There is significant evidence that mariners from Queens and Long Island took Freedom Seekers across the Sound to Larchmont in Westchester County. This would keep them out of the "limelight" of New York City.
has long been rumored among history buffs in Larchmont that a secret
underground tunnel existed in the village and was used in spiriting away
escaped slaves as part of the Underground Railroad.
The tunnel, rumors say, ran under the Boston Post Road, linking the home of a favorite nephew of John Jay, the first chief justice of the United States, and a Quaker cemetery during the anti-slavery movement in the 19th century.
Now, the Larchmont Historical Society is looking to test these rumors by opening a 150-year-old mausoleum in the Barker-Quaker cemetery on Boston Post Road, where the tunnel reportedly ends. Two historical society interns — Annie Aronson and Dan Plansky of Mamaroneck High School — have been researching the history of the mausoleum and of the Underground Railroad in Westchester since last August for clues.
"It would be a very exciting find," said Plansky, 17, as he walked among the headstones at the cemetery Monday. "There is a lot of history here, but not much is proven. To set the rumors to rest would be great."
Richard and Samuel Mott, members of a Quaker family, smuggled slaves in their sloops up Long Island Sound to their home in Larchmont, Kathleen G. Velsor, an associate professor at the State University of New York at Old Westbury, reported in a 1999 book she co-wrote, "Angels of Deliverance: The Underground Railroad in Queens, Long Island and Beyond."
Then, to escape sniffing dogs used to hunt down runaway slaves, the Larchmont Historical Society speculates, the Motts took them up the many streams in the area, to the home of Peter Jay Munro, [Supreme Court Justice] Jay's nephew, which is barely 100 yards from the mausoleum, across the Boston Post Road.
In the 1930s, when the Boston Post Road was being paved for the first time, workers reportedly discovered a tunnel under the road. The tunnel was filled in after the discovery, it is said, but there are no written records to back the claim. A decade later, a homeowner paving his driveway reported that heavy equipment sank into the earth, suggesting a tunnel exists. While this may appear coincidental, to Plansky and Aronson, there are enough signs to go on.
"Our goal is to find out if it was a stop on the railroad," said Jan Northrup, former president of the Larchmont Historical Society who is now overseeing the interns' project. "It's a part of our history."
Northrup and Plansky say the tunnel may have been used to throw off dogs by eliminating the scent of humans. Runaway slaves were still hunted down by local police officers and sheriffs because, even though slavery had been abolished in the northern states by the 1830s, the Fugitive Slave Act deemed runaway slaves the propertry of their owners, and therefore had to be returned.
As the mausoleum was on the Boston Post Road, a major highway to the north of the country, Larchmont could have been a stop on the railroad.
"The more things that tie in ... the more sense it makes," said Plansky. "It gives the whole concept more grounding."