This 19th-century farmhouse was home to two important figures in the abolitionist movement, Samuel Lapham Hill and Austin Ross. Samuel Hill purchased the farm in 1841 from the Northampton Silk Company. In 1842, Hill and others founded the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, an organization with strong abolitionist views. The Association chose to locate in the Broughton’s Meadow (now Florence) section of Northampton due to the community’s thriving silk industry. Free laborers, rather than enslaved workers, produced silk, increasing the industry’s popularity among abolitionists. The Association’s property, including the Hill-Ross Farm, provided a store, school, common eating area and living space for its members. Because of the strong presence of the Association and silk manufacturers, Northampton became a haven for African Americans and abolitionists. Northampton proper often served as a stop for fugitive slaves traveling to Canada, and Association members encouraged fugitives’ permanent settlement.
Samuel Hill himself often helped fugitive slaves settle in the area. Hill resided in the farmhouse on the property, the only remaining Association building today. According to his son and community members, Hill assisted with the Underground Railroad. His son recalled that “A good many passengers stopped ‘five minutes for refreshments’ at my father’s, and conductors were often changed here,” and that “Our station was on the line from Hartford going North, though sometimes we had passengers who would come up part way through the Hudson River Valley or diagonally across the Pennsylvania line.”
In 1852, Hill sold property to Basil Dorsey, an ex-slave, who later constructed the Dorsey-Jones House on the site. Hill also provided land for William Wright, another fugitive slave. Hill later took over the Association’s silk business, founded the Nonotuck Silk Company, financed the Florence Sewing Machine Company, and invested in the Alfred P. Critchlow button factory, which employed fugitive slaves. With his newly acquired wealth, Hill created new organizations in Florence to support equal rights and social reform in the community, including the Workingmen’s Savings Bank and the Free Congregational Society. He also made financial contributions to found both a new school house and one of the first kindergartens in the United States.
In 1849, Hill sold the farm to Abel Ross. Ross’s nephew, Austin Ross, lived with him at the farm for many years, eventually purchasing the property in 1857. Like Samuel Hill, Ross held abolitionist beliefs and was kicked out of the Presbyterian Church because of his anti-slavery views. Remaining true to his values, Ross opened the home on the property to the Underground Railroad. Florence resident Anna Pauline Friedrick recalled “His home was used as an underground railroad, sheltering fugitive slaves in their flight to Canada…” Ross even sheltered one fugitive, a man whose last name was Wilson, in his home for over a year. Thanks to both of its owners, the Hill-Ross home reflects the active abolitionist and Underground Railroad history of the Florence section of Northampton.
The Hill-Ross Farm is located at 123 Meadow Street in the Florence section of Northampton, Massachusetts. The home is privately owned and is not open to the public. More information about the property and its history, including a walking tour of Florence, can be found at the David Ruggles Center for Early Florence History and UGRR Studies.