The Historical Society of Pennsylvania is working on a project that is related to the study that produced Secret Lives. Entitled, "Family Ties on the Underground Railroad," it weaves together the manuscript journal and published book of William Still, who was the chairman of Philadelphia's Vigilance Committee in the mid-nineteenth century.
Its initial phase focuses on the experiences of three enslaved families who passed through Philadelphia in their journeys to freedom: the Shephards, the Taylors, and the Wanzers. These individuals were forwarded by Still to Gay and their assistance is recorded in the Gay “Record.” According to their website, it includes transcripts and digital facsimiles from Still's works, carefully researched biographies, and other materials, much like we have done in producing Secret Lives. Go to their website to learn more by clicking on the picture below.
Without Tom, Secret Lives would never have been completed. His expert advise was invaluable. Secret Lives is so much more than my narrative about the lives of Gay and Napoleon and the key roles they placed in the Underground Railroad. Tom’s annotations of Gay’s Record of Fugitives and his indexes will inspire not only historians, but everyone who wants to know what it was like to travel on the Underground Railroad and to be aided by strangers. I have consulted my copy of Tom’s The Underground Railroad in the Adirondack Region (2004) so many times, the binding has come apart. Fellow researchers have told me their copies are in the came condition. I anticipate that researchers and historians will consult Tom’s annotations and his indexes for Secret Lives again and again.
Tom and I have admired your work for many years, and when you accepted our invitation to write a foreward for Secret Lives, we were overjoyed because you put down some of the first tracks in this research. When Tom sent me your email in which you said you loved the manuscript, I couldn’t wait to read your foreword. It soon followed, and when I read it, I was overwhelmed. You speak sincerely and eloquently to the soul of Secret Lives. You understand and appreciate what we set out to accomplish. That means the world to us.
This week we received the eloquent and insightful foreword to our book from SUNY New Paltz Professor A. J. Williams-Myers. A scholar of African-American history in the downstate region of New York State, Professor Williams-Myers has for many years been interested in the Underground Railroad and published an article in Afro-Americans In New York Life and History about its operation in New York City.
We were elated by his positive and supportive reaction to Secret Lives . . . and would like to extract some brief passages from it.
In terms of what the Underground Railroad can be seen to have been [are five responses]: Humanity joined together against inhumanity; A moral challenge to an immoral mindset; An added thread to an unfinished journey of human freedom; Quilting of the American Dream – Freedom!; and ultimately, Black and White in defiance of the law to rescue the enslaved. All five speak to what authors Tom Calarco and Don Papson write about so well in their book.”
I thought this observation to be an apt description of the contents of our book. He also zeroed in on part of what makes the book significant:
“a missing and/or added link to fathoming the internal dynamics of New York City’s crucial, center stage, operable role in keeping the Freedom Line up and running . . . . [that] not only heralds [Gay’s] center stage contributions to the ongoing operations of the Freedom Line, but as well heralds an apparent, little known key agent of his, Louis Napoleon.”
Myers-Williams sums up his analysis with a very powerful recommendation:
It is through Gay’s Record that our knowledge not only of New York City’s key role at the center of operations on the Freedom Line in and out of the city is stronger, but through its entries we, the readers, are as well privy to an enhanced, more personalized look at those operations from within, figuratively speaking, the Command Post. The authors, Tom Calarco and Don Papson have used the host of entries from that Command Post to tell of the heroic and committed few who assisted so many to Freedom. The tale they tell of New York City’s role in the Underground Railroad “is that it was a moral challenge posed to a nation that had lost its moral compass; and around which rallied morally committed individuals whose freedom was not worth much so long as others were enslaved. …”1 And what a tale have they told.
1. A. J. Williams-Myers, "Some Notes on The Extent of New York City's Involvement In the Underground Railroad," Afro-Americans In New York Life and History, Vol. 29, No. 2 (July 2005): p. 74.
Don and I are very excited about launching our website and the forthcoming publication of our book, Secret Lives ... This has been a true labor of love, especially for Don, without whose relentless efforts this book would not have been possible. I may have started this project, but it was Don who turned it into something much more than an analysis of Gay's Record. His exploration of the lives of Gay and Napoleon gave it a much richer context and enabled us to tell a story about what it was like to be an agent of the Underground Railroad. We hope you will share your thoughts about our efforts, and update us with any new information or possible links that would add to this story and an understanding of the operation of the Underground Railroad in the northeast.