6 Stops on the Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad was a network of people who hid fugitives from slavery in their homes during the day and moved them north by night to free states, Canada or England.

Refugees naturally headed for New England. The region had banished slavery and nurtured a strong abolitionist movement. People fleeing slavery could also get there easily from the South by rail and coastal vessels.


The Underground Railroad by Charles T. Webber

People who helped African-Americans escape used railroad terminology as a code to describe their activities in case their conversations were overheard. Those who moved the refugees were called conductors, the buildings that sheltered them were stations and the people who fed and clothed them until they were ready to move on were stationmasters.

Here are six New England stops on the Underground Railroad, one for each of the New England states.

Austin F. Williams House

Austin F. William Carriage House and House

Austin F. William Carriage House and House

The Austin F. Williams House and Carriage House in Farmington, Conn., played a central role in a major drama before the Civil War: The Amistad Affair.

Williams, an active abolitionist, conducted for the Underground Railroad. In the Amistad case, a group of slaves on board the sailing vessel Amistad managed to free themselves and killed the ship’s captain in 1839.

They were subsequently brought to America and arrested. Abolitionists viewed their case — which resulted in acquittal on ground that they acted in self-defense — as an important victory.

Following the trial, Williams built a house on his Farmington property where the freed Africans stayed before returning to Sierra Leone in 1842. The Williams property is not open to the public.

Abyssinian Meeting House

Abyssinian Meeting House

Abyssinian Meeting House

The Abyssinian Meeting House in the Munjoy Hill neighborhood of Portland is the only Underground Railroad site in Maine recognized by the National Park Service. Portland became a northern hub of the Underground Railroad because of its easy access by rail and sea.

The meeting house, built in 1828, became a religious, educational and cultural center for Portland’s African-American community. The church’s members and leaders organized escape routes to England and Canada. They were active in hiding, provisioning and transporting refugees from slavery.

The Rev. Amos Noe Freeman was the minister at the Abyssinian in 1850 when Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act. He hid a fugitive from slavery in the meeting house, according to the memoirs of a descendant.

The Abyssinian Meeting House is located at 75 Newbury Street. It is currently under restoration.

Nathan and Mary Johnson Properties

Nathan and Mary Johnson Properties

Nathan and Mary Johnson Properties

Quakers Nathan and Mary Johnson harbored Frederick Douglass in 1838 at their home in New Bedford, Mass. The couple were free blacks who married in 1819 and became part of New Bedford’s robust African-American community.

New Bedford, a port city, was attractive to African-Americans because its industries — whaling and the maritime trades – were open to them.

By 1853, New Bedford had the highest population of African-Americans in the Northeast, and 30 percent said they came from the South.

It was estimated that at any one time before the Civil War, 300 to 700 fugitive slaves lived in New Bedford.

Nathan and Mary Johnson owned a confectionery store, several businesses and their home, a stop on the Underground Railroad. They were prominent abolitionists; Nathan, a pharmacist, was elected the president of the 1847 National Convention of Colored People in Troy, New York.

One of the Johnson properties was a residence, the other a Quaker meetinghouse.

The Nathan and Mary Johnson Properties are at 17-19 and 21 Seventh St., in New Bedford. The two buildings are owned by the New Bedford Historical Society, and tours are available by appointment. Appointments must be made 48 hours in advance. To make an appointment, call 508-979-8828.

James Wood Farm

On the Croydon Turnpike in Lebanon, N.H., the Wood Farm served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

James Wood, a prosperous and industrious Quaker, owned the 800-acre farm. Wood dealt in hay, kept bees and surveyed land.

Wood’s involvement as the station keeper for New Hampshire’s Hillsborough County on the Underground Railroad had scant documentation.

His journal from 1862, discovered by Steve Ristelli in a New Hampshire antique shop, uncovered additional details.

On June 1, 1862, Wood noted: “A fugitive slave? come here abt 10 o”clock this eve to stay all night. I fixed him a bed in wool room,” according to Slavery & the Underground Railroad in New Hampshire, by Michelle Arnosky Sherburne.

There is little additional information about the fugitives helped by Wood. Historians say the slight mention suggests that Wood did not consider the event to be particularly unusual, and he probably helped others passing through. The Wood farm is not open to the public.

Valley Falls, R.I.

