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Northeast / New Hampshire

The Melendys of Amherst, New Hampshire, the Underground Railroad, and the Anti-Slavery Movement by George Fullerton, Goffstown, New Hampshire The organized antebellum Anti-Slavery movement, calling for the immediate emancipation of slaves within the United States, had its beginnings in 1830 when the journalist William Lloyd Garrison called openly for immediate emancipation of slaves without compensation to the slaveholders (i). This movement reached a crescendo in the early 1850s when the United States Congress, dominated by Southern interests, passed the Fugitive Slave Bill of 1850 calling upon all citizens, both North and South, to aid in the capture and return of fugitive slaves to their masters. Under this law, failure to aid federal agents in the capture of fugitive slaves was punishable by fine and imprisonment. To many New Englanders, passage of this law was met with indignation and resistance. In the 1850s, there were several notable cases in Boston involving the capture and return of fugitive slaves with the aid of federal agents. Each case was met with protest. Notable among these was the 1854 capture and rendition of the slave, Anthony Burns, to his master (ii). From the 1840s and through the Civil War, Milford, New Hampshire was considered to a hotbed of anti-slavery activity and the Underground Railroad (iii). Among the prominent anti-slavery men of Milford was Leonard Chase, a businessman and furniture manufacturer (iv). George A. Ramsdell, in his History of Milford, relates the following concerning Chase (v). "The historian has it from his daughter, Hannah L. Chase, that soon after the rendition of Anthony Burns, one stormy night, word came to the house that the United States officers were on the track of a fugitive who was then harbored in the family. It was a time of intense anxiety to this household (vi). Mr. Chase, thinking that the fugitive might be safer outside of the village, harnessed his horse and carried the man to Luther Melendy's farmhouse (vii) in Amherst. Mr. Chase's house was one of the stations on the underground railroad." These statements, taken at face value, tell us that Luther and Lucinda Melendy's home on Chestnut Hill in Amherst was a stop on the Underground Railroad. However, this statement alone is scant evidence without additional confirmation that the Melendys were in sympathy with the plight of fugitive slaves and ready to help. Fortunately, ample evidence exists of the Melendy's enthusiastic involvement in the Anti-Slavery movement. Few records of the New Hampshire Anti-Slavery Society, organized in Concord in 1834, are not known to survive. However, in 1841, The New Hampshire Annual Register and United States Calendar, a political and societal almanac, lists state-wide societies and their officers. From this document, we know that Luther Melendy was a Vice President of the organization (viii). This almanac also lists a rival organization, the New Hampshire Abolition Society, organized in 1840. For a small state, such as New Hampshire, the existence of two state-wide organizations advocating the abolition of slavery seems, at first sight, unwarranted. However, the existence of the two societies reflects an historic division in 1840 of the anti-slavery movement at the national level. At the American Anti-Slavery Society annual meeting in 1840, the society divided over the proper role of women in the society, whether they ought to have voting rights and whether they should participate in the day-to-day business of the society. Contributing to the division was a call by more radical members to disassociate themselves from churches that would not take a strong stand against slavery, while conservative members advocated working within their churches. In the national society, the more radical membership, the so-called Garrisonians, prevailed when Abby Kelley (ix) was elected to the business committee of the society. The election of a woman prompted conservative members of the society to separate and form American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, composed principally of so-called Evangelical abolitionists. From the continued association of Luther Melendy with the Garrisonian abolitionists, we may surmise that the Melendys were in favor of women's rights. We may also surmise that the Melendys were ready to challenge churches to take a stronger stand against slavery. In 1841, Luther Melendy attempted to get his church, the Congregational Church and Society of Amherst, to adopt strong resolutions against the institution of slavery (x). Daniel F. Secomb's History of the Town of Amherst, relates the following: "At a meeting held 17, February, 1841, Dea. David Fisk presiding, Bro. Luther Melendy presented an "abolition resolution," which was accepted for discussion. After it was voted to dismiss it. Brother Aaron Lawrence then offered resolutions upon the same subject, which after discussion, were laid upon the table, and the meeting adjourned." "The agitation of the slavery question and the attitude of the church in regard to it, produced an alienation of feeling on the part of some of its members, who refused any longer to assist in the support of preaching, and encouraged the establishment of, and attendance upon, a meeting in the chapel on the Sabbath in opposition to the regular services of the church." "In consequence of these offences, Brothers Luther Melendy and Loca Pratt, after having been visited by committees of the church, and refusing to give satisfaction, were, by vote of the church, and refusing to give satisfaction, were, by vote of the church, 18 May, 1841, excommunicated from its fellowship." "Sympathy with the members