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Hanover Road provided path to freedom

The Leon Baptist Church.

Many residents of this county fought for liberty during the Civil War, and several of today’s residents, their fathers, or their grandfathers fought again for freedom during World War II. As this region’s Assembly Representative Andy Goodell recently pointed out, it is a dishonor to those veterans to post Nazi flags and other symbols of hate and bigotry in any part of Chautauqua County.

It is especially dishonorable to display such items on Hanover Road, one of the key routes of the anti-slavery movement before the Civil War. According to the written memoir of Underground Railroad stationmaster Eber Pettit, his home in Versailles stood at the intersection of six Underground Railroad laterals, or routes.

By mapping the documented abolitionists of Pettit’s era, those six laterals, can be seen. They were today’s Eaton Road from Dayton, today’s North Road from Perrysburg, today’s West Perrysburg Road from Cottage, today’s Allegany Road and County Line Road from Nashville, today’s Hanover Road from Villenova, and today’s Versailles Road from Hanover Center.

Hanover Center was itself a hub for the Railroad. Refugees traveling through Arkwright came in via Creek Road to Forestville, and then by Dennison Road to Hanover Center. Refugees coming into Hanover Center from Fredonia and Sheridan traveled there along King Road to Dennison Road.

In Hanover Center was one of this county’s tiny Baptist churches, through which local abolitionists conducted their secret work to deliver people safely to Canada. One family was extremely influential in this effort in and around Hanover. Rhoda Frink Mixer (1791 – 1871), her husband Nathan (1786 – 1871), her father Thomas, and at least three of her siblings left a paper trail of their anti-slavery activity.

Arrows (Example A) indicate individual abolitionists and their families. Bubbles with a number (Example B) represent clusters of abolitionists and their families. The three circles (Example C) represent the small Baptist church buildings in Forestville, Nashville, and Hanover Center. This interactive map is found at www.orbitist.com/ugrr.

For example, all of them were present at annual meetings of the local Baptist Association, where abolitionist resolutions were routinely — and unanimously — adopted and published. The Mixers were closely associated with the Forestville Baptist Church (aka 2nd Hanover), and the Frinks with the Nashville Baptist Church (aka 1st Hanover).

Also, of the several Frink brothers in the area, two of them were cited by Pettit as his assistants in the Underground Railroad. Pettit said that in the early 1840s, those two brothers had just visiting him in Versailles when they encountered a bounty hunter looking for Pettit.

When asked specific questions about the refugee being sought, the two Frink brothers gave factual answers, but in reverse chronological order. By doing so, and without uttering an actual falsehood, they were able to throw the bounty hunter off the trail, and to send him back to Fredonia. The ruse gave Pettit just enough time to deliver the refugee to Black Rock, in order to cross the Niagara River.

Pettit identified one of the Frink brothers as a minister. This was most likely Rev. Alonzo Frink (1799 – 1880), who served as a pastor at Hanover Center, and as a substitute minister for every Baptist church along the six Underground Railroad laterals and their tributaries.

Those churches included: Frewsburg, Clear Creek, Leon, Randolph, Napoli, Dayton, Cherry Creek, and Perrysburg.

One of the many Baptist churches on the way to the Versailles Underground Railroad station was the Nashville Baptist Church, left. This was one of the larger churches along the Underground Railroad routes, and it was the first Baptist church in the Town of Hanover.

Although some Baptist records are missing, it is likely that when the Versailles episode took place, Alonzo was also serving as pastor at the Sheridan Baptist Church, which stood on Center Road near Route 39. Alonzo’s brother Harvey became an ordained minister as well, serving in Clear Creek and Randolph. Other denominations that were extremely influential along the six laterals included Congregationalists, Wesleyans, and Free Will Baptists.

Of the scores of anti-slavery people along the six laterals, key operatives in the Underground Railroad included Dr. James Pettit of Fredonia, Dr. William Ware, Melvina Bent Brooks, Veranus Page, and Dr. Benjamin Potwine of Ellington; Benjamin Vincent and Russell O. Smith of Hamlet; George Frost of Cherry Creek; postmaster Harvey H. Holmes in Leon; Simeon Clinton and John Little of Arkwright; and William Cranston of Forestville.

Additional anti-slavery houses along these routes included those of Stephen Munn Ball of Balltown; Rev. Bliss Willoughby of Conewango; J. E. Griswold of Sheridan; and Samuel Convis, Seth Record, J. C. Dibble, Sylvester Stillwell, Cyrus Glass, and Joseph Dennison near Forestville.

During the Old Settlers’ Reunions held in 1873 and 1874 in Fredonia and Jamestown, Rev. Alonzo Frink was called upon to offer prayers, and to play his father’s fife from the Revolutionary War. In honor of the anti-slavery movement, the Old Settlers sang the hymn “America,” commonly known as “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”

These lyrics, with their well known refrain, “From every mountainside, let freedom ring,” were written by Samuel Francis Smith, the father-in-law of yet another Baptist minister in Chautauqua County. The hymn became an anthem of the Northern Baptist Convention, which championed the anti-slavery movement, and which became known after 1872 as the American Baptist Convention.

People and places in the anti-slavery movement in Chautauqua County are found at www.orbitist.com/ugrr. The authors are grateful to Nick Gunner, Doug Shepard, Lois and Norwood Barris, Delores Thompson, Michelle Henry, and many others for their help and support for the anti-slavery mapping project.

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