A Visit to Underground Railroad Stations in
New York City

Plymouth Church
One well-known station of the UGRR was the Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn. Her most famous pastor was Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, brother of the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

While oysters were being shucked in the kitchen, and distinguished crowds of diners from New York's business and political establishment feaster at Thmoas Downing's Oyster House at the corner of Wall and Broad Streets, the prorietor's son, George, led fugitive slaves down into the basement. Amid bottles of wine and molasses, they fuound shelter from the bands of blackbirders, bounty hunters roaming the streets in search of runaways.

Born as free blacks, the Downings were committed abolitionists. Their restaurant, across from Federal Hall, is known to have been a station on the Underground Railroad from the 1830's to the 1860's, a safe and secret haven on the route north toward Canada and freedom. This building is no longer standing.

Fred Laverpool led me (NY Times Reporter Michael Pollack) down a set of rickety stairs, through a heavy red door and into a scene that would tug at anyone's heart. We were in the damp, cavernous basement of Brooklyn's Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church, used in the mid-19th century as a holding station for blacks fleeing slavery in the South.
    The church's interior is paneled with mahogany and resplendent with 13 stained-glass windows designed by none other than Louis Comfort Tiffany. The church was founded in 1857, and the early leadership and congregation, although mostly white, staked out a position squarely on the side of racial progress. They sometimes provided a meeting space for outspoken abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman. And, according to recently discovered documents, they also sheltered escaped slaves in the tunnels deep below the building.

    Suddenly caught in the darkness of this stop on the Underground Railroad, I froze, listening to my heart thump. Was that someone breathing in the corner? Whose heavy footsteps were shuffling above? Finally, the door creaked open, letting in a stream of light.
    "That's how it felt for those slaves to be here," Laverpool explained solemnly. "They could taste freedom but not really have it." After holing up for weeks and sometimes longer in the basement, they emerged and helped transform surrounding Fort Greene, a residential area a few blocks east of downtown Brooklyn, into one of the first mixed-race communities in the United States.

On Staten Island, fugitive slaves were said to find sanctuary in the free black community of Sandy Ground, founded in the 1840's, the A.M.E. Zion Church there (now called Rossville) dates back to the 1850's. In the northeastern corner of the island, several white abolitionists built homes.
Still standing on Delafield Place in Livingston, close to the Kill van Kull shore, is the gabled stone home of Dr. Samule McKenzie Elliot, a well-known abolitionist. Built around 1850, it is believed to have been an Underground Railroad station and is a New York City landmark.

(These quotes come from Dr. Kathleen Velsor of SUNY Old Westbury, Long Island in an article written from the New York Times by Marcelle S. Fischler)

"The real abolitionist teaching and questioning about slavery started here [Long Island]; the starting point of that sympathy and understanding started right here."

"When a slave catcher came to get a runaway slave working on the [Elisas] Hicks farm, Valentine Hicks, a cousin who married Elias's daughter and lived down the block at the Maine Maid Inn, opened the door to the slave and hid him upstairs in the attic. Then they took him by hay wagon to the water. Unfortunately, it doesn't say what water or where. The route proably went from Hempstead Harbor and Oyster Bay across the Sound to Westchester or Connecticut and north to Canada, with stops at other Quaker homes along the way."