The Ross Homestead was approved as a site on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. The nomination was prepared by Kathryn Grover who had been hired by the Massachusetts Historical Commission to prepare a NR nomination with a Massachusetts Underground Railroad context. Grover chose the Ross Homestead which has already been accepted to the National Park Services Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. We appreciate Kathryn's long term support for Florence History. She and architectural historian Neil Larson also prepared the nomination for the Basil Dorsey/Thomas H. Jones house at 191 Nonotuck Street.
The Ross Farm at 123 Meadow Street in the Florence section of Northampton, Massachusetts,meets National Register criteria A and B in the areas of ethnic, social, and political history for its role in the both the abolitionist and utopian reform movements in antebellum Massachusetts. It is specifically significant as well for its association with the Underground Railroad in the commonwealth.Between the construction of the house, about 1830, and the Civil War,occupants Samuel Lapham Hill and Austin Ross engaged in documented efforts to assist fugitives from slavery. During Hill’s occupancy (1841-about 1846) the property was part of the complex of buildings and land owned by the Northampton Association for Education and Industry (NAEI), one of three communitarian settlements organized in antebellum Massachusetts. Indeed, it is the only property still standing in Florence that was connected with the association. The lives of Hill and Ross embodied the NAEI’s remarkable, if not singular, fusion of utopianism and abolitionism. The Ross farm is nominated at a state level of significance.
NAEI and 123 Meadow Street
According to historian Christopher Clark, the Northampton Association for Education and Industrywas one of 119 communal societies established in the United States in the first six decades of the 1800s and one of forty-seven founded between 1841 and 1845. Created in April 1842, NAEI had been in planning since 1841, the year that the Transcendentalist George Ripley founded the utopian Brook Farm in West Roxbury and Universalist cleric Adin Ballou createdHopedale in Milford. The “come outers”—people who withdrew from existing forms of civil and religious government—who founded each community aimed to develop functioning economic and social systems devoid of the perceived corruptions of the prevailing order. Association founders identified among these evils the increasing divergence of “intellectual and manual labor” in American society, the economic and social inequity of the nascent industrial order, intemperance, the oppression of some at the hands of more powerful others, and dissension in American churches over slavery and women’s rights. Yet, while abolitionists were among the founders of each community and each evinced some measure of commitment to abolitionism and equal rights, only NAEI articulated those commitments as among its bedrock principals. In large measure, the founders of NAEI and shared a rejection of sectarianism and slavery, as well as of other forms of oppression. In a reminiscence NAEI member Frances Judd characterized the founders and later members: “all were earnest in the anti-slavery cause; many were deeply interested in non-resistance; all were temperance people and some had suffered expulsion from the churches for their course on anti-slavery and other matters.” Seven of the eleven founders were abolitionists before founding the association, and seven were from northwestern Connecticut, an early hotbed of abolitionist sentiment. Chief among the founders was George W. Benson (1808-79), whose father had been a founding member of the Providence Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery (1790), a founder and officer of the Windham, Connecticut, Peace Society (1826), and the third president of the New England Anti-Slavery Society (1834). Benson Sr. had turned from his birthright Baptist faith to become a Quaker, but his son disdained religious affiliation on the grounds that it formed a “hindrance to this peoples advancement in Truth and holiness.” George W. Benson’s sister Helen married William Lloyd Garrison, the nation’s leader in the cause of immediate abolition of slavery. Physician Erasmus Darwin Hudson (1805-80) had been active in both the Connecticut and American Anti-Slavery Societies and had lectured against slavery with Benson; in 1842, the year NAEI began, Hudson traveled the lecture circuit with fugitive James Lindsay Smith. The antislavery views of Northampton native Hall Judd (1817-50) had triggered his excommunication from two churches, and his wife Frances Birge Judd was, if anything, a more committed abolitionist than he was. Judd’s brother Sylvester, a Universalist minister, had helped fugitives on their way north through the Connecticut Valley in 1838.NAEI founder Samuel Lapham Hill was a birthright Quaker who had been excommunicated for marrying outside the Friends and joined the Baptist church after he moved to Willimantic, Connecticut, to oversee a cotton mill there. Hill founded that town’s Male Anti-Slavery Society in 1836. A year earlier, after a mob attacked the church during a lecture of abolitionist Wendell Phillips, whom Hill had invited to speak, he left the church and, according to his son, “never again allowed his great mind and heart to be trammeled by a church creed.” The founders of NAEI chose Northampton in part because of their interest in silk manufacture, often characterized as a “craze” throughout New England in the 1830s. Whether it was specifically pursued for the purpose or not, the interest in silk manufacture is often tied to antislavery: unlike cotton, silk was a fabric produced by free, not enslaved, labor. Abolitionists who supported the “free produce” movement—that is, the purchase of goods not produced by enslaved people—customarily wore silk and linen as a protest. For its part, Northampton’s fertile Connecticut River Valley location had already been chosen for an avowedly antislavery business enterprise.In the spring of 1838 the abolitionist David Lee Child had begun to grow beets on twenty acres of Florence land in order to make free-labor sugar from their roots. The business failed to make a profit and thus to support Child and his wife, author and editor