Sunday, May 17, 2015, Ferrisburg, Vermont--
Rokeby Museum's  Opening Day  and Secret Lives of the Underground Railroad

Don Papson opened Rokeby Museum's season on Sunday, May 17th. He spoke about the amazing work of   Sydney Howard Gay and  Louis Napoleon and Gay's Record of Fugitives. Don gave special attention to Vermont native Oliver Johnson, who was assistant editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard when Gay wrote his Record. Don suggested that Johnson may  have relieved Gay of enough of his duties so that he could  take the time he needed to write down the stories of the fugitives from slavery who were coming to the office for help.

When Gay resigned from the Standard in 1857, Johnson became editor. On May 2, 1860, Johnson wrote a  letter to Philadelphis forwarding agent, James Miller Mckim, in 
reaction to the rendition of fugitives Allen Graff and Josiah Hay. Johnson  said defensively,

"It is indeed a shame that fugitives here are carried off without causing as ripple in public opinion. If there were anybody here to take charge of such business, we might might make as good a “moral row” here as you do in Phil. But I am compelled to shirk the whole business of fugitives. I do not, twice in the year, stop to talk with those that come to the office. William & Napoleon  do all that is done. My editorial cares,and the incidetal (sic) business and correspondence that I cannot escape, use up every iota of my strength. " (Oliver Johnson to James Miller McKim, May 2, 1860, S.J. May Collection, Cornell University.)

Johnson was referring to Louis Napoleon and William H. Leonard, the black man who printed the Standard, and
who had accepted responsibility for the office's UGRR operation upon Gay's resignation three years earlier. (See page 196 of  Secret Lives).

Rokeby'sExecutive Director, Jane Williamson, granted permission for  their image of Oliver Johnson to appear in Secret Lives

Rokeby is a National Historic Landmark which connects visitors with the human experience of the underground railroad and with the lives of Quaker abolitionists  Rowland T. and Rachel G. Robinson, and their descendants, who lived on and farmed the land for nearly 200 years. To learn more,


06/01/2015 11:26am

Just go there and you won't regret about it! In fact there are so many interesting details about the human experience of the underground railroad!

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12/20/2016 1:04am

I would love to visit Rokeby Museum soon. It looks as if it is a place where I can learn a lot about the Underground Railroad. I would recommend this place to my fellow historians here in the university. I hope to see you soon in the future. Have a wonderful day!

08/10/2015 7:27pm

Hi Don,
I finished Secret Lives recently - at last! - and have a couple of questions for you. You say (on page 126) that Hopper and Gibbons were disowned on account of their helping fugitive slaves. Can you tell me what you found about that? I thought it was because of a big - and pretty public - kerfuffle between Oliver Johnson and George White, a Quaker minister. It comes up here fairly often, because the committee that dealt with Hopper and Gibbons also came up here to check Rowland and Rachel and see if they needed to go, too. In the end, they were not disowned, but all their friends were. The other thing is the Hooper picture. We're hoping to do an exhibit of abolitionist portraits in 2016, and I love the one of Hopper you got from a descendant. Could you put me in touch with him? The only other images I've seen of him are all engravings, so it would be great to see if we could borrow it for the show. Hope you're having a good summer. Jane

Jane Williamson
Rokeby Museum
4334 Route 7
Ferrisburgh, VT 05456

08/10/2015 7:29pm

Hi, Jane,

Although Tom wrote the passage on page 126, I can answer your question. He is traveling right now. The passage is based on the following publication:

Isaac Hopper, Narrative of The Proceedings of The Monthly Meeting of New York, and Their Subsequent Confirmation by the Quarterly and Yearly Meeting, in the Case of Isaac T. Hopper (New York: Printed for the Author, 1843)

On pages 17-18 of this publication, Hopper wrote,

“On Wednesday of last week, we attended Rose-street meeting. In his (G.F. Whit’s) sermon on that day, after stating the general principle, that men are humbled and subdued by suffering, and referring to the judgments of God upon Pharaoh as a case in point, he gave an illustration, which we will repeat as nearly as we can recollect, in his own words:—‘Just as a slave, recently, who had suffered the effects of his criminal conduct, and been thus led to calm reflection, chose to go back into slavery with his master, and to endure all the evils of that condition, notwithstanding his former experience of them, rather than stay with those hypocritical workers of righteousness who had interfered in his behalf. For my own part, I commend his choice. I had a thousand times rather be a slave, and spend my days with slave-holders, than to dwell in companionship with abolitionists.’
“This was an allusion, which every one present understood, to the case of Thomas Hughes, formerly the slave of John P. Darg, whose history is given in our columns to-day, by Isaac T. Hopper as No. Xvi f his ‘Tales of Oppression.’ It was also intended as a thrust at Isaac T. Hopper, who went to Sing Sing to act the part of good Samaritan, by informing Tom that he was free, and offering him protection.”
“But it was not true that Tom Hughes went back to the South as slave. For this reason, we deemed it our duty, at the close of the sermon, to rise and say—‘Tom Hughes, formerly the slave of John P. Darg, on his release from prison recently, returned with his master to the South, NOT AS A SLAVE, preferring slavery to freedom, but as a FREE MAN, under a promise of being permitted enjoy his liberty and to live with his wife. I state this to prevent misapprehension.”
The article which the foregoing extracts are made, was headed, “Rate specimen of a Quaker preacher,” and was the ostensible cause of the proceedings against James S. Gibbons, Charles Marriott and myself. See Appendix B.”

[The key word in the last sentence is “ostensible.” Our interpretation of this sentence is that Hopper believed that the Darg case was the real reason for the disownments.]

On page 30, Hopper says emphatically,

“The EXPLANATION, of which I have spoken as having emanated from the overseers, I think stands unparalleled in point of unfairness and deception. It was incorrect in its statements, and invidious in its whole bearing. Whatever there was in it that has the least origin in truth, was enveloped in a coloring as false as the design was malevolent an ludicrous. Probably most of my readers are familiar with the case of the slave Tom Hughes, or as it has sometimes been called, the “Darg case.” My accusers endeavoured to make it appear in this document that the connection of James S. Gibbons and myself with that case, was of grossly reproachful and immoral character. I shall withhold further comment until I place the reader in possession of a condensed statement of the facts of the case with has been greatly perverted and misrepresented.”

Hopper then goes on to describe the case. I wrote the summary of the case whicvh appears on page 19 of Secret Lives.

Hopper’s pamphlet on the disownments and the Darg Case is online at Cornell University’s Samuel J. May Collection website.

Trust this helps. May I post your question about the disownments on our website for Secret Lives with my explanation? Other readers may have the same question.

Now, for the Hopper image. When I went to Swarthmore to do some research for Secret Lives, I saw an enormous painting of Hopper in one of their buildings. When I first saw at the daguerreotype Hiram Hopper Schear owns, I realized the Swarthmore painting was inspired by the daguerreotype. Tom did some photoshop work on the image for our book. I have attached the original.

This is Hiram’s ancestry, in his own words:
"Isaac T. Hopper was my mother's (Sarah), mother's (Rose), mother's (Lucy), mother's (Abigail), father (Isaac).
I am so blessed that my mother gave me his name. I can't think of a better name in my whole family I would rather have!"


08/10/2015 7:40pm

Wow - thanks a million, Don.

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I'd love to visit your museum.


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