Celebrating Black History Month: Local Stops on the Underground Railroad

It wasn’t until long after the death of Ballston resident Dr. Samuel Davis that the owner of his former home at 151 Middle Line Road found a hidden room under the stairway. It is believed that the 3” by 5” room was used to harbor slaves traveling on the Underground Railroad.

The former residence of Dr. Samuel Davis at 151 Middle Line Road was a stop on the Underground Railroad. (Photo: C. Graf/Ballston Journal)

Born in East Hampton, New York, in 1765, Davis was practicing medicine in Schoharie by the time he was in his early twenties. He was such a talented doctor and surgeon that some residents of Ballston were able to convince him to relocate to the town in 1790. Davis practiced medicine from his home for 50 years until his death in 1840 at the age of 76. According to historical documents, Davis was a highly-respected physician. He earned “the respect, esteem, and confidence of the inhabitants of the county as a man of high moral character, genial and gentlemanly in his manners, and a Christian gentleman.”

Davis owned slaves including one named Aunt Jennie who cared for his five children. After Davis’ views on slavery changed, he freed all of them.

Our local area provided a vital link to the North Country for slaves escaping to Canada, and Davis is not the only local resident known to have been involved in the Underground Railroad. The home of Shep Morey, located near the North Milton Cemetery, is believed to have had a secret room for hiding slaves. Historians also believe that Morey transported slaves at night by hiding them under hay in his wagon. Morey was the only son of Jonathan Morey who along with his brother built Saratoga County’s first woolen and cotton mill.

Shepherd Morey is buried in the North Milton Cemetery near the site of his home where he sheltered slaves traveling on the Underground Railroad. (Photo: FindAGrave)

Others in the area were also rumored to have been involved in the Underground Railroad. They included E. C. Delevan (1793-1871), a wealthy Ballston businessman and a leader of the temperance movement. The movement promoted moderation or complete abstinence from the use of alcoholic beverages, and the first temperance organization was founded in Saratoga in 1808. By 1833, there were 6,000 local temperance societies throughout the country.

A cartoon from the 1800s used to promote the temperance movement by warning of the dangers of alcohol.

Because those who were part of the Underground Railroad were breaking the law, they operated under a veil of secrecy. As a result, we will never know the names of the majority of men and women who risked everything to help escaped slaves find freedom. But we do know one thing for sure. Many of these brave souls once walked the streets of Ballston, Milton, and the surrounding communities. And many of them surely attended the anti-slavery meetings that were held in Milton at various locations including the Old Stone Church.

‘Remember When’ is a history blog capturing the memories and images from Ballston Spa, Milton, Malta and the surrounding area. Have a question or something to share? Email features contributor Chris Graf, [email protected]

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Chris began her freelance writing career more than 15 years ago. She is a regular contributor to the PTSD Journal and the Cobblestone educational magazine FACES. She is the author of A Light in the Window: The City Mission of Schenectady, and the co-author of Save Me a Spot in Heaven. Chris is working on a new book with the warden of the Maine State Prison. She has a B.S. in Accounting from Penn State and works for Soldier's Heart, a non-profit that serves veterans and families impacted by post-traumatic stress. Chris attends Burnt Hills United Methodist church and enjoys volunteering in the community. She is a volunteer writer for the Ronald McDonald House of Albany, and has shed more than a few tears when sharing the stories of the families that have stayed at the house. Chris moved to Ballston Lake in 1996 after her husband, John, was transferred to the GE Global Research Center. She has lived in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, West Virginia, Illinois, England, and Belgium and is very happy that her three daughters have never had to experience being the "new kid" at school. All three attended Shenendehowa High School, and her youngest, Jenna, graduates in 2018. Chris is not looking forward to an empty nest and will be making many trips to Assumption College to watch Jenna play college field hockey. She has been a fixture in the stands for many years at Shenedehowa track and cross country meets, and field hockey and lacrosse games. Her most important job has been that of "mom."


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