Lydia Maria Child, and by 1841 Lydia moved to New York City to assume editorship of the National Anti-Slavery Standard. By 1847 the Childs abandoned the beet sugar experiment altogether. New York merchant Samuel Whitmarsh had begun silk manufacture in 1835 on almost three hundred acres of meadow in Florence. Part of this property was the one-hundred-acre farm of Gaius Burt, who had settled in so-called Broughton’s Meadow in 1798; Burt’s farm eventually became known as the Ross Farm. Burt built a cottage on the property about 1800-1801 (razed in the 1870s), and his son Theodore built the larger, current dwelling just west of the first house before 1831. Whitmarsh planted acres of mulberry trees on the tract and a brick factory for the manufacture of “sewing silk” (thread) and, later, various types of ribbons and silk vesting. Later in the year Whitmarsh incorporated the enterprise as Northampton Silk Company. In 1840 Whitmarsh hired Connecticut silk manufacturer Joseph Conant as the factory’s second superintendent but shortly afterward left the company to begin silk making on his own. Company trustees leased the factory to Conant for three years, and in 1841 they sold the later Ross Farm and fifty additional acres to Samuel L. Hill. Just as Hill was completing the purchase, however, he and others created NAEI, and, in keeping with the association’s commitment to communal ownership, the farm became part of its common property. NAEI’s purchase included was 470 acres, the silk company’s four-story brick factory, its Mill River dam and waterpower site, a sawmill, some small workshops and outbuildings, and several dwellings—including the Ross Farm homestead. In a circular aimed at recruiting members, the association stated its aim to organize the community “upon principles . . . the best calculated to fulfill the designs of God in placing man in this life.” Existing educational and business institutions did not emphasize “the co-operation of man as an essential condition”—for his own part Hill deplored “the competition so omnipresent and oppressive” of modern life. Association founders averred that contemporary society instead recognized “invidious distinctions [and] assigning the highest rank for other reasons than moral worth.” The NAEI constitution stated the situation more critically. It decried the divide between those who did productive labor and those who merely lived on the labor of others—or, as it elsewhere stated, “extreme ignorance and poverty in immediate juxtaposition with the most insolent licentiousness.” It excoriatedthe “systematically warlike” nature of governments everywhere and the fact that political parties were “notoriously and characteristically destitute of principle except the love of place.” Finally, the constitution criticized American religion for having organized itself into “hostile sects” and for replacing“audible and visible forms for the inward power of truth and goodness.” The association would instead seek “the union of spiritual, intellectual, and practical attainments” and “the equality of rights and rank for all,” its circular declared. Among the seven constitutional principles the founders articulated was that “the rights of all are equal without distinction of sex, color, or condition, sect or religion.” The NAEI operated a store, school, and common eating and living space for both families and single people who became members. The former Whitmarsh mill contained the store, the boardinghouse, and three rooms devoted to making, finishing, and packing silk. NAEI’s silk growing department handled the trees and cocoonery; itsagricultural department cultivated crops for the community’s use. By early April 1842 thirty persons had joined the association, and by spring of 1844 NAEI had 120 members, the most it had at any one time. Over the four and a half years of its existence, NAEI attracted 240 members, and the association received at least 180 inquiries asking about or recommending membership for people who ultimately did not join. More than half of the association’s total membership, historian Christopher Clark has noted, “had identifiable abolitionist connections or sympathies.” Several members and visitors noted that the collective commitment to abolition and equal rights was not only a principle. The black abolitionist David Ruggles, who moved from New York City to Northampton in 1842 and became an NAEI member in the same year, wrote in the Albany North Star that the association “is founded on the high idea of the equal brotherhood of the race. While the great majority of reformers are theoretical merely; the members of this Association are practical—endeavoring to live out the sacred principles of Human Equality.”Frances Judd recalled that “when David Ruggles came here from New York to find a refuge, he was welcomed and treated as an honored friend, and so were many others.” When a New Bedford abolitionist wrote to ask about the admission of a man of color, NAEI secretary William Adam replied, “Of course, his color is not a disqualification but rather a recommendation to us.” “It was a place to extinguish all aristocratic pretensions. There was no high, no low, no masters, no servants, no white, no black,” Frederick Douglass noted after a visit to Florence in the early 1840s. “I found . . . that the men and women who were interested in the work of revolutionizing the whole system of civilization were also deeply interested in the emancipation of the slaves; and this was enough to insure my sympathy to these universal reformers.” Clark has argued that association members embraced “black men and women among them as equals—one of the few places anywhere in the United States to do so in this period.” This aspect of the association irritated the Newburyport Watchtower, which described the Florence community as composed of“extreme Abolitionists, Come-outers, broken down politicians, negroes, ladies and children.” Still, Clark has suggested, NAEI’s strict admission standards—a candidate had to be known and recommended by a member or a friend of the group—may have limited black membership. Only four people of color are known to have been NAEI members—Ruggles, Sojourner Truth (who began speaking publicly on abolitionism only after coming to Florence), and the fugitives Stephen C. Rush and George W. Sullivan. Samuel Hill, the Ross Farm, and