Officials at Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site are pleased to announce that the park has been recognized by the National Park Service as a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site. This designation represents the culmination of more than a year of work by park staff, volunteers and partners to research individuals and incidents that establish that the Allegheny Portage Railroad was used as a transportation route in the Underground Railroad.
The term Underground Railroad refers to the efforts of enslaved African Americans to gain freedom in the years before the Civil War. Efforts to escape slavery in the US date to the earliest days of the colonial era but greatly increased in the decades immediately preceding the Civil War, the same period the Allegheny Portage Railroad was active. The National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom was established by the National Park Service in 1998 in response to a Congressional directive to document and share the stories of resistance against slavery through escape and flight. Several hundred sites and programs in more than 30 states are currently part of the National Network to Freedom.
Researchers at Allegheny Portage Railroad NHS uncovered the stories of people like Jacob Green who in August 1855 escaped enslavement in Virginia only to return a few months later to help five other people escape. Green was traveling on the Allegheny Portage Railroad in Hollidaysburg, PA in October 1855 en route to Pittsburgh when he was nearly captured by James Parsons, a relative of his owner. Jacob Green escaped and his ultimate destination is unknown, but Parsons was arrested on charges of attempted kidnapping. Though the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required all citizens to assist in the return of fugitive slaves, George Potts, the magistrate of Hollidaysburg at the time, disregarded this federal law and took Parsons into custody, a tactic that ensured Green could escape. Green’s escape was also facilitated by the intervention of several African American citizens, including Snyder Carr, a minister and barber. Although charges against Parsons were eventually dropped, the blatant violation of federal law set off a firestorm between Virginia and Pennsylvania. Some members of the Virginia legislature suggested the only solution to the dispute was war, a sentiment that eerily predicted the start of the Civil War a few years later.
To share the legacy of the Underground Railroad and the stories of Jacob Green and others who sought freedom, the staff of Allegheny Portage Railroad NHS and Dr. Barbara Zaborowski, Associate Dean of Learning Resources at Penn Highlands Community College, and Underground Railroad researcher, are sponsoring a symposium on June 25, 2011. The symposium will be held from 8Am – 6PM on the campus of Penn Highlands Community College in Johnstown. A special program, “Up From the Underground Railroad: Narratives of the Underground Railroad”, will be held at 7 PM that evening in the amphitheater at Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site. This program is free. For more information about the Underground Railroad Symposium visit www.cambriacivilwar150.com/events.