The Underground Railroad wasn’t an actual railroad. It was a network of people, African American as well as white, offering shelter and aid to escaped enslaved people from the South. This precarious network relied on the work of enslaved and formerly enslaved people to liberate themselves. The exact dates of its existence are not known, but it operated from the late 18th century to the Civil War, at which point its efforts continued to undermine the Confederacy in a less-secretive fashion. Research indicates that there were at least 33 sites in Lowell on the Underground Railroad, including the St. Anne’s Church rectory across the street.
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Saint Anne’s first minister was anti-slavery activist Reverend Theodore Edson, who recorded in 1838 “his involvement in the case of the Kentucky fugitive Robert, who had taken the name John Taylor:”
Thro N York he came to Boston where he was very sick of pleurisy from exposure in traveling lying out in the woods day and night in northern climate. Mr (continued) The Underground Railroad in Massachusetts, 1783-1865 MPS Garrison befriended him But one day in Boston Cornhill he met unexpectedly Kentuckian slaveholder whom he knew James Coburn and who recognized him at once saying “Aye Bob what are you dong here” He made himself strange–But he felt that he must leave Boston—A Mr. Leonard from Ludlow Vt had seen him in Boston and had said to him that if he wd come to him he would take care of him and he gave him some directions–Mr G sent him to Salem to a Mr. Wm A Dodge But his story getting wind he was afraid to stay there and came on to Andover where he was directed to Smiths the Scotchmen’s at Frye Village— Smiths directed him to come to me—which he did by the railroad.
Source: Kathryn Grover, “The Underground Railroad in Massachusetts,” with an excerpt from Journal of Rev. Theodore Edson, entry for 19 March 1839, Center for Lowell History, Lowell, Mass.
(Thanks Lowell National Historical Park)