Fugitive Assistance Samuel Lapham Hill came to Florence in the spring of 1841 and settled on the former Gaius Burt farm. He, like Garrison, was adamantly nonsectarian and nonpolitical. Unlike the political abolitionists who split from the American Anti-Slavery Society to form the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society in 1839, Hill refused to vote; he rather believed in the power of what Garrison termed “moral suasion” to eradicate slavery.Committed to the association’s aim “to work out an improved state of society,” Hill became the NAEI’s first and longtime treasurer.In addition, he was for some time the assistant superintendent of silk manufacture there and began, with his Willimantic associate Hiram Well, a machine shop to produce cutlery and metal goods the community needed.Northampton abolitionist Seth Hunt later declared that Hill’s name should “stand highest” on the list of “founders and upbuilders” of Florence; “he was a staunch friend of the poor and oppressed and a stout defender of free thought and the broadest religious toleration,” Hunt wrote. Several examples of Hill’s assistance to fugitives from slavery have been documented, but his son Arthur Gaylord Hill, born in 1841 on the Ross Farm, recalled it to have been systematic even though he could remember few specific “incidents” when asked about the subject in the early 1890s. “A good many passengers stopped ‘five minutes for refreshments’ at my father’s, and conductors were often changed here,” A. G. Hill wrote in response to a query from local historian Joseph Marsh. “On a few trips I was either conductor or assistant conductor. Quite a number of the through passengers temporarily took up their abode in Florence, the balmy anti-slavery climate here proving very attractive to them.” Hill then stated that his father most frequently brought fugitives to “the Kingman’s in Cummington, but occasionally our living freight was delivered to a Mr. Crafts’ house in Whately.” Three years later Arthur Hill provided somewhat more specific detail about his father’s activity to Underground Railroad Wilbur Siebert. “Our station was on the line from Hartford going North, though sometimes we had passengers who would come up part way through the Hudson River Valley or diagonally across from the Pennsylvania line. Most of those who came to us came via Southampton (10 miles from Florence) and were brought to us by a Mr. Lyman (whose first name I do not recall) or some one of his neighbors. Our deliveries were usually made to a little circle of abolitionists at Cummington Mass, eighteen miles northwest of Florence, of which circle Mr Kingman was one of the centres. Sometimes our passengers were sent through Whately about ten miles north of Florence up the Connecticut River Valley, to a Mrs. Crafts.” Whether Hill received fugitives at his home between 1841 and 1845, when he lived at the Ross Farm, as well as in the home he occupied at 33 Maple Street afterward, is not known. His son Arthur was only four in 1845 and surely did not begin to help his father until about 1850, though what he told Marsh and Siebert may have been based partly on stories recounting events before he was born or in his infancy. Fugitive narratives and the retrospective accounts of fugitive assistants and their families strongly suggest that passage up the Connecticut River Valley was common among fugitives. Basil Dorsey, who escaped Maryland slavery in 1836, eventually reached the home of black abolitionist Robert Purvis outside Philadelphia; Purvis went with Dorsey to New York and there placed Dorsey “in the hands of Joshua Leavett, the editor of The Emancipator, who sent him to Connecticut to find employment on his father’s farm.”The Leavitt farm was actually in Charlemont, Massachusetts, a valley town north of Florence. There Dorsey and his family lived until about 1844, when they moved to Northampton. In 1838 James Lindsay Smith fled from Northumberland County, Virginia, to New Castle, Delaware, and then to Philadelphia. Fugitive assistants there sent him “with a letter directed to David Ruggles” (who moved to Florence in 1842) of the New York Vigilance Committee, and Ruggles in turn sent Smith off with “two letters, one to a Mr. Foster, in Hartford; and the other to Doctor Osgood, in Springfield.” Smith took a steamboat to Hartford and another to Springfield, where he found his way to the home of Samuel Osgood, pastor of Springfield’s First Congregational Church. By 1842 he moved to Norwich, Connecticut,Ruggles’s native place, where he lived the rest of his life. Probably in 1839 or 1840, William Green, a fugitive from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, was taken aboard a vessel by a willing captain to Philadelphia and was sent on to Ruggles in New York; Ruggles likewise sent Green to Osgood in Springfield.The presence of numerous fugitives in Springfield is at least suggested by the fact that fully 29.9 percent of the city’s 1855 black population claimed slave-state birthplaces. Only in New Bedford, whose fugitive population is documented to have been substantial, was the proportion of southern-born blacks as high.
Arthur G. Hill noted that the NAEI members’ feelings about equal rights—“that the brotherhood of man included all of whatever color or shape of head,” as he put it—encouraged some fugitives to remain in Florence rather than continue their flight. “Here at any rate was a house of refuge for the ill-treated wanderer whether from Southern slavery or Northern barbarity,” he stated. “Many residents of color therefore soon made this their home and were fraternally greeted and guarded.” In 1843 Sophia Foord, who taught the NAEI school for a time, noted in a letter to the fugitive assistant Robert Adams, then living in Pawtucket, “This is becoming or has already become quite a depot for fugitives—one left here on Thursday & another arrived the day following who will probably tarry a short time. He is quite intelligent, speaks of having been kindly treated by a Mrs Adams of Providence [illegible word] day last week, who it is presumed is your father—He says the slaves escape so frequently that their masters say the abolitionists must have a rail road under ground, that many more would run away were it not for the belief they are taught to cherish that abolitionists at the North would beat them.” Sixteen fugitives, fourteen by name, have so far been identified as Northampton residents, if only briefly, in the 1840s and 1850s.
