Historic Palmyra Executive Director Bonnie Hays explores Palmyra's role in the Underground Railroad.
We are taking a short break from the history of Historic Palmyra, The Palmyra Historic Society, to talk about an amazing, difficult, and passionate time in our history. It is the end of Black History Month, so let’s talk this week about the Underground Railroad and the folks in Palmyra that helped it happen and lead the movement.
Let’s first discuss what the Underground Railroad is and what it means. The Underground Railroad was an active involvement of people helping people to freedom. Not a train, it was called Underground Railroad as part of the code to disguise the activity which happened under cover of night and in deep secrecy. People were moved from place to place using a network of stations and station masters along the way until finally, Canada and freedom. Were there tunnels? Maybe, but not that we have found in Palmyra. We have a number of hiding places in the buildings of Palmyra. It is said that there was a tunnel under the Western Presbyterian Church. This is something that we have not been able to prove and those that were part of preparing the ground for the addition at the Western Presbyterian Church in early 1970s said that no sign of a tunnel was ever found. Actually the hiding place in the Western Presbyterian Church was in the steeple.
Palmyra’s connection to the Underground Railroad began as early as circa 1828 with Pliny Sexton. The Sexton home is located on East Main Street across from the Garlock House, east of Fayette Street, marked by a historic sign. This home was built by Sexton, banker, silversmith, entrepreneur and station master on the Underground Railroad circa 1827. Today it is a law office, but still known as the Sexton home.
This was just the beginning of the movement in Palmyra. In 1849 Presbyterian minister, Rev. Horace Eaton came to the Western Presbyterian Church after an education at Dartmouth and a passion against slavery. Rev. Eaton was always a pro-active participant in this movement and visited Washington, D.C. in 1838 to share his concern and distaste for it.
The mid-1830s saw the movement organized and meetings were held at the Western Presbyterian Church. There were a number of organizations supporting the Underground Railroad and over 64 people in Palmyra that were involved. Stop by the museum and pick up a list or check out the database listing names, organizations, and involvement of these people.
At the Alling Coverlet Museum we have a quilt from a Mrs. Sparrow, who was an amazing quilter. She designed and sewed a quilt depicting the Underground Railroad. This quilt and its research and stories took 21 years to compile and complete. On this quilt we can see Underground Railroad stations from Palmyra to Williamson and finally ending in Pultneyville. Not only did she spend countless hours to make this quilt, she spent a long time putting together research depicting the stops, maps, and the people involved. It was donated to the museum by her family in 2005.
Perry and Liza Lee owned a house on West Main Street which is still there today. The Lee’s had children and Perry was a barber. Our question for this week is where was the picture of Liza Lee taken.