The most popular route from Dorchester County into Delaware along the Underground Railroad ran through Samuel Green’s old stomping grounds of East New Market. Today, Faith Community United Methodist Church is tucked off to the east of the highway there, behind the tracks that give that Railroad Avenue its name.
The church dates its history to 1844, when it was known as Colored People’s United Methodist. A free black man, Green served as a minister here back in slavery times. He also operated a station along the Underground Railroad, presumably out of the cabin nearby where he and his wife Kitty lived.
‘He Prayed with His Legs’
By all indications, Green was a decent, well-liked man. By the 1840s he seems to have developed a good reputation in the community among blacks and whites alike. It’s not clear how he came to learn to read and write, but somewhere along the line he did, a rarity for blacks of his day.
Slavery was a matrilineal affair, with ownership of children passing through the mother at birth. That’s how Ezekiel Richardson came to own Sam Jr. and Sarah even after Samuel and Kitty Green became free. Richardson eventually sold the Green children to a man named Dr. James Muse, who moved them out of their parents’ home and into his house on prestigious High Street in Cambridge, Maryland, about 10 miles away. That house, now known as the 1849 Muse-Goldsborough House, is still standing today at 111 High Street.
Interestingly, Samuel and Kitty did not have an empty household for long during this period. By the time of the 1850 census, they had taken in a couple of strays—their household is listed with two children who were not their own, one a mulatto and the other black.
Down in Cambridge, Sam Jr. found himself in a bad situation. Years later, he would talk about having seen “whipping and all manner of cruelty inflicted [by Muse] upon his servants.” In the late summer of 1854, Sam Jr. decided that he had had enough. He got word up to East New Market:
Father, I must fly for freedom!
The elder Green would eventually come up with a beautiful turn of phrase to describe what Sam Jr. was up to in the act of escaping to the North:
He prayed with his legs.
Young Sam Jr. made it to Canada in reasonably short order. Here is the text of a letter he wrote to his parents in September 1854:
I take this opportunity to Rite you a few lines to let you know how I am. I am well at present. I hope you and mother and all the famlay are the same. I arived to Canaday on 5 of Sep and I Got into Work as soon as I gat thar in a Saw Mill. … I had it very plesent all of my travel plenty of friends plenty to eat and drink. … I have got a grat dele to say but hav not time now give my love to all the friends and the woman, tell P. Jackson to come on Joseph Baily com on, Kom more. I remain yours til dath Samuel Green.
What happened next back home in Maryland must have torn Sam Jr. apart. His sister Sarah was a married woman by this point, with two young children. Shortly after Sam Jr.’s escape, her owner, James Muse, ripped that young family apart, selling Sarah—and only Sarah—to an owner in Missouri. No one knows what became of her after that.
An Underground Railroad Conductor on Trial
Meanwhile, Samuel Green Sr. was becoming an ever more prominent member of the Dorchester County community. In 1852, he was selected as a representative to a statewide “Convention of the Free Colored People of Maryland.” In 1855, he attended the National Convention of the Colored People of the United States in Philadelphia. Many prominent black abolitionists were there, including Frederick Douglass.
Somewhere around this time, Green made a trip to Canada and visited with Sam Jr. While there, he decided that he and Kitty would move to Canada someday soon and join their son.
Green was probably running an Underground Railroad station through this whole period. Harriet Tubman seemed to know about Green, and to trust him. A couple of historians have speculated that Sam Jr. made his run to Canada bearing instructions from Tubman herself.
The elder Green almost certainly provided a safe haven in March 1857 to a group of Dorchester County runaways who would come to be known as the Dover Eight, after a miraculous moonlight escape out of the jailhouse in the capital city of Delaware. Their flight, and the publicity it engendered, set off a frenzy among slave owners in Dorchester County. They demanded something, anything, be done to stem the flow of runaways and protect their property rights.
That’s why Dorchester County Sheriff Robert Bell came knocking at Samuel Green Sr.’s door with a warrant on April 4.
“Come in, sir,” Green told him. “It is a small cottage. You can soon search it through, but you will find nothing, for there is nothing to find.”
Bell did find a few things, though the items sound rather innocuous to our modern ears. There was that letter from Green’s son, a runaway, along with maps and train schedules showing the way to Canada. In addition, Bell found a copy of the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which had been causing quite a stir since its publication in 1852.
To be honest, I have always been a little confused by what happened next. In much of my reading about slavery times, the legal system in pro-slavery places like Dorchester County is portrayed as a kangaroo-style affair through and through, with slaves always found guilty no matter how innocent they were and slave owners always found innocent no matter how guilty they were. There must be a good amount of truth in those portrayals of a rigged system: A mountain of reliable testimony by former slaves describes incidents where owners and overseers got away, quite literally, with murder.