Florence’s position as a fugitive haven appears to be all the more remarkable in light of what several contemporariesjudged to be Northampton’s ambivalence about, if not hostility to, antislavery reform.Lydia Maria Child called abolitionism “lifeless enough” when she moved to Northampton in 1838. The town was frequented during the summer by southerners, she noted in a letter to abolitionist Abby Foster Kelley, and added, “never in my life have I witnessed so much of the lofty slave-holding spirit.” Judging by the federal census, Florence does appear to have been a more hospitable place for people of color. Almost 37 percent of Northampton’s black population lived in Florence, whose population was only 17 percent of the total population of Northampton. People of color were 3.5 percent of Florence’s total population, compared to 2.2 percent of the population of the rest of Northampton. Only two of Florence’s fifty-seven people of color (3.5 percent) did not live in their own households (and one of those lived in the home of former NAEI member Hiram Wells), while thirteen of Northampton’s 84 people of color did (15.5 percent). Two instances of Samuel Hill’s assistance to specific fugitives who opted to remain in Florence have been documented. Basil Dorsey, who had moved to Florence in 1844, purchased a Nonotuck Street house lot from George W. Benson’s Bensonville Manufacturing Company, built a house on it by August 1850, and remained there with his family until March 1852. Samuel Hill then sold Dorsey three acres, part of a six-acre land purchase Dorsey made at that time. Out of that three acres, however, Hill set aside one acre, with its dwelling house, where the fugitive William Wright was then living. The house, originally the “oil mill house” that Samuel Whitmarsh had converted to silk manufacture until 1837, had formerly been occupied by David and Lydia Maria Child and then leased to David Ruggles, who probably lived there from 1846 to some time just before his death in 1849. Hill had come into possession of the house as one of the administrators of Ruggles’s estate, so it was clearly he who rented the house to Wright. Hill had the house moved to South Street in Florence at the time of the sale to Dorsey; it still stands at 47 Florence Road. William Wright was one of the ten “fugitives from southern Slavery” who published a notice in the Northampton Courier urging town residents to attend public meeting on the Fugitive Slave Act in October 1850. Wright was listed in the 1850 Northampton census as a fifty-year-old black laborer who stated his birthplace as Massachusetts, clearly a deliberate falsification. In 1850 Hill also helped Sojourner Truth, who became an NAEI member sometime between 1846 and 1850, purchase her own home in Florence, and he had his son Arthur copy Truth’s narrative of her life, taken down by “a kind lady in another town,” and printed it in pamphlet form. “We expected to work out an improved state of society,” Hill later said of NAEI, “and make ourselves and friends happier.” In his life after the association disbanded Hill continued what he termed the “honest, earnest efforts for a better life” that NAEI members had begun.Facing stifling debt and, perhaps, growing discord, NAEI began to unravel in the fall of 1845. In October George W. Benson resigned, and he and the association divided the common property.Benson purchased ninety acres and the four-story mill, which he quickly converted to a cotton textile mill with the backing of Northampton’s Williston family, evangelical abolitionists whose assistance to fugitives has long been asserted. NAEI held the remaining 380 acres, the boardinghouse, several houses and workshops, and the cocoonery. Benson’s purchase was designed to reduce the association’s debt, but the enterprise proved no more tenable after the sale. NAEI disbanded in early November 1846, and Hill alone took on all of NAEI’s liabilities, stock, and debt. He then developed a plan with his brother-in-law Edwin Eaton of Chaplin, Connecticut, to make it possible for former association members and others to own their own property and in so doing, Clark has suggested, be able to maintain some semblance of the social world they had created in Florence. Hill plotted lots in the modern-day center of Florence, sold building lots, and provided financing. “It was a strong desire of Mr. Hill,” one local historian noted, “that every man of family should own his little home place, and his influence was thus extended. Many poor men have been helped by him in the erection of homesteads, and whenever he has deeded land for that purpose he has stipulated that no intoxicating liquors should be sold on the premises.” In addition Hill hoped to raise enough money through property sales to extinguish the association’s debt. The plan was at least partially successful: as Clark has noted, “By the autumn of 1846 enough had been done to permit the community to end without a complete financial collapse.” Hill took over the association’s silk business and, after some early difficulty, founded Nonotuck Silk Company (initially Nonotuck Steam and Silk Manufactory, incorporated in 1855) with Northampton’s Samuel L. Hinckley as a silent partner. The company made machine twist, sewing, embroidery, rope, etching, color-fast knitting silks, and silk hosiery and underwear, and it is believed to have made the first thread for sewing machines. By 1867 Nonotuck Silk employed 137 people at its Florence factory and another 87 people at a plant in nearby Leeds. It became Northampton’s largest employer and the state’s largest producer of silk goods. By 1892 it had plants in adjacent Haydenville and in Hartford, Connecticut, and employed eight hundred people. With two other investors Hill also financed former NAEI member Hiram Wells in the machine business that became Florence Sewing Machine Company, which by 1867 employed nearly three hundred people; the popularity of its Florence model made it at least for a time one of the nation’s leading sewing machine manufacturers. Hill also invested in the button and daguerreotype case factory of Alfred P. Critchlow; Critchlow is stated to have employed fugitives to work in this plant. By the 1860s R. G. Dunn credit