Purchased in 1841, the Ross Farm soon became a main resource center for abolitionists and former slaves both living and passing through Florence, MA. The owners, Samuel Hill and Austin Ross, soon turned the home into the headquarters of the newly founded the Northampton Association of Education and Industry. This association was committed to strengthening the abolitionist movement by providing a safe house, educational resources and labor resources. They chose the location north of Northampton due to the thriving silk industry present. The silk production was a popular industry for abolitionists and free slaves to be working in, as it was competition to the slaves former cotton industry in the south. The location acted as not only just a stop along the Underground Railroad, but opportunity for permanent settlement. The home was a major tool in the freedom of many slaves and the strengthening of the abolitionist movement.
The Northampton Association of Education and Industry was a very important resource to the community of Florence. It was a group containing both white abolitionist and African American former slaves. This group was grounded off of the ideas of equality of race as well as gender. It became a well known and trusted resource for slaves in the 1800’s as its members included well known figures such as Sojourner Truth as well as frequent visits from Fredrick Douglas. The mission of the group was to promote the silk production in Massachusetts to rival the cotton industry. This gave the former slaves a rebellious sense of freedom and accomplishment.
During Samuel Hill’s duration of the homes existence, he opened the house as not only a refugee point for travelers of the Underground Railroad, but also a store, school, dinning space and meeting location for members of the association. During its prime the estate consisted of more than just the farmhouse that remains today, however this building was the home of Samuel Hill, and eventually Austin Ross, hence the name.
In between these two ownerships, Basil Dorsey purchased the estate in 1852. A former slave himself, Dorsey kept the abolitionist movement alive, by expanding he silk association, creating a button and sewing machine industry, be doing so he employed more abolitionists and former slaves. This added to the town’s reputation of becoming a “hot bed” for abolition. Dorsey then went on to form the Free Congregational Society as well as the Workman’s Savings Bank. His contributions followed nicely in the footsteps on Samuel Hill, in the form of promoting abolition, and keeping the farm as a key resource. This also included building a schoolhouse in Florence as well.
Much like Dorsey, the following owner Austin Ross kept the abolitionist dream alive, housing runaways for up to a year on the farm. But the real question remains, why is this important to Suffield’s history of slavery. Like many things, this comes down to location. We shall seek information on this area north of Suffield with hopes to cross-reference what we already know and will find out. Geographically, one must travel through Suffield to reach the village of Florence, MA. Finding this concrete information is the goal of the trip to Florence on Monday, hopefully the Ross Farm and other Underground Railroad locations will lead the class to some answers.