But those portrayals also must be a bit of an oversimplification, given what happened in the first trial of Samuel Green Sr.. It was a hard-fought affair, centered on those maps and train schedules for travel to Canada, but he was acquitted. (This verdict came even in a case where the court had appointed a defense attorney with a public record of expressing pro-slavery sympathies.)
In a second trial, this one focused on that copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Green did not fare as well. Found guilty under a law that made it illegal to possess material of an “inflammatory character” that might sow discontent or cause unrest among slaves, he was sentenced to 10 years in jail, the minimum allowed under the law. Green started serving his term at a prison in Baltimore City on May 18, 1857.
No one seems to know what became of Kitty during this period. Some historians have speculated that she might have been forced to sell the family belongings in order to pay for legal and living expenses. Others have wondered if she moved to Baltimore to be closer to her husband, or to Canada and the home of Sam Jr.
In short order, the story of Samuel Green Sr.’s imprisonment became the talk of the nation. Newspaper reporters from near and far weighed in on the case of a supposedly free man imprisoned for having a copy of a best-selling book. Petition drives were taken up on Green’s behalf—and not just by among the abolitionists of the North. Green had many supporters in Maryland who spoke up as well.
Maryland’s governor at the time was Thomas Holliday Hicks, a member of the colorfully named Know Nothing Party, Hicks was the sort of politician who toed a delicate line on the key issues of his day—he opposed secession and would later back Abraham Lincoln, but he also supported slavery and backed strong measures to protect the property rights of slave owners.
Hicks refused to pardon Green, or even to reduce his sentence. Green wouldn’t catch a break until 1862, when Augustus Bradford took over as governor and commuted his sentence on condition that he leave the state within 60 days. On his way north, Green visited with William Still in Philadelphia. He also made an appearance at Shiloh Church in New York City, which was run by another famous Eastern Shore-born preacher, the former slave Henry Highland Garnet.
Reaching the End of the Book
While in New York, Samuel Green Sr. paid a call on Harriet Beecher Stowe, the celebrated author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. All we know about that meeting comes from a short mention she gave it in a much longer newspaper article devoted mainly to other topics.
There came a black man to our house a few days ago, who had spent five years at hard labor in a Maryland penitentiary for the crime of having a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in his house. He had been sentenced for ten years, but on his promise to leave the state and go to Canada, was magnanimously pardoned out … and so he left Maryland without any acquisition except an infirmity of the limbs which he had caught from prison labor.
All this was his portion of the cross; and he took it meekly, without comment, only asking that as they did not allow him to finish reading the book, would we give him a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which we did.
Green lived out the rest of his days in relative obscurity. The 1870 census shows him back in the farm country of north Dorchester County, living in the vicinity of the intersection of Hicksburg Road and Route 16. By the time of his death in February 1877, he had been living in Baltimore City for a few years.
Kitty outlived her husband—she was still appearing in the community directories of Baltimore City as late as 1886. Sam Jr. seems to have remained in Canada for the rest of his days. Census records up there show him as a married father of two in the 1870s. He was working as a barber.
Most historians looking back at these events focus understandably on the elder Samuel Green and the injustice he suffered for owning a popular book. But my thoughts tend to stray toward his son, Sam Jr. Here is a young man who made a successful dash to freedom, something we tend to look back on now as a cause for celebration.
And yet, even in freedom, Sam Jr. found himself enduring heartbreaks rooted in the injustices of slavery. His sister was sold off and separated from her husband and children. His father was arrested, in part because of a letter Sam Jr. had sent simply to let his parents know that he was safe. It was with Sam Jr. in mind that I gave this story the title, “The Price of Freedom.”
–Posted by Jim Duffy, Aug. 25, 2017
NOTE: This is an excerpt from Tubman Travels: 32 Underground Railroad Journeys on Delmarva. The image up top includes Rev. Samuel Green (left) and the current Faith United Methodist Church building (right). In the center is a liturgical dancer performing during the congregation’s annual Heritage Day festivities, which are held in October.
The chapter of the book where this story appears also includes another section on the big-picture overview about how Rev. Samuel Green was born into slavery but became free through a legal process called manumission. There is also a postscript that details a manumission controversy in the family history of Underground Railroad conduction Harriet Tubman. At the end of the chapter there is a collection travel resources to help you find things to do and see while visiting East New Market and the surrounding towns and countryside in North Dorchester County.
This book is scheduled for publication in September 2017. More information about Tubman Travels is here. If you want to receive notice of its release, please be sure to sign up for the newsletter in the box up at the top of the page.
Thank you so much for taking time with this story!