accounts state that Hill was at the very least “worth $100,000.” With this substantial wealth Hill created four local institutions that bespoke his commitment to equal rights and social reform. With two other men he incorporated the Workingmen’s Savings Bank of Florence. Like mechanics’ banks and five cents savings banks, workingmen’s banks offered low minimum deposits as a way to enable middling and working people to save and have their savings invested. In 1863 Hill and others founded Florence’s Free Congregational Society, which aimed to accomplish goals much like those of NAEI. Its articles of agreement stated, “We set up no theological condition of membership, and neither demand nor expect uniformity of doctrinal belief; asking only unity of purpose to seek and accept the right and true, and an honest aim and effort to make these the rules of life. And, recognizing the brotherhood of the human race and the equality of human rights, we make no distinction as to the conditions and rights of membership in this society, on account of sex, or color, or nationality.” In 1864 Hill contributed $31,000 toward the $33,000 cost of a new schoolhouse for the district, he funded an evening school for working adults and children, and in 1876 he founded one of the first kindergartens to be created in the United States. Like the Free Congregational Society, Hill stated that he would fund the kindergarten as long as it educated small children in a way “unmixed with ecclesiastical and theological exercises or influence” and remained open to all Florence residents “without distinction of race, nationality, or previous condition.” Clark has stated of Hill, “Keeping in the background, he was rarely mentioned by visitors. But in time he quietly emerged as the community’s last main leader and principal arbiter of its fortunes,” the man “eventually to become most closely identified with the community and its local influence.” Austin Ross, the Ross Farm, and Fugitive Assistance The Ross Farm had been part of the common property of NAEI since 1841, and with the association’s demise in July 1846 it fell to trustees Samuel L. Hill, Hall Judd, and Joseph C. Martin. At first they mortgaged 305 acres in six adjoining lots, including the farm, to the trustees of Amherst College, and in October 1849 Hill sold the farm to Abel Ross of Chaplin, Connecticut, who had moved to Northampton probably about the same time as his nephew Austin Ross. Austin Ross arrived in Florence in March 1845 and probably lived at the 123 Meadow Street property from the time of his settlement there: Hill had moved to his new house in 1845, and it seems likely that he did so to make way for Ross. Austin Ross purchased the property from his uncle in July 1857. Austin Ross (1812-1902) and his wife Fidelia moved to Northampton to run the association’s farm. “When the water-cure was in operation,” one local history notes, “he supplied that establishment with from 50 to 75 quarts [of milk] per day.” He continued dairying, to supply the village with milk, after the association disbanded and at any given time kept from twelve to twenty cows. Ross came from Chaplin to Florence about the same time as Joseph C. Martin, to whom he was related by marriage, and it is likely that he knew Hill and other NAEI members in Connecticut and had been an abolitionist there. According to Clark, Hill and other Willimantic abolitionists were “in touch with a further group, in the small town of Chaplin, Connecticut, that fought a long battle over abolitionism and women’s rights within the congregational church before being forced to give up” and leave it. The antislavery movement in Chaplin had been, Clark has noted, “active and close-knit” and had existed harmoniously with the church until the schism in the movement in 1839-40. Martin, “one of the radicals,” and others actively opposed the Congregational minister’s efforts to keep women from speaking at revival meetings and his characterization of abolitionists as a “disorganizing” influence. Garrisonians, or “old organizationists,” argued for the involvement of women as equals in antislavery reform because equal rights for all was a main tenet of the movement;“new organizationists” held that any focus on women diffused the movement’s original focus on the plight of the enslaved. Chaplin abolitionists tried to compel the church to take a formal stand against slavery until 1843, when they decided to “come out”; the church excommunicated them, and within months Martin moved to Florence. Martin became a member in April 1844, and nine months later Ross arrived. Clark does not mention Ross as among the Chaplin objectors, but it seems almost certain that he was. “In his early life he became an abolitionist,” the Hampshire Gazette noted in its 1901 obituary for Ross, “and was dismissed from the Presbyterian church on account of his anti-slavery sentiments.” His uncle Abel was probably also among them: on 6 March 1841 later NAEI member Erasmus Darwin Hudson wrote, “Last evening went to Friend Hill’s with Geo. W. Benson, W. L. Garrison . . . . after the meeting went home with bro Abel Ross and Charles L. Fiske who have been persecuted by their minister because they favor male and female equally participating in religious meetings.” That Ross was an abolitionist is indicated by his financial support of the North Star, the antislavery newspaper Frederick Douglass began in 1847, and Douglass’s later Frederick Douglass’ Paper. That he assisted fugitives was asserted in local histories and in numerous obituaries for both him and his wife. “His home was used as an underground rail-road, sheltering fugitive slaves in their flight to Canada where freedom waited him,” Florence’s Anna Pauling Friedrick recalled. “Mr. and Mrs. Ross were ardent abolitionists, and their home served as a station of the ‘underground’ railroad,’” one 1902 obituary for Fidelia Ross stated, and Austin Ross’s Hampshire Gazette obituary the year before noted, “During the anti-slavery times he was a successful agent for the underground railroad, and many a slave was gotten into Canada through his assistance.” Though such a claim has not been made in other sources, Friedrick claimed of Ross that “he had negro blood in him, also his sister Mrs. Rob. Branch.” Ross’s antislavery impulse is also evident in his membership in the Free Soil party (Ruggles, Basil