York businessman William C. Goodridge, son of a slave, reportedly hid Osborn Perry Anderson, a conspirator in John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859, on the third floor of his Centre Square building. After several weeks, Anderson moved to Philadelphia in a Goodridge rail car and then to freedom in Canada.
Mr. (William) Goodridge started what was known as the Goodridge market line from York to Philadelphia, operating thirteen cars. Individual cars were operated very largely in the early days of our railroads, reaching down to the Civil War. He did a large business in hauling goods for individuals and businessmen in York. Some of his manifests are before us at this writing and bear the dates of 1847 and also of their conductors. The names of prominent citizens of the time of over 60 years ago are found upon them, bearing the list of articles hauled for them. They make interesting reading in the light of today.
These cars were peculiarly constructed with hidden compartments for carrying freight belonging to the Underground Railroad. Slaveholders, searching for runaway slaves, could trace them so far, when they disappeared as though swallowed up by the earth. In perplexity, they exclaimed, "There must be an underground road somewhere!" When the railroad came into use, the term used became the "Underground Railroad." The term struck the popular fancy and became incorporated into the popular literature of the day.
His cars were used to convey several of the fugitive blacks, who took part in the Christiana riot, in Lancaster County, in 1851. These men were forwarded to Canada. His home, now owned by Mr. Rhinehart Dempwolf, of this city, was used to conceal escaping slaves. There was a movable trap-door in the kitchen floor, covered by carpet, which allowed the fugitive to find ingress into a cavern, which was filled by straw. One of Mr. Goodridge's sons described this hiding-place some years ago. When the house was remodeled a few years ago, the hiding-place was found just as he described it.
The Goodridge house was closely watched during slavery days, as the suspicion pointed strongly to him as one of the leading spirits in the workings of the Underground Railroad. Rewards were offered to those who would kidnap him and spirit him to the south, where dire punishment was in store for him. But he was a man who was fertile in resources and avoided all pitfalls that were laid for him. He was a man of rare intelligence and was self-schooled. He was also a man of great presence and an admirable conversationalist. He impressed himself strongly upon his hearers.
He was familiarly acquainted with William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Gerritt Smith and most of the abolitionists of his time. His wealth, work and intelligence gave him high standing with those who were the leading spirits in anti-slavery. He was well acquainted with John Brown and the militant band that aided him. In fact one of the colored men who escaped from Harper's Ferry after that disastrous failure came to York and arrived by night at the Philadelphia street house and produced great fear and consternation in the Goodridge family.
Goodridge ordered him away from the house, as it was watched day and night at this period. In fact the southern fire-eaters tried hard to inveigle all public men who had a leaning in this direction into their net and subject them to stern punishment. Many in fact went to Canada, as no extradition laws were then in existence.
Goodridge, however, through some means, hid Osborne Perry Anderson in the third story of his building in Centre Square, under the stairway in a closet for several weeks until the excitement subsided. When it was considered safe he was sent away on a Goodridge car. Anderson details these and other matters in his noted pamphlet, "A Voice from Harper's Ferry."
This pamphlet is very rare, but a copy of it is before the writer while penning these lines. Anderson was delivered, like F. J. Merriam, into the hands of William Still, in Philadelphia. Merriam had already escaped from the band of John Brown's men, who aimed for northwestern Pennsylvania. He boarded the cars at Scotland, below Chambersburg, and passed safely to Philadelphia and was met at the Merchants hotel by William Still, the colored chairman of the vigilance committee of the Underground Railroad, in Philadelphia. Two other men aimed to escape, going northward. One of these was Captain John E. Cook, who was taken at Mt. Alto by the notorious slave-catchers Daniel Logan and Cliggett Fitzhugh.
He was taken to Chambersburg jail and, although his escape was well planned, it failed through a series of mishaps. He was executed in Virginia. Another man, Albert Hazlett, reached Carlisle and was apprehended and after a determined legal contest of ten days was also delivered into the hands of the Virginians, taken back and executed. Anderson and Hazlett, of the seven men who got away from Harper's Ferry, were the only ones who escaped from the Harper's Ferry side of the Potomac. How they escaped is thrillingly related by Anderson in his pamphlet.
Anderson was a man of considerable education and was a printer by trade. He was born in Chester county. He was at the John Brown reunion of the family and friends, on the 4th of July, 1860, but returned to Canada. Twelve of the twenty-two actors of the John Brown tragedy are now buried at the big rock of the John Brown home, in northern New York. Anderson died in Washington, in 1872, some years afterward, and was buried in a nameless grave, now unidentified, in Shriner's cemetery, in Washington.
It is believed that none of the fugitives in the hands of Goodridge were ever recaptured. The Christiania men very nearly were captured, however, but escaped. Just how many fugitives passed through his hands is unknown, as records, especially after the Second Fugitive Slave Law, were not kept and those in existence were mostly destroyed, owing to the severe fines and punishment that were inflicted upon those found in the work.
- Excerpted from Dr. I.H. Betz, writing in early 1900s, Almost Forgotten