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photo courtesy of the Mount Auburn Cemetary

Mount Auburn Cemetery, a National Historic Landmark, is a garden cemetery founded in 1831 and located on a 175-acre site near the Charles River on the Cambridge-Watertown border. While the site of many illustrious abolitionist burials, it is related to the Underground Railroad foremost for the 1847 monument to the Reverend Charles Torrey. This monument was contributed by a group of Boston abolitionists called "The Friends of the Slave." Torrey (1813-1846) was a martyr to the Underground Railroad who died in the Baltimore penitentiary while serving a sentence for his activities aiding freedom seekers. Born in Massachusetts, Torrey came south to Washington, D.C in 1841, as a newspaper correspondent for the Albany Patriot. Previously he had been an organizer of the biracial Boston Vigilance Committee and involved with the Liberty Party. In 1842, he was arrested for disrupting a slaveowners’ convention. He was inspired by the enslaved family he found suffering in the jail with him, and went on to work on the Underground Railroad in the District of Columbia area. He collaborated with African Americans like Thomas Smallwood until caught, tried, and sentenced in 1844. 

Other Underground Railroad activists buried at the cemetery are Joshua Bowen Smith (1813-1879), George Luther Stearns (1809-1867) and Harriet and John Jacobs. African American Joshua Bowen Smith, a member of the Boston Vigilance Committee, employed freedom seekers in his catering business, and hid them from bounty hunters. After the Civil War he became a state senator. White abolitionist George Luther Stearns often hid freedom seekers at his Medford, farm, and became a member of the "Secret Six," a group of men who secretly financed the activities of abolitionist John Brown before his raid on Harper's Ferry. Following Brown's hanging, Stearns devoted himself to recruiting African Americans for the Massachusetts 54th and 55th regiments and founded the Boston Emancipation League.

In order to gain support for the abolitionist movement, Harriet Jacobs (1813-1897) and her brother John Jacobs (1815-1873) each published a narrative about their escapes from enslavement in North Carolina. Jacobs spent seven years hidden in the attic of her grandmother's house in North Carolina until she escaped by ship to the north. There she was persuaded by her benefactors to write Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself (1860), the story of her suffering. During the Civil War she and her daughter went to work among contrabands in Alexandria, Virginia, and then in Savannah, Georgia. Her brother escaped north to become an abolitionist lecturer. He worked in the Anti-Slavery Office and Reading Room in Rochester and for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. He went on to become a whaler and a miner in California and Australia. The monument of Peter Byus (1801?-1867), freedom seeker from Virginia, depicts a bondsman breaking free from his chains, and is based on the seal of the British Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

Burials include well known abolitionists. Senator Charles Sumner (1811-1874) began his political career as an outspoken defender of the abolitionist movement and sparked political controversy with his speeches against the Fugitive Slave Act. With his wife author Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910), Samuel Gridely Howe (1801-1876) published The Boston Commonwealth, the daily newspaper of the Boston Emancipation League from 1851 to 1853. He was an active member of the Free Soil Party and the New England Emigrant Aid Company, an organization started to secure Kansas as a free state following the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. He joined the "Secret Six," and spent the years during the Civil War focusing his attentions on emancipation.  Notable authors James Russell Lowell (1819-1891), Maria Lowell (1821-1853), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) and John Pierpont (1785-1866) supported the anti-slavery movement through their writings.

Mount Auburn Cemetery is located at 580 Mount Auburn Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts. The gates are open daily 8 am to 8 pm. Admission is free. For information call (617) 547-7105.

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