Dorsey, and Critchlow were all members as well), and his commitment to equal rights is demonstrated by his charter and lifelong membership in Florence’s Free Congregational Society. In his 1893 account of Florence’s role in the Underground Railroad, Joseph Marsh asserted one specific instance of Ross’s fugitive assistance. He is said to have sheltered a fugitive whose last name was Wilson “about a year and a half in one of his chambers” and to have secured him work as a night watchman at the Greenville cotton mill (the successor to Benson’s cotton mill, which failed in 1850). Arthur G. Hill recalled a fugitive named William Wilson, but he did not state that he lived with Ross at any time. NAEI member Dolly Stetson referred to a James Willson in three letters to her husband in 1844 and 1845, but this Willson left the community in May 1845 because, she wrote, “he is not a good workman.” Because Ross did not move to Florence until March 1845, it seems unlikely that this man is the Wilson he housed for eighteen months. It is possible, however, that the Wilson at the Ross Farm was Joseph Wilson, one of the ten fugitives who signed the Fugitive Slave Act meeting call in October 1850. Hill recounted Wilson’s story twice, once referring to him only as Wilson and once as William Wilson; it may be that Hill simply recalled the man’s first name incorrectly. One of Hill’s reminiscences states that Wilson came to Florence “before the decision of Justice Taney and its results,” which would have placed his arrival at some indefinite moment before March 1857, when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney upheld a lower-court ruling that Dred Scott was not free even though his master had often brought him into territories where slavery was illegal. Hill wrote of Wilson, “He decided to remain here, became a laborer, lived on Nonotuck St., got together a little moneytramped back to Virginia to try to rescue his son from slavery. After a few months he appeared with his son. Leaving him he went back to get his daughter. He was captured and kept in slavery again for several months. He again escaped and arrived here with his daughter when the three started for Canada to happily breathe the air of freedom.” In another account Hill noted that Wilson’s son stayed behind in Florence during his father’s second trip south because he was “confident that his father would again escape and decided to wait for him here. Sure enough, in a little while the old gentleman and daughter came, and after a short stay to rest and get a little money the whole party moved north to the queen’s dominions.” Whether this man or his son lived for some time with Ross, and whether Hill described the Joseph Wilson of 1850, is not known; no man of color by either name appears in Northampton censuses between 1850 and 1860. The Ross Farm’s Later Years By 1884, Austin Ross had added another barn to the property at 123 Meadow Street, and in that year he deeded to his daughter Martha Jane Branch land opposite his house on the south side of Meadow Street. About 1890 he and his wife switched houses with their son Dwight, who then operated the farm and the milk route his father had started. The elder couple moved to Dwight’s former house on the east side of Mill River. By the time of Dwight Ross’s death in 1917, the Ross Farm was “one of the largest in the Connecticut valley,” his obituary stated, and it noted furthermore that Dwight cultivated tobacco there in addition to maintaining the dairy.“As a tobacco raiser and for many years as a producer of milk he was known throughout the valley,” the obituary stated. The property changed hands often until 1944, when Richard H. Blauvelt acquired the property and began Blauvelt Tobacco Farms. Blauvelt transferred the property in 1947 to Theodore Blauvelt, either his son or brother, and Theodore ran the tobacco operation there until about 1982. In 1986 Blauvelt sold the property to John Jay and Lois Shelley Schieffelin of Williamsburg, Massachusetts, and the Schieffelins sold it to current owners Alicia and Nooni Hammarlund in 200x.
 Christopher Clark, The Communitarian Moment: The Radical Challenge of the Northampton Association (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1995), 184.  Clark, in Communitarian Moment, 46 and elsewhere, has made this argument, which appears to be supported by an analysis of the founding documents of Brook Farm and Hopedale.  Frances P. Judd, “Reminiscences,” in Charles A. Sheffield, ed., The History of Florence, Massachusetts. Including a Complete Account of the Northampton Association of Education and Industry (Florence: by the editor, 1895), 116.  Ibid., 15, 26.  Ibid., 18, 45.  James Lindsay Smith, Autobiography of James L. Smith (Norwich, CT: Press of the Bulletin Company, 1881), 62-67, describes their tour together and the reception they received in towns throughout Connecticut and Massachusetts.  In his notebook Judd wrote, “June 1, 1838. Bought pair of second hand pantaloons—gave $2.25. Gave 50 cents to aid in transporting runaway slaves to Charlemont.” Sylvester Judd Notebook, Number 1, June 1833-June 1841, 201, Forbes Library, Northampton, Massachusetts. Thanks to Steve Strimer of the Florence History Project for this information.  Arthur G. Hill, “Biographical Sketch,” in Charles A. Sheffield, ed., The History of Florence, Massachusetts. Including a Complete Account of the Northampton Association of Education and Industry (Florence: by the editor, 1895), 207; Clark, Communitarian Moment, 41.  Though some sources assert that “the Association saw silk manufacture as an alternative to cotton and the slavery system that supported its growth” (The Northampton Silk Route, brochure, Northampton Silk Project, 2002), research has so far found no NAEI founder who overtly stated as much.  Abolitionist Deborah Weston was one of them. On 3 May 1839 she wrote to her sister Anne Warren Weston from New Bedford, “In the evening I took tea by invite at the Emersons, & as I wore my best silk gown, all the company thought very well of me—the Holmes were there, the Tim Coffins, the Mackies & Ellis Bartlett, Mr Emerson's assistant, who is an abolitionist.” Ms.A.9.2.11, page 95, Antislavery Collection, Boston Public Library. On linen as a free labor good, see Deborah Weston, New Bedford, to Anne Warren Weston, 13 November 1838, Ms.A.9.2.10, page 69, BPL Antislavery Collection.  