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Wayne Post
  • Historically Speaking — A peek at Palmyra’s past

  • The month of February is “Black History Month” and in Palmyra we have so much history involving abolition, the Underground Railroad, anti-Slavery movement, and the Civil War.  

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  • The month of February is “Black History Month” and in Palmyra we have so much history involving abolition, the Underground Railroad, anti-Slavery movement, and the Civil War.    
    Let’s ask these questions. How do we know that the Underground Railroad went through Palmyra? We know because we have two existing locations called Stations from that day. We also know because there are records pertaining to the Underground Railroad. One site was the Western Presbyterian Church at the corner of E. Main and Church Streets headed by Rev. Horace Eaton who was the reverend from 1849 to 1879. The beginning was in 1834 when the Anti-Slave Society met here for the first time. We also have the Pliny Sexton homestead on the Southside of East Main Street across from the old Garlock house. Was it a real railroad? That term was a code which would allow freedom seekers to follow the trails in secrecy to Canada and freedom. There are also maps that list the trails on this railroad made by such people as Harriet Tubman.  
    Did any major events happen in Palmyra regarding freedman and the Underground Railroad? Yes, one event happened right on Vienna Street at the home of the Brister’s or Bristol family. The name is a bit confused because it shows up differently in places. The year was 1818 and a terrible man named Capt. Helm had come to town. He had been an owner of over 50 slaves and was in need of money. He had lost all of them and hatched a plot to recapture the freed slaves and resell them. It is a terrible thing to think about, the sale of a person. Capt. Helm hired a man to distribute invitations for a reunion and social time to be held at a house on Vienna Street. No one knew it was the Captain planning this event. It was a clever plot to recapture as many people as he could.    
    The invitations were given out and the party was scheduled. A crowd gathered at the house on Vienna Street and the party began. Now, where were Capt. Helm and his henchmen? They were hiding at the Eagle Hotel at the corner of Holmes and E. Main Street waiting for their moment to pounce on the unsuspecting group. A young man named Austin had started for the party, but something told him not to go so he went back home and missed seeing his family and the others that gathered. In the midst of the party, Capt. Helm and his men surrounded the house quietly hiding in the trees and bushes waiting for the perfect moment to attack. The moment came and the attack began. A huge fight ensued and Capt. Helm attempted to capture as many people as he could.    
    These were freedmen and women and it wasn’t going to be easy. Once you taste freedom you will fight to the death to keep it. There were chairs flying, and beatings on all sides. To take freedom away and imprison these freed people again would not happen. The authorities finally came and Capt. Helm and his men were taken away. There were bloodied bodies on and Austin’s father was beaten severely. Those that were freed remained free and Capt. Helm was put in jail.   
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