The Chace house. Photo courtesy New York Public Library.

The Chace house. Photo courtesy New York Public Library.

Elizabeth Buffum Chace, a Quaker, belonged to old and distinguished Rhode Island families, but people distrusted and shunned her because of her ardent opposition to slavery.

The clash over slavery grew especially intense in Rhode Island. Newport had served the largest slave market in New England, but many Quakers who opposed slavery lived in the state.

Elizabeth Buffum Chace at 23 married Samuel Chace, the son of Oliver Chace, who founded several textile mills that became the foundation for Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

She gave birth to 10 children, though the first five died. Her family would shutter the windows at their home in Valley Falls during the day when they were sheltering fugitives. She recalled in her memoirs how the Underground Railroad worked:

Slaves in Virginia would secure passage, either secretly or with consent of the captains, in small trading vessels at Norfolk or Portsmouth, and thus be brought into some port in New England, where their fate depended on the circumstances into which they happened to fall. A few, landing at some towns on Cape Cod, would reach New Bedford, and thence be sent by an abolitionist there to Fall River, to be sheltered by Nathaniel B. Borden and his wife, who was my sister Sarah, and sent by them to my home at Valley Falls, in the darkness of night, and in a closed carriage.

Her home in Valley Falls, a village in Cumberland, no longer stands. The National Park Service, though, offers a walking tour of the area that features a historic park, train station, post office and mill buildings. Click here for more information.


underground railroad Rokeby

Rokeby in Ferrisburgh, Vt., was the home of Rowland T. Robinson, who openly sheltered escaped slaves as part of the Underground Railroad. Robinson’s extensive correspondence about how the railroad worked provides an important historic archive.

In 1793, Thomas and Jemma Robinson, Rowland’s parents, built Rokeby. He made abolition the cause of his life. Not only did he shelter fugitives, he negotiated freedom papers with slavemasters and found jobs for freedmen.

Today Rokeby, a historic farm property and museum, includes a 1780s farmstead, eight agricultural outbuildings with permanent exhibits, and hiking trails that cover more than 50 acres

You can find Rokeby  at 4334 U.S. Route 7 in Ferrisburgh.

Photos: Austin F. Williams House and Carriage House By Ragesoss – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,; Nathan and Mary Johnson Properties By English Wikipedia user Daniel Case, CC BY-SA 3.0,; Rokeby By Mfwills – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

This story was updated in 2017.




  1. Meg Lehmann

    August 29, 2017 at 4:48 am

    Weren’t the chimney’s painted white with a black stripe around them to mark the houses of the Underground Railroad?

    • Nancy Leclerc

      March 5, 2019 at 12:29 pm

      As a child growing up we were told,
      The negroes hid until different color towels were hung on the line until it was safe for them to come to the Burney Farmhouse. Across the road was and still is Railroad tracks . Now used by, The Hobo RR.Lincoln NH, as an attraction.

      • Leslie Landrigan

        March 11, 2019 at 7:05 am

        Interesting! Thank you!

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  4. Nancy Leclerc

    July 1, 2018 at 5:47 pm

    N.Woodstock NH had a location for the Underground RR. Info is written in the Bicentennial of Woodstock NH
    This section referred to, under the photo of the Burney Farm;

    “This is a picture of the Burney farm in 1915,(which is the Cox residence, now torn down and sold).This same Burney farm had its place in American history as a link in the “Underground Railway.” Thomas Pinkham came to this farm in 1806 from a cabin in the vicinity of McNaughton Falls in Woodstock.The older half of the house was standing then .The daughter Pamela was infant of six weeks.There were four generations born in the house.In mid 1800’s this was a station of the ‘underground railway,” between Campton and Franconia.The negroes were transported at night, and hid in the daytime.If someone came to the house, the negroes were hidden in a space near the attic chimney, between the floors.A rug and trunk were placed over the trap door.The neighbors were not all sympathetic to the cause of freedomfor all.”

    All photos in the’ “Woodstock Bicentennial Pictorial 1976″ for Burney Farm (Cox Farm) was included in
    They were also included, previously in”My New Hampshire Historical Sites.”

    The Obamas were mentioned because they’re ancestors were slaves, and Barack Obama was POTUS and Michelle Obama, First Lady. Photos included of Their ancestors were as well.
    More info Available of Burney Farm and Obamas

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