York/Adams’ interest in Underground Railroad grows
Artist Lewis Miller captures members of the black community celebrating after receiving news of the Emancipation Proclamation. (Courtesy, York County Heritage Trust.)
Underground Railroad enthusiasts will have two opportunities to learn more about that network that led many fugitives to freedom through York and Adams counties.
Organizers of the Goodridge Freedom House in York plan an Emancipation Proclamation Celebration from 2-5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8. Ex-slave William C. Goodridge’s former residence on East Philadelphia Street is being developed as a museum. When completed, it will be officially known as the William C. Goodridge Freedom House and Underground Railroad Museum.
Goodridge was a 19th-century York businessman whose home, business properties and rail line are believed to have been part of the Underground Railroad.
In Adams County, Underground Railroad Tours of Adams County will be conducted on Gettysburg Tour Center buses and vans Saturdays through the fall… .
Tours last up to three hours and cost $24.95 per adult. To make a reservation, call Gettysburg Tour Center at 334-6296.
For more information, go to http://www.gettysburghistories.com or http://www.freedomliesnorth.org.
A York Sunday News story tells about tour creator and guide Debra McCauslin:
Debra McCauslin was 12 years old when her family moved to Butler Township, where she started to hang out in a nearby graveyard.
Her fascination with the lives of those buried in the cemetery was an early and eerie sign of stories she would later uncover.
“One day I was sitting on this small flat stone in the back corner, and I rubbed the moss off the top of it to reveal … ‘Sandoe,'” she said.
Sandoe is her maiden name.
“I ran to tell my mom, and she told me that was the grave of three babies born to my great-great-great-grandmother. I guess you could say that was the start of my love for cemeteries.”
Today, McCauslin lives in Tyrone Township, Adams County, where she is an author and historian. After researching to learn more about her own heritage, she uncovered a forgotten black community, which led her to become a tour creator and guide.
On Saturdays, McCauslin leads a tour of three Adams County sites approved by the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program that commemorates
Underground Railroad sites throughout the United States. Two of those sites, Menallen Friends Meetinghouse and the Yellow Hill Cemetery, are on the tour.
On the tours, McCauslin explains her ties to the locations.
“My ancestor was the first soldier killed at Gettysburg,” McCauslin said. “My intention was to write a book about him.”
McCauslin’s great-great-grandfather’s first cousin – George Washington Sandoe – was a local man who fought for the Union and died at McAllister’s Mill, which was known as a safe place for slaves, she said.
But as she researched Sandoe, she learned of slave escapes in Adams County from about the 1820s to the 1860s, she said.
She uncovered historical information about Yellow Hill Church AME, which was consecrated in 1869, she said. In the early 1900s, three white men burned down the black community’s church, McCauslin said. Afterward, that community seemed to dissolve, she said.
Remnants of the cemetery – which is landlocked by private property – may only be seen on the tour, she said.
“It’s beautiful on a high hill just over the Mason-Dixon line,” McCauslin said. “The slaves could stand here on Yellow Hill and say, ‘I am free,’ and look over into Maryland where they were slaves.”
McCauslin’s ties to the former church site and knowledge of the Underground Railroad fueled her drive to learn more.
“My father grew up on Yellow Hill and that is where my grandfather had a fruit farm, and I spent my childhood there working on his farm and swimming in his farm pond during summers,” she said. “I have lived in and around this history all my life, but I never knew these things until I dug to find the info.”
McCauslin also learned of Edward Mathews – benefactor for the Yellow Hill cemetery and church lot – who had three sons who served in the U.S. Colored Troops, she said. One of them later had a daughter, Jessie Ellen Mathews, who would be orphaned at a young age. As an adult, Jessie Ellen Mathews became a civil rights leader.
“I love to talk about this little orphan,” McCauslin said of Jessie Ellen Mathews. “This lost community produced this woman of such merit.”
McCauslin created a scholarship fund in honor of Jessie Ellen Mathews for the Menallen Friends’ Pre-school. Matthews once lived next door to the meetinghouse .
McCauslin also owns For the Cause Productions, which partnered with Gettysburg Tour Center to provide the Underground Railroad Tour of Adams County. The money McCauslin earns from For the Cause goes to preservation projects in Adams County, she said.
“It’s really fun. … I’m meeting the most open-minded people,” she said. “Taking this tour helps you know what this war was all about. … These are my heroes, and I love telling people about them and what they did.”