Pennsylvania Auditor General DeFoor visit Wilkes-Barre City Cemetery

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Nov. 20—WILKES-BARRE — Henry Brown, who conducted the Underground Railroad along with William Gildersleeve, hiding runaway slaves in a covered wagon, is buried in the Wilkes-Barre City Cemetery and on Monday, Pennsylvania Auditor General Timothy L. DeFoor visited his grave.

Mayor George Brown hosted DeFoor for a tour of the historical cemetery that was led by William Lewis and Joan Cavanaugh, members of the Wilkes-Barre City Cemetery Committee. Also attending were Wilkes-Barre City Councilman Tony Brooks and Mary Walsh of the Luzerne County Historical Society.

Lewis said her and DeFoor talked about Henry Brown and the Underground Railroad. He said DeFoor studied history and was especially interested in the runaway slave era.

"Auditor General DeFoor said he thoroughly enjoyed the tour," Lewis said. "We had a long conversation about Henry Brown and that era. He also appreciated learning about other historical graves in the cemetery."

Mayor Brown established the Wilkes-Barre City Cemetery Committee, which consists of Dr. William Lewis, Joan Cavanaugh, Greg Griffin, Donald Crane, and Lou Zuzelski.

"It was a great opportunity to talk about Wilkes-Barre and its history," Lewis said.

Henry Brown, who lived from 1800 to 1884, operated the Underground Railroad. The Susquehanna River played another vital role in transportation — as a part of the Underground Railroad.

According to historical records:

"This shallow river flows from New York to the Chesapeake Bay, and can only be travelled by small boat or canoe. It provides a route for runaway slaves from Baltimore, Maryland, traveling upriver, into the free states of Pennsylvania and New York.

"It has been estimated that as many as 1,000 runaway slaves passed through Pennsylvania without one apprehension. It is likely that many of their descendants still live in Wilkes-Barre.

"The Underground Railroad is another forgotten piece of Wilkes-Barre history. Passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 permitted the forced retrieval of runaway slaves, who would otherwise gain their freedom if they reached a free state, such as Pennsylvania or New York.

"There was a force of federal commissioners who had the power to pursue these fugitives and return them to their owners, even if they had been free for many years. These commissioners had the right to compel citizens to cooperate with the law."

An article from the May 31, 1938, edition of the Wilkes-Barre Record contains an interview with Brown's daughter Essbella (census records show her name spelled as "Isabella") who told the reporter that her father would house escaped slaves in the basement of their home on East Northampton Street before the group of escapees continued to their next stop.

In the context of the Underground Railroad, Wilkes-Barre has long been known as the home of abolitionist William Camp Gildersleeve, who helped escaped slaves make their way through Northeastern Pennsylvania or, if they chose to settle in Wilkes-Barre, provided them with work.

The census records, taken from 1850 through 1880, depict Brown as a man of many trades: a teamsters, a whitewasher, a carpenter.

But, above all else, Brown has now come to be recognized most prominently for his activities then undetected by any census taker: his brave devotion to aiding escaped slaves find their way to safety and freedom.

DeFoor stopped at several historical graves on Monday:

—The Connecticut Settlement Monument

—Harry Evans, breaker boy, 1868-1882, age 13.

—George C.W. Barber, 1785-1819, age 33. From Boston, youngest son of Colonel Nathaniel Barber, who participated in The Boston Tea Party in 1773. Died from injuries falling out of an overturned wagon when his clothes got caught while attempting to jump out of the wagon.

—Walter Peters, 1825-1863, age 38. English mining boss murdered by Irish gang of men with slingshots and stones.

—George W. Moss, Co. F, 4th Infantry Cavalry, 1834-1891, age 56. Civil War veteran, executed in the yard of the Luzerne County jail for the murder of his wife, Rhoda.

—Teunis "Dennis" Covert, 1748-1811, age 63. Revolutionary War veteran who marched on the Sullivan Trail. First husband of Hannah Fell who preserved Jesse Fell's grate for burning coal.

—Celestia Fisher, 1799-1879, age 79. Daughter of Rufus Bennett, Revolutionary War veteran, and George Washington's personal bodyguard, who is buried in Hanover Green Cemetery.

—Margaret & Nathan Howe, parents of silent filmmaker Lyman H. Howe from Wilkes-Barre — first to use sound in motion pictures.

—William Wright, 1748-1820, age 72. Revolutionary War veteran from County Down, Northern Ireland. Brother Thomas Wright founded Miners Mills. Son Benjamin defended a slave saver who rescued slaves and had "SS" branded on him without his hands tied down.

—Pvt. William Millham, 1845-1917, age 72. Civil War veteran. Statue made from portrait showing his exact likeness.

—Patrolman Edward Riebsamen, 1836-1875, age 38. First Wilkes-Barre police officer shot and killed in the line of duty while serving an eviction notice to a home sold in a Sheriff's sale in Poke Hollow, now Kellers Lane in Larksville. Two brothers, John & Peter Connell, opened fire with shotguns from the second floor window, killing him instantly. Served the Wilkes-Barre police department for three years. Survived by a wife and several children.

—Corp. Moses Morris, 1835-1872, age 37. Member of the Massachusetts 54th infantry portrayed in the 1989 Civil War movie, "Glory" starring Matthew Broderick.

Reach Bill O'Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.