Abolitionism and the Underground Railroad in Southwestern Pennsylvania (Part 3)

Another noted abolitionist in the Pittsburgh Area was Jane Grey Swisshelm. Swisshelm was a writer who submitted poems, stories and essays to local newspapers. When local newspapers refused to print her writings because they supported social reforms, Swisshelm started her own newspaper called the Pittsburgh Saturday Visitor. Her newspaper quickly reached a circulation of 6,000 nationwide her newspaper. Swisshelm’s anti-slavery and women’s rights were receiving national attention, including the attention of Horace Greeley, owner and editor of the New York Tribune and outspoken abolitionist. Swisshelm was soon reporting from Washington D.C. for the New York Tribune, and shortly became the first female reporter to cover the U.S. Congress. Swisshelm’s career with the tribune did not last long, but she continued her abolitionist and women’s rights writing through the Civil War.

Source: Women of the Civil War

Immediately to the north of Pittsburgh was Allegheny City, which is now the Northside of Pittsburgh. Allegheny City had some prominence in the abolition movement as well as the Underground Railroad. Reverend Charles Avery was a noted philanthropist in Allegheny City, he was a strong abolitionist, industrialist, and lay minister of the Methodist Church. Avery had a grand idea of opening a combined college, school and church in Allegheny City. This college and church would offer a liberal arts education and vocational education to African-American students of college age as well as students of elementary age. The building also contained an African Methodist Episcopal Church for worship. The initial tuition for the college was two dollars per term.

Charles Avery
Source: Western Pennsylvania History Society

Avery was also a strong supporter of the Underground Railroad, Avery made his church a stop on the railroad. The church had a tunnel in the basement that led to the Pennsylvania Canal, which then led to the Allegheny River. Charles Avery’s philanthropy paid for the legal representation of Africans in front of the U.S. Supreme Court during the Amistad Trial. His philanthropy continued after his death, he left $300,000 to continue to support African people through the American Missionary Society and for African-Americans, dedicating $150,000 to colleges for the education of African-Americans.

Source: Uncovering PA

Around thirty miles to the south of Pittsburgh is the City of Washington PA, Dr. F. Julius LeMoyne and his family were well known for their abolitionist leanings. LeMoyne became a member of the Anti-Slavery Society of Washington County in 1835 and soon after served as the Society President from 1834 to 1837. Soon after, LeMoyne served the society in regional and national roles.  LeMoyne and his family were also very active in the Underground Railroad, using his house to hide fugitive slaves.

Blairsville, Pennsylvania, a small town, forty-five miles east of Pittsburgh was a stop on the Underground Railroad. There were hiding places in Blairsville and elsewhere in Indiana County. Blairsville has an interesting story about resisting Bounty Hunters that came to town seeking fugitive slaves. In the spring of 1858, a bounty hunter from Virginia named Robert Stump came to Blairsville seeking an escaped slave named Richard Newman. When the bounty hunter and an assistant spotted Newman on the street, they attempted to take custody of him to return him to Virginia. Very quickly, an angry mob gathered in the streets and rescued Newman from the bounty hunters. As the crowd whisked Newman away to safety, they also drove the bounty hunters to the Pennsylvania Canal, forcing them to leave town.

This powerful anti-slavery sentiment would continue to grow and flourish in Southwestern Pennsylvania. In the middle of the 1850’s, a new abolitionist party began to make themselves known in the United States. The Republican Party was built upon an insistence that slavery could no longer exist anywhere in the United States. The “Cradle of the G.O.P” was Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The first Republican National was held in Lafayette Hall in Pittsburgh on February 22 – 23, 1856. Horace Greeley, noted abolitionist and owner/editor of the New York Tribune was in attendance and addressed the convention on February 23 and had a very warm welcome from the crowd who chanted his name as he approached the stage. Greeley spoke out against the dispute called “Bleeding Kansas” a dispute in Kansas between pro-slavery and anti-slavery peoples which had become a mini civil war. Greeley also advised that Republicans should be sending advisors to Kansas and Missouri to assist anti-slavery activists in their fights against pro-slavery forces. Greeley also stated that the current administration of Franklin Pierce was “Weak and Faithless” in fighting the growth of slave states and that the Republican Party’s leading purpose was to overthrow the current administration.  Pierce felt that the abolitionist movement and the reforms they wanted would tear the country apart. In his book about the forming of the Republican Party in Pittsburgh, Michael Holt writes:

“Republican appeals were aimed at the unfair power of the minority South and its aggressions against the rights of the Northern majority, rather than at slavery. Republican rhetoric in Pittsburgh opposed slavery expansion primarily to hurt the south and preserve the territories for white men.”

Although, the Republican Party was not united behind full abolition of slavery at this point, the Republican Party was setting the stage to begin their ultimate fight against slavery, it would take them four more years until they took control of the Presidency.


Barcousky, Len. 2008. “Eyewitness 1856: Republicans get their act together.” Pittsburgh Post Gazette, May 4, Online Edition ed. Accessed March 2018. http://www.post-gazette.com/local/community-eyewitness/2008/05/04/Eyewitness-1856-Republicans-get-their-act-together/stories/200805040254.

Blairsville Underground Railroad. Accessed March 2018. http://www.undergroundrailroadblairsvillepa.com/.

Free At Last? Accessed February 2018. http://exhibit.library.pitt.edu/freeatlast/.

Holt, Michael. 1990. Forging a Majority: The Formation of the Republican Party in Pittsburgh, 1848-1860. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. Accessed March 2018.

MacLean, Maggie. 2007. Jane Grey Swisshelm. February 24. https://www.civilwarwomenblog.com/jane-grey-swisshelm/.

National Park Service. n.d. Julius F. LeMoyne House. Accessed March 2018. https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/underground/pa1.htm.

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