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.
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 According to historical documents, Davis was a highly-respected physician.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.
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.
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]