The Childs had earlier contemplated moving to a free-labor colony that abolitionist Benjamin Lundy hoped to establish in Mexico. There they met George Kimball, who later told Child that “some wealthy gentlemen” in Boston would back him if he would produce beet sugar. Child went to Europe to learn the business and upon his return partnered with one Edwin Church, whose 1837 book on sugar beets recommended the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts as the ideal location for beet cultivation. See various letters of Lydia Maria Child between 1836 and 1841 in Milton Meltzer and Patricia G. Holland, eds., Lydia Maria Child: Selected Letters, 1817-1880 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1982), 54, 72, 115, 117, 141.  It is unclear how many acres of the Ross Farm property was planted with mulberry trees. “Historical Sketch of Floreence,” Hampshire Gazette, 2 April 1867, stated that the trees covered one hundred acres of the later Ross Farm meadow, while Sheffield, History of Florence, 58, states that only fifteen acres of this meadow had the trees, at least initially.  “Historical Sketch,” 25-26. The association owned seven houses—the Ross farmhouse, the original Gaius Burt cottage next door, the Benson, Adam, and Mack houses, and “White’s cottage.” All were occupied by NAEI families. In 1844, nearly eighty members lived in the boardinghouse. See Sheffield, History of Florence, 96.  See Sheffield, History of Florence, 69-77, where the text of the circular and constitution appears in full; Hill’s quote appears in Clark, Communitarian Moment, 32.  Other NAEI departments were lumber, cutlery, mechanical (which included shoe making), domestic (to take care of the boardinghouse and secure work for women), store, accounting, educational, and secretarial. Sheffield, History of Florence, 89-90.  Clark, Communitarian Moment, 2, 61, 66, 76.  David Ruggles to Editor of the Albany North Star, reprinted in Liberator, 24 May 1844.  Judd, “Reminiscence,” in Sheffield, History of Florence, 117.  William Adam to John Bailey, 13 February 1843, cited in Paul Gaffney, “Coloring Utopia: The African American Presence in the Northampton Association of Education and Industry,” in Christopher Clark and Kerry W. Buckley, eds., Letters from an American Utopia: The Stetson Family and the Northampton Association, 1843-1847 (Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2004), 143. W Frederick Douglass, “What I Found at the Northampton Association,” in Sheffield, History of Florence, 130.  Clark, Communitarian Moment, 7.  Ibid., 95.  Sullivan, admitted as an NAEI member in early November 1843, left the community in mid-1844; see Dolly W. Stetson, Northampton, to James A. Stetson, 26 July 1844, in Clark and Buckley, eds., Letters from an American Utopia, 49. Rush arrived in May 1843. William Lloyd Garrison wrote in the Liberator, 2 August 1843, that Rush was “a fugitive from the land of chains, whips and bowie knives, and six months ago stood under the lash of the driver as a beast of burden”; he was impelled to escape when he learned that, as Garrison noted, “Massachusetts had given succor and protection to George Latimer,” the fugitive who escaped from Norfolk, Virginia, to Boston in October 1842. Rush left NAEI in April 1846 but soon afterward asked to be readmitted. “I have tried the people out,” he wrote to Hall Judd on 7 July 1846, “but I don’t find no place like the association yet for I believe that they live out a principle that the world no nothing about.” Rush’s letter is bound into Records of NAEI, 4:26, American Antiquarian Society, Worcester. Thanks to Steve Strimer for this information.  “Historical Sketch,” 25.  Quoted in Sheffield, History of Florence, 205.  Arthur G. Hill, Florence, to Joseph Marsh, 31 January 1893, quoted in Joseph Marsh, “The ‘Underground Railway,’” in ibid., 164.  Richard Kingman operated a tavern on Main Street in Cummington, northwest of Florence; now 41 Main Street, it is a local historic site called Kingman Tavern. James M. Crafts, born in Whately in 1817, did not profess any direct fugitive assistance when he wrote to Wilbur Siebert in 1896. “Of course everything of the nature of assisting runaway slaves on their journey was kept very close,” Crafts wrote. “And young fellows were considered likely to be leaky. So we were not made the assistants in the keeping of secrets of that kind.—Yet I have distinct recollections relative to the fact that Mr Osee Monson was always credited with the honor of being the leader in assisting the poor black men to escape.” Crafts, Orange, MA, to Siebert, 24 July 1896, Siebert Notebooks.  Arthur G. Hill, Boston, July 18, 1896, to Siebert, Siebert Notebooks.  Writing in 1900, Aella Greene of Springfield wrote that fugitives coming to the central Connecticut coast from New York City took one of “two routes of the Underground system” into Massachusetts and possibly Vermont and Canada. These routes converged at Northampton, and from there a “spur track” existed when it was necessary “to blind the pursuer of fugitives.” Greene wrote, “The runaways were sent over the hills from Northampton and Florence to Cummington, where they were kept in hiding until the hunters, supposing them gone forward up the valley had pursued them and had returned from their fruitless search in that direction and abandoned the quest and gone home.” Fugitives then recrossed the hills to proceed further north up the valley. Greene’s sources are, however, unknown. Aella Greene, “The Underground Railroad & Those Who Operated It—III: Well-Known “[Outlaws]” of Westfield, Northampton, Amherst and Other Towns—The Chester Branch, A [Bit] of the Way in Vermont,” Springfield Republican, 1 April 1900. This three-part series was reprinted in pamphlet form in 2006 by Collective Copies, Inc., in Florence.  Purvis quoted in R. C. Smedley, History of the Underground Railroad in Chester and the Neighboring Counties of Pennsylvania (Lancaster, PA: Office of the Journal, 1883), 356-61. “Basil Dorsey,” Hampshire Gazette, 2 April 1867, states that “gentlemen connected with the Anti-Slavery Standard sent him [Dorsey] to Northampton,” but the National Anti-Slavery Standard, the newspaper to which the Gazette must refer, did not begin publication until 1840, four years after Dorsey’s escape.  