Daniel Bonsall to William Still, 1872

    Source citation
    William Still, The Underground Rail Road (Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1872), 645-646.
    Author (from)
    Bonsall, Daniel
    Date Certainty
    Zak Rosenberg
    Transcription date

    The following text is presented here in complete form, as true to the original written document as possible. Spelling and other typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.

    To give some idea of the course pursued by Daniel and Hannah Gibbons, I insert the following letter, containing an account of events which took place in 1821:

    "A short time since, I learned that my old friend, William Still, was about to publish a history of the Underground Rail Road. His own experience in the service of this road would make a large volume. I was brought up by Daniel Gibbons, and am asked to say what I know of him as an abolitionist. From my earliest recollection, he was a friend to the colored people, and often hired them and paid them liberal wages. His house was a depot for fugitives, and many hundreds has he helped on their way to freedom. Many a dark night he has sent me to carry them victuals and change their places of refuge, and take them to other people's barns, when not safe for him to go. I have known him start in the night and go fifty miles with them, when they were very hotly pursued. One man and his wife lived with him for a long time. Afterwards the man lived with Thornton Walton. The man was hauling lumber from Columbia. Tie was taken from his team in Lancaster, and lodged in Baltimore jail. Daniel Gibbons went to Baltimore, visited the jail and tried hard to get him released, but failed. I would add here, that Daniel Gibbons' faithful wife, one of the best women I ever knew, was always ready, day or night, to do all she possibly could, to help the poor fugitives oil their way to freedom. Many interesting incidents occurred at the home of my uncle. I will relate one. He had living with him at one time, two colored men, Thomas Colbert and John Stewart. The latter was from Maryland; John often said he would go back and get his wife. My uncle asked him if he was not afraid of his master's catching him. He said no, for his master knew if he undertook to take him, he would kill him. He did go and brought his wife to my uncle's.

    While these two large men, Tom and John, were there, along came Robert (other name unknown), in a bad plight, his feet bleeding. Robert was put in the barn to thrash, until he could be fixed up to go again on his journey. But in a few days, behold, along came his master. He brought with him that notorious constable, Haines, from Lancaster, and one other man. They came suddenly upon Robert; as soon as be saw them be ran and jumped out of the "overshoot," some ten feet down. In jumping, he put one knee out of joint. The men ran around the barn and seized him. By this time, the two colored men, Tom and John, came, together with my uncle and aunt. Poor Robert owned his master, but John told them they should not take him away, and was going at them with a club. One of the men drew a pistol to shoot John, but uncle told him he had better not shoot him; this was not a slave State. Inasmuch as Robert had owned his master, Uncle told John he must submit, so they put Robert on a horse, and started with him. After they were gone John said: "Mr. Gibbons, just say the word, and I will bring Robert back." Aunt said: "Go, John, go!" So John ran to Joseph Rakestraw's and got a gun (without any lock), and ran across the fields, with Tom after him, and headed the party. The men all ran except Haines, who kept Robert between himself and John, so that John should not shoot him. But John called out to Robert to drop off that horse, or he would shoot him. This Robert did, and John and Tom brought him back in triumph. My aunt said: "John, thee is a good fellow, thee has done well." Robert was taken to Jesse Gilbert's barn, and Dr. Dingee fixed his knee. As soon as he was able to travel, he took a "bee-line" for the North star.

    My life with my uncle and aunt made me an abolitionist. I left them in the winter of 1824, and came to Salem, Ohio, where I kept a small station on the Underground Rail Road, until the United States government took my work away. I have helped over two hundred fugitives on their way to Canada. Respectfully,


    Columbiana county, Ohio."

    How to Cite This Page: "Daniel Bonsall to William Still, 1872," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, https://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/index.php/node/1165.