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From this video it is obvious and easy to grasp the nature of the legend of the secret railroad. With the realization that in some cases the oral history passed down to us is the only record of certain historical events.
What is commonly called the Underground Railroad has become what may well be thought of as having grown to legendary status here in Maine. Despite this it may often be heard by a number of imperative and influential people that it in all probability never existed in this state at all. But to those of us who have seen some of the physical proof that still remains from this endeavor, this statement merely indicates a lack of any reasonable research being done by the architect of the statement. For evidence of the Underground Railroad is all around, at least in the southwest corner of the state and that which exists in Brunswick and Topsham may well be some of the best there is still in existence.
Though it was known as the Underground Railroad, it was not of course actually underground -- but was more a string of safe houses with secret passwords and secret signs to be recognized and utilized by the runaway slave to help them along their way to freedom in Canada. Despite this, it is thought that in Brunswick and Topsham, it was actually in parts underground, utilizing tunnels, which ran between safe houses. These tunnels were constructed of carefully laid red brick with vertical side walls, a vaulted top and a flat brick paved bottom up to some 5 feet wide which would allow the easy passage of individuals on foot as well as a horse and buggy if desired, at least in the Topsham portion of the tunnels.
Concerning the legends:
The legend of the tunnels, as I have been told in bits and pieces by an assortment of people over the years, when put together, seems to provide a plausible explanation for this large and complex housing and transportation system. How much of it is true will only be determined if the loose ends which remain are carefully investigated and explored. It hasn?t happened in the last 140 plus years, and the "it's there / it?s not there? argument rages on, but I still hold out hope, which might just prove to be a national treasure, will sometime soon receive the concentration it deserves. While some parts are known to be true, others are plausible, and all need more research and study. The population of Maine exhibited a broad range of positions on the elimination question with both sides being well represented as well as throwing in a good number whose minds were not made up. With this divided view secrecy was necessary for any hard work to aid escaping slaves along their way to Canada and freedom.
Brunswick and Topsham were a center of trade and transportation in the time due to its location at the falls in a huge river, which prohibited deep draft vessels from continuing upstream. Cargo must be unloaded from the large vessels to smaller, shallower draft vessels for continuation to towns upriver or provided to dealers and suppliers to be presented for sale in Brunswick / Topsham shops, which were well frequented by those that lived upriver - Durham, Lisbon, Lewiston, Auburn, etc.
Bath, a center of transportation as well, was pro-slavery as were most of the larger towns along the coast as the affluent of these communities were shipmasters and shipyard owners. This acceptance of slavery was the result of their dependence on the slaves of the south to produce the cotton so desperately needed by Europe. Their fortunes relied a great deal upon the transportation of their construct, which in part made many of them very well to do for the period. Brunswick / Topsham though divided on the issue and as well a producer of ships for this business harbored many with a strong abolitionist view and less of a population percentage which directly dealt with the South, this being a trade and production based area.
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