This post is in response to February being Black History Month and the challenge of posting about 52 ancestors in 52 weeks by Amy Johnson Crow
This is about my 3rd great grandfather Abraham Walton and his family; primarily it is about their involvement in the Underground Railroad prior to the Civil War. Abraham is pivotal to my Walton heritage; he was a very strong individual, he married a strong woman and raised a strong family. In previous articles I’ve talked about his life
, his migration
to Indiana and a trip
my cousin made to visit southern Indiana. The last article mentioned his involvement in the Underground Railroad.
Abraham was born May 9, 1777 in Maine (which was considered part of Massachusetts) and died on
Abraham and Mary (Polly) Walton
from Hall, Hiram
September 20, 1859 in Jefferson County, Indiana. Apparently he was buried on his farm. On January 1, 1799 in Maine he married Mary (Polly) Hutchinson the daughter of his friend and neighbor Ebenezer Hutchinson and his wife Hannah (Littlefield). Six of Abraham’s nine children were born in Maine, the second, Ellen, dying in a fire at the age of three. His sixth child, Isaiah my 2nd great grandfather, was born in 1812 in Maine. By 1815 Abraham and his family had migrated to southern Indiana along with the Hutchinsons and others.
According to his grandson Hiram Hall, in 1815 he held a deed to a quarter section in Graham Township, Jefferson County, Indiana, He and his children cleared the land and built a house. He had one more daughter during the migration (born in Ohio) and two more in Jefferson County. Seven of his children lived and two daughters died very young. For a number of years Abraham worked his land and raised his family. This was during a period when the population of Indiana was increasing greatly (although by today’s standards it was still sparsely populated). Indiana’s population in 1800 was 2.632; in 1810 it was 24,520; in 1820 was up to 147,178; and 343,031 in 1830.
The Act of Congress, passed July 13,1787 established the area northwest of the Ohio River as the Northwest Territory and provided “Article 6 There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crime.” This brought many from slave states who were opposed to slavery, including some slave owners who then freed their slaves in Indiana. In 1816 Indiana became the 19th State of the United States. This anti slavery sentiment led to the development of the local Underground Railroad which served to transport runaway slaves though the area and into the north where recapture was less likely.
In January 1839 a group of 72 men and women got together at a Baptist Church in Lancaster Township, Jefferson County and founded the Neil’s Creek Anti-Slavery Society. Many of them were related and they actually comprised just a few like-minded families willing to commit their convictions about slavery to paper. Members of the Walton family included Abraham, his three sons Abraham Jr., Dudley & Isaiah (and wife Eliza), daughters Malinda and Mary “Poly” (and her husband Lemuel Wells) and Eliza’s grandfather Evan Thomas. I’m not sure who “Elma Walton” is but also included is Abner Hall who was soon to be Malinda’s husband. Other families among the original members were Hoyt, Higgins, Nelson, Hicklin, Wells, Hayes, Tibbets and Hutchinson. The complete list of original members can be found here
It’s not known how many escaped slaves the Waltons and other members of the Society helped make their way north but since the Society held meetings for over 6 years and probably existed for more, it was probably quite a few. It’s not known what exactly led to the decline in the Society’s public activities but it certainly related to the number of bounty hunters in the area, the runaway slave laws and the harsh punishments for aiding runaway slaves. When the U.S Constitution was being formulated in 1787 a clause concerning runaway slaves was included and formalized into a fugitive slave law in 1793, which was signed by President George Washington. Also, some states enacted fugitive slave laws of their own. So, in spite of being declared a non-slave state upon it’s entrance in 1816, Indiana was still bound by the federal and local fugitive slave laws. In addition, although many inhabitants were anti-slavery, even more were against helping runaway slaves and supported the fugitive slave laws. In 1850 Indiana enacted it’s own fugitive slave law.
There was no usual or safe route for a fugitive slave to follow to safety and freedom. One of the main general routes took them across the Ohio River from Kentucky into southern Indiana and along a route populated by the farms and houses of the members of the Neil’s Creek Anti-Slavery Society. According to two local researchers, Elbert Hinds and John Nyberg, many sites or safe houses were located around Lancaster, IN northwest of Madison. Two area sites, the Hoyt house and the Walton house, were examples of such safe houses. According to the minutes of meetings of the Neil’s Creek Anti-Slavery Society,occupants of those houses, among others, were members in the society and were Underground Railroad conductors.
Home of Abraham Walton
from Ulibarri, Rodney
Ben Fronczek states, “Much of the history of the Walton House, located near the Jennings-Jefferson County line, was transmitted orally. Walton family relatives told stories of how they would hide fugitives under double-layered false floors in wagons and transport them north overnight.” As stated in an earlier post, my cousin Rodney Ulibarri interviewed
our grandmother Pearl Walton Goesch who told him her father Merritt Walton said that as a 9 year old he would take an escaped slave north on horseback to the next safe house. This indicates that the Waltons were still active in the Underground Railroad as late as 1850.
Biographical and Historical Souvenir for the Counties of Clark, Crawford, Harrison, Floyd, Jefferson, Jennings, Scott and Washington, Indiana. John M Gresham & Company, Chicago, 1889.
Ancestry.com, Indiana Resources, Family History Sources in the Hoosier State, Provo, UT, 2013.
Hall, Hiram; “A Pioneer Settler of Graham Township”; Madison Courier; Madison, IN; March 14 1922.
Money, Charles H.; The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 in Indiana; Indiana Magazine of History; vol. 17, no. 2, June 1921; Indiana University Department of History; Bloomington, Indiana