thus excluded called forth a communication from eight other members of the church, in which, after reviewing the action of the church, they stated that they held the same belief that the excommunicated brethren avowed, and asked that they too might be cut off from the church organization as persons who could no longer fellowship with them as a Christian church." Thus the Melendy's joined with a growing group of Garrisonian abolitionists, who in the 1840s embraced a call to "come out" from sinful institutions. Principal leaders of the New Hampshire Anti-Slavery Society attended the Milford convention of 1840. To travel to the convention from Concord, they passed through Amherst on Chestnut Hill Road. Nathaniel Peabody Rogers (xi), editor of the Concord, NH anti-slavery newspaper, the Herald of Freedom, wrote a vibrant account of his visit to the Melendy farm on the way to the convention (xii). Significant portions are worthwhile quoting as they give great insight into the Melendys and the attitudes of their community toward the anti-slavery movement. "It was our good fortune to attend this most interesting Convention. It was holden at the Orthodox Congregational meeting-house - and was well attended in numbers and excellently as to character. Milford is one of the most interesting towns in the State. It abounds in character, activity, energy, and anti-slavery - contrasting strongly in these respects with aristocracy-eaten Amherst - rather Amherst-Plain, -- the hill country containing some of the best anti-slavery spirits among us. - The Plain is dead, moral level, as will us natural. Anti-Slavery has no more root there than could have the Dead Sea, or the cities of the Plain, which once stood where the sea stagnates. There is an air of heartlessness and unsociality about the poor old flat, that generally accompanies court-houses, gaols, rum-tavern, and Amherst Cabinet sort of presses. They drove away their minister we believe for his abolitionism - when he had not enough that he dared exhibit, to pass muster in any anti-slavery meeting. He was silent almost as a mouse in a cheese, and yet he was too much interested in the cause of humanity to be tolerated in the haughty old shire of Hillsborough. Coming into it from Milford seemed like crossing the Mason's and Dixon's line - or the Ohio River into Kentucky." "We went to the Convention in company with brothers Pillsbury (xiii), Chandler (xiv), and Foster (xv). We started thanksgiving morning in the rain - but our errand was of the kind that makes all weathers fair, and our "thanksgiving" was something better than pumpkin pie and slaughtered turkeys, which now strong drink is becoming in some places unfashionable, constitute the essentials of this governmental festival. Instead of giving real thanks for the bounties of the year, "thanksgiving" devours generally enough of them to last moderation and temperance no small portion of the year. Rum is not altogether unknown on the day. We rode past several reservoirs of it on our way, and inquired in vain for a temperance tavern. By about two, afternoon, we reached the hospitable anti-slavery dwelling of Luther and Lucinda Melendy, among the hollows on Chestnut Hills in Amherst. We were received with a welcome that compensates for months of pro-slavery scowling round about our path of life. - Cordiality and brotherly love adorned the face of the household - the bounties of the season the hospitable board, -- and the Bible, the Liberator (xvi), Herald of Freedom (xvii) and National Anti-Slavery Standard (xviii), the reading table. Here were the circumstances and condition of genuine anti-slavery. A noble farm planted in the valley among the hills. - The venerable father of our whole-hearted brother who inhabited it - over 90 years of age - showed by his cheerful brow, which near a hundred winters had scarcely clouded, that his lot had been case amid filial affection. We were obliged to leave the interesting spot too soon. We reached Milford - brother and sister Melendy in company, just as friend Warner's meeting-house was lit up for an evening lecture from Garrison. It rained with the dismality of a November's night, and we were afraid there would be but a scanty auditory - but it turned out to be respectably large." Luther Melendy's father, Thomas Melendy (xix), spoken of in the article, was a soldier of the American Revolution (xx). Having participated in the revolution, he had the unusual fortune to be involved in the anti-slavery agitation leading up to the Civil War. Thomas is buried in the Chestnut Hill cemetery in Amherst, which lies upon the border of New Boston (the U.S. Air Force tracking station also spans this border). Thomas' grave is accompanied by an iron veteran's marker. However, the marker is that of a soldier of the Civil War (GAR Post 139, Mass.). Perhaps this is appropriate as he had contributed to the controversy over slavery, which ultimately led to war between the states and a more complete freedom for all Americans. In Rogers' article, he indicates that the Luther Melendy was a "whole-hearted brother". This likely indicates that the Melendys were in full support of the range of causes supported by the Garrisonian abolitionists. These included anti-slavery, women's rights, temperance, and anti-clericalism. In December of 1842, both Luther and Lucinda Melendy were signers of a call for an anti-slavery meeting to be held January 4th and 5th 1843 in support of Thomas Parnell Beach, a Vermont native who was then imprisoned in the Newburyport, Massachusetts jail for, without permission of the pastor, disrupting Sunday church services by speaking out on the anti-slavery cause (xxi). By thus signing this call, the Melendys indicated a willingness to support