forty years ago. Gillespie was educated in Canonsburg. He was visiting friends and it came about this way. I was living out near Major Ewing’s place. Let me think what that man’s name was”
–scratching his poll, then smiling, Old George Walls added, “Randolph – that’s the name. Well, Randolph was going to put master’s horse up – that was the way his master was traveling – and I said to him: Do you want to be a free man? He said yes, but he looked skeert. “Jes wait says he till I feed the horses. You come along with me says I and let someone else attend the horses. He seemed sort o fraid but I walked him right along; took him right off. There was a man named William Wassler; he lived on Major Ewing’s farm. He worked with me – we understood each other ‘bout as well as two men can. I intended taking Randolph over to a cousin of mine. I hadn’t any time to lose. I knew the master would be hunting him. While I was taking him to my cousin’s I met a man I couldn’t trust. He was curious and I talked as if we were going right on to Pittsburgh – threw him off the track; and when I got shet of him, I made straight for Wassler’s. ‘Twas my only chance then.
Randolph was the worse skeered man I ever saw. When we were going over near the road, we heard horse’s feet. I took hold of Randolph; gripped him, and we stood in the shadow of the trees on the millrace at Ewing’s mill. I could hear Randolph’s heart beating. All at once he said to me, That’s my master’s horse. I said how can you tell that? I know my master’s horse’s feet. That’s him. They’re coming. They’ll get me! Not if you keep quiet, I told him. But he trembled so I thought he’d drop. You stand still says I and wait.
It was a clear, moonlit night – you could see everything almost as plain as in daytime. The master and the constable galloped down and passed us. Randolph was so frightened he couldn’t move for a long time. I couldn’t waste no more time then, so I made him hurry up pretty lively till I got him over to Wassler’s and Wassler, he hid him. The master and the constable rode on to Washington. I got home as quick as I could by a near cut, so I would be on hand in case any one called to pay their respects.
You see’ " here old George’s face was illuminated with a smile that terminated in a ripple of laughter,
“We colored folks was most always called on when a black man was missing. The owner and about twenty others, with a constable, hunted, all armed for Randolph. I knew it was no place for him ‘round there then unless I could hide him some place where they would never think of looking for him. So, I went to Wassler’s the next night, got Randolph and hid him in another barn – kept him there two weeks, right under their noses!
There was a white man named Joseph Lee – a very strong abolitionist he was, and a very bold man. He was a neighbor of mine. I told him about Randolph – the risk we run if we could not put him forward a good piece after I took him out of the barn. Mr. Lee guaranteed to deliver him wherever I said – to put him right through. His owner was making a terrible talk – had his friends hunt everywhere round the country but the right place, so I finally fixed on Wheeling Hills for Randolph. Lee said all right he’d do it for me. I couldn’t be known in that part of it – ‘twouldn’t do for me to be away from home; Wheeling Hill was twenty-two miles away. I had a man there who worked with us – Mike Hackerson, a colored man like Wassler and myself. Lee he got the wagon; I went over, got Randolph, put him in it, and run him over to Mike Hackerson’s. Kept him there about a month. The excitement over Randolph was dying out then, and we thought we’d send him on to Pittsburg. We brought Randolph back, and I stowed him in a barn till we got ready to send him on.
There was a young lady attending the Seminary here; she was a sister-in-law to Joseph Lee. She was heart and soul in the Abolition Movement. Most of the women were that way; a good many of them did more than their husbands. This young lady – her name sir was Miss Margaret McLane – went into the barn, cut off Randolph’s hair, worked and fussed around and fixed up a pair of whiskers out of his hair on him and painted him yellow! Randolph was a very black man. When I seen him I skeerce knew him myself!
Well, sir there was a lot of weddeners (meaning an old fashioned wedding party) going on and that was the time we fixed to send Randolph on to Pittsburgh. When Randolph was all ready, he was put in a barouche, and they drove right into Canonsburg. His master stood in his mother-in-law’s doorway and looked at Randolph sitting in the barouche, facing him and didn’t know his own property”! Here George laughed again.
“There was a good deal of sport in Randolph’s case. The party drove right on to Allegheny, to John Chambers’ house. After the wedding party got out on the road pretty well, it seems they concluded it would be best for Randolph not to be seen in towards the city, so he had to scrooge down between the seats of the barouche when the wed dingers were in Mr. Chambers’ house eating. Miss Chambers had word – she knew someone was taken care of – had traveled with the weddingers and was hungry, but it wouldn’t do to blurt it out in the house. She wanted t slip something into Randolph to eat, and she says, Which end of the trunk will I put them things in? Why in the end towards you, they told her, and she went out with Randolph’s supper, while everybody laughed at the answer she got.
Squire Berry met the party about where the fair ground is now and they were talking about Randolph. There was so much talk about Gillespie’s slave that Squire Berry was curious to see him, and he said right out, I’d give a good deal to see Randolph. That was to Joseph Lee and Lee turned right around and pointed to Randolph in the barouche. There he is, says he. Berry was surprised and very glad. He wanted them to go to his house to dine, but there was no time for that. Then he took out his pocketbook and gave Randolph $7.50, all the money he had with him to help him on to Canada.
Oh yes I was suspected, of course. Being a free man, and for other reasons, they came to my place. I was ready for anything – so was Wassler. He had a gun, and I had a gun and pistols, if they were needed. You see, they were sure to call on me in such cases – and on Wassler, too – and we didn’t ‘low any one to surprise us too much. The master came to my house the second night Randolph was missing. They’d heard I was in Washington, but Wassler, he told them he’d seen me over at Canonsburg. When they asked me, I told them of course I was in town, and helping Randolph. They rode off thinking I was joking.
Read Part 2: A SLY MASTER OUTWITTED : Old George’s Story continues