The Underground Railroad was a grouping of volunteer citizens who risked their home and safety to help runaway slaves escape bondage.
There are many individuals that that played a big role in the Underground Railroad, but I am going to share the interesting history of one particular local man, who played an important role right in our backyards of Phoenixville. Elijah Funk Pennypacker, born in Schuylkill Township on a farm estate known as White Horse Farm, a house that was built in 1770. This house would become a hub for the Underground Railroad in the region and headquarters for Elijah who would become a Station Master on it.
Elijah had served as a PA State Representative from 1831-1836 and worked closely with well- known abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens. He then decided in 1836 to give up politics and to focus all his time on the anti-slavery movement, something that he was clearly passionate about and felt that he could make a difference in right at home. He would become president of the Chester County and Pennsylvania abolitionist societies. In 1840 his home would officially become a station on the Underground Railroad. Fugitive slaves started arriving from approximately three different routes from Delaware, Maryland and neighboring Counties and he would in turn send them farther north and east to Norristown, Philadelphia and Reading.
It is believed that Elijah had processed and helped hundreds of runaway slaves through his property from 1840-1863, becoming one of the most well-known stations. This also brought bad attention from the bounty hunters, who were authorized by the United States Government in 1850 to track down escaped slaves and bring them back to their owners in the South for a handsome amount of money. This would become a Station master’s hardest obstacle and something that Elijah would escape many times. He was known to transport children and women hidden inside a wagon, with men walking alongside, possibly disguised. They would cross the bridge over the Schuylkill River from Phoenixville to what is now Mont Clare, and sometimes they had to ford the river near the Fitzwater Station to avoid bounty hunters who were waiting for them at the end of the bridge. Elijah did not lose one slave out of the hundreds he saved throughout those years, which is an incredible feat. One story that he was proud of was when he reunited a husband and wife that had been separated while in captivity as slaves in the South, bringing them back together in Chester County for the first time in a long time.
There is a famous quote from abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier who said of Elijah Pennypacker, "In mind, body, and brave championship of the cause of freedom, he was one of the most remarkable men I ever knew.