George Taylor's Report: An Important Published Account of the Underground Railroad
In late 1897 or early 1898, George and Eliza Taylor were interviewed for an article by Ed P. Jarvis that appeared in The Detroit Journal. Although locating that specific issue with publication date has eluded us, The Birmingham Eccentric did us all a big favor by reprinting it on January 14, 1898. Because of the poor quality of the microfilm image, it is transcribed below. The sketch image shown of the Taylors accompanied the original article and was also reprinted with the interview in the Eccentric, and is shown in the best resolution we can currently provide. It is hoped that we will be able to locate a copy of the original article and that we will be able to get a better look at the couple.
This interview is very valuable historically, because it records in George's own words what his escape from enslavement in Kentucky entailed. The path he took to get through Indiana and to the Underground Railroad in Michigan is estimated from his description. Some of the language and references would be insensitive if we used them today, but we include them as written because they are a part of our history and provide context.
In addition, the article incorrectly states that the Taylors were the 'only' couple of color in Birmingham in 1898. Actually, there was at least one other young couple in town at that time--Abe and Abbie Harris and their daughter Lulu Mae. The Harrises owned property in Birmingham by 1898, and were taxpayers. The reference to the Taylors being the only taxpayers was true when they first bought their lot for their house in 1893. Read more about George and Eliza's life after settling in Birmingham.
The Hostile Territory of Indiana in the 1850s
The greatest challenge for George in his flight to freedom was in the effort to get through Indiana. At the time, the Ohio River divided non-slave states, such as Indiana, from slaveholding states, such as Kentucky, where George was born. Although Indiana was technically a free state, many of its population, especially toward the south near the river, were pro-slavery and actively helped re-capture people fleeing Kentucky, which could be lucrative. Furthermore, in 1850, the federal Fugitive Slave Law added to the problem, as it made fleeing an illegal act, and promoted re-capture and return of those enslaved back to their slaveholders. In 1851, Indiana adopted a state law that prohibed Black and mulatto (bi-racial) people from settling anywhere in the state. These laws often resulted in free Black people being jailed as fugitive slaves and imprisonment and harsh fines for anyone helping enslaved people in Indiana. Read more about Indiana's pro-slavery political climate
At the time George was fleeing north, it was one of the most hostile territories to have to cross to get to safety in Michigan. As can be seen in his narrative, he was without any sort of map, only going by the north star, and only at night, when it would be impossible to see well, and finding food and water difficult or impossible. When he took the risk to travel by day, he was discovered twice by bounty hunters with dogs. At one point, he was found by an anti-slavery abolitionist who sheltered him, although he was recaptured and taken before a justice. This official freed him, but he still had to find his way across the state line to Michigan. Abolitionists in Indiana and Ohio , like the one who helped him, made up the network to freedom that brought thousands of people to Michigan each year. (Map, right, from "The Underground Railroad in Indiana," www.nationalgeographic.org/article/underground-railroad-indiana/)
"Two Good Old Souls: Ed P. Jarvis Tells About Them in the Detroit Journal" (Reprinted in The Birmingham Eccentric, January 14, 1898)
"Only Colored Family in Birmingham – Taylor Escaped to Windsor when 31 Years Old – Mrs. Taylor was Sold on the Block Tree Times.
"There is only one colored family living in Birmingham, and it is also the only colored family which pays taxes in Bloomfield Township. George Taylor, the head of the family, was born a slave in Hancock county, KY., 73 years ago. He was the property of a Mrs. Greathouse. He was not treated very kindly, but did not rebel until he was 31 years old. Having been subjected to a public whipping at the time, however, he decided to make his escape at the first opportunity, and on April 1, 1855 he started for the north.
"A brother ferried him across the river to the Indiana side. He traveled for two weeks, at night only, using the north star as his guide. Then he decided, because of the slow progress he was making, that he must travel by daylight. Now began his troubles in earnest. Overcome by weariness one afternoon, he fell asleep in some bushes near the roadside, awakening to find himself prisoner of two men. The men were accompanied by bloodhounds, but Taylor took a desperate chance and made a break into the bushes. The shots his captors fired after him went wide, but the dogs were hot on his trail and he narrowly escaped being recaptured while beating them off.
"He then traveled for five days without food and was nearly dead from hunger and exposure when he was found by an abolitionist, who kept him until he had recovered his strength. Two days after he left this refuge he was run down by bloodhounds, the dogs holding him until their owners came up and placed him under arrest. Fortunately he was taken before a justice whose sympathies were with the abolitionists, and he ordered his release. Finally, after many more thrilling experiences, he reached Niles, from which he was hurried to Detroit, and then across the river to Windsor, having been on the road for 4 weeks. As soon as it was safe to do so Mr. Taylor came back to the United States and has lived in this section ever since.
"In 1869 he was married to Mrs. Elizabeth Ann Dosier, of Southfield. Mrs. Taylor was born into slavery in Tennessee. When she was 16 years old she was sold to an Alabama planter, and twice afterwards she was put on the block and sold to the highest bidder. After the war she found her mother living in Royal Oak. She had not seen her for 22 years. She is 60 years old."
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