Escape Betwixt Two Suns: A True Tale of the Underground Railroad in Illinois

Escape Betwixt Two Suns: A True Tale of the Underground Railroad in Illinois

Escape Betwixt Two Suns: A True Tale of the Underground Railroad in Illinois

Escape Betwixt Two Suns: A True Tale of the Underground Railroad in Illinois

Excerpt

In answer to your kind questions, Nathan Jones of Canton, is not a brother but a cousin. He is of the "true blue" sort of Abolitionists. The first slave that ever we knew of escaping from the "Puke" State (Missouri) came to us in Canton. That is one of the strong holds of Abolition. . . . You Dear Sir are to me an unknown friend, yet I believe you are a friend to the poor down trodden Slave. This is as good an introduction as I want from any man. My brother, our cause is a holy one. . . . Please to write me again, and let me know how the cause prospers there. . . . I am Sir your most humble brother in the cause of the Slaves.

--T. A. Jones to William Hayes, Greenville Bond County, Illinois, February 27, 1843

I stopped breathing when I read those words. The message from T. A. Jones confirmed what I had been told: William Hayes, a small-time dairy farmer and some-time land speculator who lived on the Flat Prairie outside Columbus (now Sparta), Illinois, had indeed been active in the Underground Railroad long before the Civil War.

The letter from T. A. Jones was only one of more than two hundred belonging to James V. Hayes, William Hayes's great-great grandson. Guarded like family jewels, the cache of correspondence was stashed in a battered wooden box hidden beneath the stairwell of the farmhouse William Hayes had built sometime before 1840. When I learned of their existence in 1989, I was racing to meet a deadline for my first book--a history of Sparta, Illinois. The prospect of reading them so excited me that for one brief, crazy moment I considered chucking the history book to dive into them immediately. I soon regained my senses, and it would be another four months before I had . . .

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