acts of civil disobedience in protest of unjust laws. This would later include their defiance of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law. Among others joining the Melendys in the "Beach Meeting" call were Leonard Chase and two members of the famous Hutchinson Family Singers (xxii), Jesse Hutchinson, Jr. and John W. Hutchinson. According to the call for the 1842 "Beach Meeting", the people were to come an let "the thundering eloquence of DOUGLASSxxiii and REMONDxxiv, and the soul-string tale of LATIMER (xxv), unite to break the death-like slumbers of the Granite State." Here the Melendys were to hear the great African-American orators Frederick Douglass and Charles Lenox Remond and hear the tale of the fugitive slave George Latimer. Among other anti-slavery speakers heard in Milford over the years were Wendell Phillips and Abby Kelley. Luther and Lucida Melendy both died in the year 1883 within two months of each other. Their grave lies near the center of the town cemetery on Foundry Street in Amherst. Their marble marker reads as follows: Luther Melendy Born June 1, 1793 Died Sept. 30, 1883 Lucinda K. his wife Born Aug 10, 1800 Died Nov 25, 1883. The Slaves friend And the colored Peoples benefactor. i See Oliver Johnson, William Lloyd Garrison and His Times(Boston, 1880) ii See Albert J. Von Frank, The Trials of Anthony Burns (Cambridge, Mass. 1998) iii See George A. Ramsdell, The History of Milford (Concord, N.H. 1901), 206-210. iv See Ramsdell, The History of Milford, 431-434. v See Ramsdell, The History of Milford, 432. vi The home of Leonard Chase still stands at 95 High St. in Milford and is now (2004) a care facility for Senior citizens known as the "Pillsbury Home". This house is an unusual duplex home which Chase shared with his business partner Daniel Putnam (See Ramsdell, The History of Milford, 434). vii The farmhouse of Luther Melendy can be clearly located by name on an 1858 wall map of Hillsboro County of which Amherst was then the county seat (later known as Hillsborough County). See Map of Hillsboro Co. New Hampshire from Actual Surveys by J. Chase, Jr.(Boston, Mass., Smith, Mason, & Co.,1858) viii Asa Fowler, The New Hampshire Annual Register and United States Calendar for the Year 1842 (Concord, N.H.: Marsh, Capen, Lyon, and Webb, 1841), 95. ix Abby Kelley, a lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society, married fellow lecturer, Stephen Symonds Foster of Canterbury, New Hampshire. Foster, trained for the Congregational ministry, was notorious for his tactic of disrupting church services on Sunday asking to be heard on the issues of anti-slavery. See Parker Pillsbury, Acts of the Anti-Slavery Apostles (Concord, N.H., 1883), 123-155. x See Daniel F. Secomb, History of the Town of Amherst, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire (Concord, N.H.:Evans, Sleeper & Woodbury, 1883), 303-304. xi Nathaniel Peabody Rogers, editor of the Concord, NH anti-slavery newspaper, the Herald of Freedom, had, earlier in 1840, attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London as delegates from the New Hampshire and Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Societies. Both refused to take their seats at the convention when the overseers of the convention, citing "British usage" refused to seat Lucretia Mott, a duly elected female delegate from the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. Instead, they all sat in the gallery above the convention floor. It was in this gallery that Lucretia Mott met Elizabeth Cady Stanton and began discussion of women's rights issues. Elizabeth had accompanied her husband, Henry Brewster Stanton, a delegate to the convention who did take his seat at the convention. See Nathaniel Peabody Rogers, A Collection from the Newspaper Writings of Nathaniel Peabody Rogers, (Concord, N.H., John R. French, 1847)91-93. xii Nathaniel P. Rogers, "Anti-Slavery Convention at Milford," Herald of Freedom, 20 November 1840. xiii Parker Pillsbury of Concord, NH, trained as a minister, was a grass-roots anti-slavery lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society. He was also well known for his women's rights activities, after the Civil War, co-editing the women's rights journal, The Revolution, with Susan B. Anthony. See Stacey B. Robertson, Parker Pillsbury Radical Abolitionist, Male Feminist, ( Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2000). xiv J.B. Chandler of Concord, NH. xv Stephen Symonds Foster of Canterbury, N.H. xvi The Liberator, an independent anti-slavery journal published in Boston by William Lloyd Garrison. xvii The Herald of Freedom, of Concord, N.H., journal of the New Hampshire Anti-Slavery Society. xviii The National Anti-Slavery Standard, New York based journal of the American Anti-Slavery Society. xix Thomas Melendy, b. March 2, 1749, d. in Amherst November 28, 1842. See Secomb, History of the Town of Amherst, 692. xx See Census of the United States (1840), A Census of Pensioners for Revolutionary or Military Services, with their names, ages, and places of residence, as returned by the marshals of the several judicial districts, under the act for taking the sixth census... (Baltimore, Genealogical Publishing, 1989,1841), ???. xxi See Ramsdell, History of Milford, 106-110. xxii As well as being a national commercial success, the Hutchinson Family Singers sang at numerous anti-slavery meetings and included anti-slavery lyrics in songs such as The Liberty Ball, Get Off the Track, and The Old Granite State. xxiii Frederick Douglass, then a fugitive slave. xxiv Charles Lenox Remond, a free African-American from Salem, Massachusetts. xxv Fugitive slave, George Latimer.


Submitted By:

George Fullerton, New Hampshire,
gfullerton21@comcast.net