Underground Railroad expert: ‘We cannot alter past ignorance, but we can resolve not to repeat it’
Cyrus Griest, an agent in the Underground Railroad and his wife are buried with other abolitionist Quakers in the Menallen Friends Meetinghouse, Adams County. Quakers in Adams and York counties were known to aid fugitives traveling along the Underground Railroad. Background posts: York’s Goodridge House listed as site on Underground Railroad network, Research needed to unearth Underground Railroad in York County, Part II and Amanda Berry Smith: ‘God’s image carved in ebony’.
Debra Sandoe McCauslin is doing much to put facts behind Underground Railroad legends.
Her most recent efforts have produced a book exploring Yellow Hill, a black community in Adams County that served as a destination point for fugitives who had crossed the Mason-Dixon Line in an attempt to gain their freedom… .
Before the Civil War, crossing the line did not mean freedom because federal laws criminalized harboring fugitives.
The Society of Friends or Quakers was one group that quietly defied such laws and created stations to aid the flight of fugitives. Northern Adams County had communities of Quakers – the Menallen Meeting was one of them – to accompany a black community such as Yellow Hill.
So, that part of Adams County is believed to have presented the promise of safety that would have made it the informal route to freedom that became known as the Underground Railroad.
Jess Krout wrote about McCauslin’s “Reconstructing the Past: Puzzle of the Lost Community at Yellow Hill” in a recent Hanover Evening Sun (11/18/08):
Before Barack Obama was named the Democratic presidential nominee, the band Matchbox Twenty wrote a song to Americans, “Let’s See How Far We’ve Come.”
Well, Matchbox Twenty, I think it’s safe to say, we’ve come far.
Americans considered a woman for vice president and elected an African American for president.
As the years roll on, it becomes increasingly difficult for younger generations to imagine the days when women were not allowed to vote, and African Americans were enslaved.
Nevertheless, those times did exist, and it is a part of America’s past – a past that resurfaces in Gettysburg resident Debra Sandoe McCauslin’s book, “Reconstructing the Past: Puzzle of the Lost Community at Yellow Hill.”
The nonfiction work showcases McCauslin’s research on an African American community that once existed about nine miles north of Gettysburg. The community, named Yellow Hill, was a safe haven for many slaves who traveled the Underground Railroad from the South to Pennsylvania.
While an exact date cannot be named of when Yellow Hill was established, records provide that by the 1800s, there was an African American community at Yellow Hill. Though the people lived freely at Yellow Hill, they could not worship or be buried with their white neighbors, McCauslin writes. So the community established its own church, in later years known as Fairmount A.M.E. church, and Yellow Hill cemetery, near the intersection of Center Mills Road and Route 234, between Heidlersburg and Biglerville.
Quakers surrounded Yellow Hill. Their first meetinghouse, in fact, was on Center Mills Road.
Evidence exists that the Quakers helped with the Underground Railroad, and there were times when people of all ages, all races and all denominations worshipped together at evangelical camp meetings at Yellow Hill.
McCauslin includes historic and current photographs of places, people, newspaper articles and headstones. She is precise with documentation, including several appendices, one of which documents all census data on blacks, coloreds and mulattos in Butler and Menallen townships, from 1800 to 1910.
When or why the community fell apart is unclear; however, the last newspaper reference to Yellow Hill is printed July 14, 1923, in the Gettysburg Compiler.
McCauslin writes that there are more questions than answers about Yellow Hill, but the book encourages readers to help her find answers.
McCauslin gives tours to the cemetery and other Underground Railroad sites that can be accessed at her Web site, http://www.GettysburgHistories.com.
In the last paragraph of the book, she writes, “We cannot alter past ignorance, but we can resolve not to repeat it. Preserving the cemetery at Yellow Hill is the right thing to do so that future generations will know the history of the people who lived there.”
By preserving Yellow Hill, future generations will know, how far we’ve come.
“Reconstructing the Past: Puzzle of the Lost Community at Yellow Hill,” by Debra Sandoe McCauslin, is available at the Adams County Historical Society and Gallery 30, both in Gettysburg, and online at BookSurge.com, Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
A portion of the proceeds of the book benefits the restoration and preservation of local historic sites.