Michelle Ann Kratts

Archive for the ‘The Underground Railroad’ Category

Help for a “Fugitive”– St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, June 2, 1855

In Churches, Hotels of Niagara, Niagara Falls, The African Americans of Niagara Falls, The Underground Railroad on September 9, 2015 at 7:46 pm

By Michelle Ann Kratts

Leafing through the pages of the church records from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Niagara Falls, New York, reveals, once again, that there were people in this city ready and willing to support the abolitionist cause.  On June 2, 1855, it was recorded under the heading, “Distributions“, that among other distributions of money given to various people in need, one dollar was given to “a negro fugitive.”

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Click to enlarge.

Other notations could also possibly refer to African American freedom seekers–those amounts distributed to “a mother and son going from NY to Toronto,” “to mother and son returned from Toronto,” “charity to men travelling,” “alms to a negro missionary.”  I can’t help but wonder if any of these “distributions” ended up with Harriet Tubman, herself.

It is interesting to ponder the situation at Niagara Falls during this time period.  As documenting the Underground Railroad is a difficult task–because of the fact it was operated illegally and in secret–very few actual pieces of evidence have survived.  Each tangible item is sacred to our history–such as this documentation of aid by an established institution in the city of Niagara Falls to a “negro fugitive.”

By June of 1855, the Fugitive Slave Act was well-enforced.  Assisting a fugitive slave resulted in a possible $1,000 fine (equivalent to $28,000 today) and six months jail time. Slave owners were only required to produce an affidavit to a federal marshal to capture a “fugitive slave.”  Owners often came up north in order to “kidnap” free blacks into slavery.  As slaves had no right in court, they had no hope in defending themselves.    It was because of this law that Canada became a very important settling place for fugitive slaves and free African Americans.  It was during the 1850’s that the Underground Railroad was most active.

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, and the individuals who ran the church during this time period, can be revealed as supporters of the Underground Railroad.  The church records show that African Americans were a part of the congregation early on in Niagara Falls’ history.  They were married and buried by this church according to the church record books.  A quick perusal enlightens us to the very same individuals that keep popping up in other records as possible leaders of this network:  Peter A. and Elizabeth Porter and the Whitney family (James and Celinda Trott, Dexter and Angeline Jerauld and Solon and Frances Drake Whitney) who were also proprietors of the Cataract House hotel, which employed so many African American waiters and cooks who were fighters on the front lines of this battle for the freedom of man.  These men and women were the leaders of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in 1855 and obviously aware of where their charity money was going.

You can check out the records for St. Peter’s Episcopal Church at http://www.monroefordham.com.

Was the Underground Railroad actually a Railroad in Niagara?

In Niagara Falls, The African Americans of Niagara Falls, The Underground Railroad on August 14, 2013 at 2:19 pm
Underground Railroad, September 22, 1858 Niagara Falls Gazette

Underground Railroad, September 22, 1858
Niagara Falls Gazette

Perhaps in Niagara the Underground Railroad was actually a railroad. 

This interesting little piece was printed in the Niagara Falls Gazette on September 22, 1858.

For historians, these two sentences imply so much.  Who were the “four highly colored chattels?”  Who were the suspicious railroad officials?   And, most importantly…who wrote this? It is quite apparent that he (or she) knew all the little secrets of Niagara’s role in this most significant movement.  William Pool was the editor of the Niagara Falls Gazette during this time period.  He was quite active in the Whig and Republican parties and overt in his anti-slavery views.  Perhaps it was him?

William Pool, editor of the Niagara Falls Gazette

William Pool, editor of the Niagara Falls Gazette

This piece also makes it quite obvious that at least one line of the network ran through the railway lines from Rochester to Niagara Falls–with Frederick Douglass at the helm– and on across the Suspension Bridge.  This would have been the Niagara Railway Suspension Bridge, the second suspension bridge in Niagara Falls.

Niagara Railway Suspension Bridge

Niagara Railway Suspension Bridge

Apparently, the world’s first railway suspension bridge served many purposes–including assisting in the freedom of man.

Bringing Lost Souls Home: John Morrison, a hero of Niagara

In The African Americans of Niagara Falls, The Underground Railroad on March 26, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Some new discoveries concerning the history of the Underground Railroad in Niagara Falls….thanks to Oakwood historian and researcher, Peter Ames.

SketchIs this a sketch of one of Niagara Falls’ most heroic men?  

Click on the link below to view the story on Oakwood Cemetery’s website:


One of Oakwood’s Most Remarkable African American Families

In The African Americans of Niagara Falls, The Underground Railroad on February 26, 2013 at 6:09 pm
Photo: Please mister take her tintype / George Barker,Niagara Falls,N.Y.

Photo: Please mister take her tintype / George Barker,Niagara Falls,N.Y.


Celebrate Black History Month with some African American family histories from Niagara Falls. This is from my column on Oakwood Cemetery’s website.
Hopefully I can share another one of Oakwood’s remarkable African American family stories before the month is over.

This story was particularly exciting for Pete and I as our trail uncovering this family story led us to Thomas Jefferson, Monticello and the White House!
Read the link below and learn how some very brave individuals worked secretly to bring about an end to slavery.