Freedom Trail marker and lantern, 2 Mill Lane, Farmington.
It all started in the late 1700s, many slaves starting seeking freedom by fleeing north to“free” states and Canada. Networks of secret routes and safe houses were formed by independent groups of abolitionist sympathizers. They adopted a code based on the railroad to maintain secrecy. “Stations” and “depots” were the name of the stops along the way. The “stationmasters” ran the safe houses, and the “conductors” were known as guides. The runaway slaves were referred to as “passengers”. They usually travelled at night and rested at the “stations” and “depots” during the day. The “stationmasters” as signals along the Underground Railroad used lanterns, overturned cups, and tilted signs. Farmington, CT, was called the “Grand Central Station” of the railroad and quickly became a very important stop along the Underground Railroad. The reason why Farmington was referred to as the “Grand Central Station” was because of the abolitionist activities happening there. Local abolitionist in town, including Horace Cowies, Elijah Lewis, and John Treadwell Norton, helped runaway slaves through town to freedom by giving them shelter and transport. Farmington, CT abolitionists provided at least eight safe houses on the Underground Railroad.
Horace Cowles was a successful merchant and state legislator living at 27 Main Street; he was a “stationmaster”. He gave runaway “passengers” shelter in a closet near the stairs on the second floor in his house. Actually, Horace´s son, Samuel Smith Cowles, took up the work of his dad and ended up publishing The Charter Oak, an abolitionist newspaper. Elijah Lewis was a quartermaster in the Revolutionary War and ended up later as a prosperous farmer. He hid “passengers” in a “hidey-hole” in his house at 1 Mountain Spring Road. The large stone in the hole in the basement chimney can still be moved to reveal the space the “passengers” used. Lewis would hide “passengers” in hay wagons that he led along the mountain ridge to the north toward Simsbury; after he had provided the “passengers” with food and shelter and made them ready for their journey u north. One of the slaves that were helped by Lewis was called George Anderson of Virginia. Anderson didn’t move on and settled in the area; he ended up marrying a woman from Connecticut named Charlotte. However, one day in Farmington, Barbara Donahue wrote in “Speaking for Ourselves”, that she had seen the neighbor of his former master in Virginia. Anderson had to move on and wasn’t seen in town ever again. Lewis had other town residents such as Austin Williams and a black man named Henry Davis, who worked for Williams, to work for him. John Treadwell Norton was a prosperous businessman and “gentleman farmer” who had a mansion at 11 Mountain Spring Road. It is believed that Norton was a “stationmaster” on the Underground Railroad. Norton was an internationally known abolitionist, as he was one of the founders of the Farmington Anti-Slavery Society in 1836.
Freedom Trail marker, Farmington. http://www.farmingtonhistoricalsociety-ct.org/fh_farmhist_pg4.html