Smith, Autobiography; Narrative of Events in the Life of William Green (Formerly a Slave), Written by Himself (Springfield: L. M. Guernsey, 1853). Green was a Springfield resident at the time he published this narrative.  A. G. Hill, “Florence the Mecca Sanctuary of the Colored Raced,” Arthur G. Hill Papers, Forbes Library, Northampton, MA.  Sophia Foord, Northampton, to Robert Adams, 8 May 1843, collection.  In addition to the ten whose names are shown in note 34, Mary Sly, George Washington Sullivan, Stephen C. Rush, and Thomas H. Jones were all fugitives and Florence residents. Sly, said to have been born in either New Orleans or Natchez, worked for a time at the tavern run by Jeremy Warriner in Springfield; she escaped from her owner, a “Col. Trask,” and it may be at that time that she came to Florence, where she was listed in the 1855 state census. She had returned to Springfield by 1860. See an interview with Sly’s daughter, Mrs. Julia Lee, in “Passing of the Old Tavern: Uncle Jeremy Warriner’s Old Coffee House—Where He Entertained Such Notables as Kossuth and Jenny Lind,” Springfield Homestead, 6 February 1907; see also “Jerry Warriner’s Tavern,” Springfield Weekly Republican, 31 January 1907, 13; and Sarah B. Merrick (Warriner’s great niece by adoption), West Seattle, to Wilbur Siebert, 28 February 1907, Siebert Notebooks.,  Child, Northampton, to Caroline Weston, 27 July 1838; Child, Northampton, to Abigail Kelley, 1 October 1838, in Lydia Maria Child: Selected Letters, 1817-1880, eds. Milton Meltzer and Patricia G. Holland (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1982), 79-80, 89-91.  Hampshire County Registry of Deeds (hereafter cited as HCD) 115:360 and 130:464-65.  HCD 142:439  Steve Strimer, “Benjamin Barrett/David Mack/David Ruggles/Hannah Randall House: A Provisional Interpretation of the Evidence: 47 Florence Road, Florence, MA” (Manuscript, 6 July 2006. Hill later transferred the house and its one-acre lot to Hiram Stebbins, who in turn sold it to the African American laundress Hannah Randall. She, her daughters, and her grandson lived there until Randall died in 1883.  “To the Citizens of Northampton,” Northampton Courier, 15 October 1850. The signers were Basil Dorsey, William C. Randell, Joseph Wilson, George Wright, “Losenberry,” John Williams, Lewis French, William Henry Boyer, Henry Anthony, and William Wright. Like William Wright, George Wright stated his birthplace falsely, as New York, in the 1850 census. So too did Lewis French, who gave Vermont as his place of birth. Dorsey (Maryland), Anthony (Maryland), and Williams (Kentucky) represented their birthplaces honestly. Randell, Wilson, Losenberry, and Boyer do not appear as Florence residents in the 1850 census, and the 1855 state census shows only Dorsey and Anthony still in town.  Samuel L. Hill, Centerville MN, 2 February 1867, for “Historical Sketch,” 8-9.  See Sheffield, History of Florence, 101, on the rumored sources of discontent among association members.  According to Aella Greene, “The Underground Railroad & Those That Operated It,” Springfield Republican, 8 April 1900 (reprint, Florence, MA: Collective Copies, 2006) J. P. Williston sheltered fugitives at his house on King Street in Northampton and at his expense paid to move those who wished to move further north, “by train or team.” Greene stated that Williston sent fugitives to Levi Graves “and a Billings or two” at Hatfield and employed fugitives at his Florence cotton mill, including Basil Dorsey. Other sources asserting a prominent Underground Railroad role for Williston include letter of Henry Shepherd, Northampton, to Wilbur Siebert, 2 October 1896; F. Bonney, Hadley, to Siebert, 18 September 1896; Arthur G. Hill, Boston, 18 July 1896, to Siebert; and Boston Evening Transcript, 31 March 1926, Siebert Notebooks.  “Historical Sketch,” 27; Clark, Communitarian Moment, 181.  In the fall of 1852, when a separate post office was to be established in the district, residents assembled to choose a name. Dr. Charles Munde, who operated the water cure David Ruggles had established, suggested the name Florence, because that city was “the great silk emporium of Italy.” See Sheffield, History of Florence, 107; Clark, Communitarian Moment, 206.  “Historical Sketch, 26; Clark, Communitarian Moment, 162.  Sheffield, History of Florence, 242; “Historical Sketch, 15; Clark, Communitarian Moment, 207.  Clark, Communitarian Moment, 213.  Clark, Communitarian Moment, 207; Sheffield, History of Florence, 147-48.  Sheffield, History of Florence, 148, 156-57; “Historical Sketch,” 27; Clark, Communitarian Moment, 216.  Clark, Communitarian Moment, 166, 17.  HCD 114:269, 130: 325, xxx:xxx.  “Historical Sketch,” 30; Clark, Communitarian Moment, 188. How many acres Ross initially farmed is unclear; his purchase from Abel Ross in 1859 included 116 acres.  Ibid., 44; Christopher Clark and Kerry W. Buckley, eds., Letters from an American Utopia: The Stetson Family and the Northampton Association, 1843-1847 (Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2004), 152 n. 149; Austin Ross obituary, Hampshire Gazette, 28 January 1901.  Hudson Family Papers, Special Collections and Archives, W. E. B. DuBois Library, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Thanks to Steve Strimer for this excerpt.  See the “Receipts” column in North Star, 25 January 1850, and Frederick Douglass’ Paper, 11 February 1853.  APF [Anna Pauline Friedrick], “Recollections of Florence People Who Attended Cosmian Hall,” n.d., facsimile reprint, Collective Copies, Inc., Florence; undated obituary for Fidelia Ross, unidentified newspaper, Elizabeth Emma Garrabrants Branch scrapbook, collection; obituary for Austin Ross, Hampshire Gazette. In 1877 Robert Mason Branch married Martha J. Ross, who was Austin Ross’s daughter, not his sister. Henry S. Gere, Reminiscences of Old Northampton: Sketches of the Town as It Appeared from 1840 to 1850 (N.p., 1902), 61-62; Obituary for Austin Ross, Hampshire Gazette.  Marsh, “‘Underground Railway,’” 167.  Dolly W. Stetson, Northampton, to James A. Stetson, 26 May 1844, 20 February 1845, 4 May 1845, in Clark and Buckley, eds., Letters from an American Utopia, 36, 86, 106.  Hill, “Florence the Mecca Sanctuary of the Colored Race”; Sheffield, History of Florence, 166.  HCD 551:62; obituary for Dwight A. Ross, undated clipping in Branch scrapbook.