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, www.rokeby.org