Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.

GRANDMA BLAKELEY ACTIVE IN UNDERGROUND RAILROAD

Morning Star, May 11, 2003, pg. 5

Today is Mother’s Day. We all know the story about Albion’s pioneer mother Juliet Calhoun Blakeley (1818-1920) and her long-time membership in the local Methodist Church. The story of her rallying the women of the church together to support the temperance movement in 1877 and the local folklore of how this developed into “Mothers Day” is well known. Did you know however, that Mrs. Blakeley was also very active in Albion’s Underground Railroad before the Civil War?

Newlywed Mrs. Blakeley and her husband Alphonso (1808-1899) came to the Territory of Michigan in January, 1837 from New York state. The family settled in Albion and were among the original founding members of the local Methodist Church. Juliet was a very patriotic woman, and with strong religious convictions supported the North and its cause for the Union during the Civil War. She put her Methodist faith into action in the years prior to the War, as did another Albion family, the Samuel Snyder family, by actively participating in the Underground Railroad. Underground Railroad stories for Albion are scarce. We’ve previously written about the Snyder family’s participation out of their farm along Irwin Avenue. It’s now time to write about Mrs. Blakeley’s participation.

The original Blakeley home stood on the southeast corner of W. Cass and S. Clinton Sts., the present site of a city parking lot across from the fire station. Mrs. Blakeley allowed her house to serve as one of the local hiding stations for the so-called “Underground Railroad” which transported fugitive slaves to safety in Canada. The entire Blakeley family was involved in the operation out of their home. The family would hide the fugitives in the bottom of their wagon under bags of grain, or covered with ears of corn, and transport them along the predetermined route.

Julia’s son Charles Blakeley (1852-1935) often served as the driver. On one particular mission when he was accompanied by his father, Charles was held up by slave catchers who, in their search for fugitives, poked long sharp sticks through a visible bottom coop-type area covered by grain sacks, located under the wagon. They found no one however, because the slaves were hidden higher up under the main portion of the wagon. The artificial coop had been purposely placed there to distract the slave catchers.

Years later when Mrs. Blakeley was publicly honored by her church, two local black youth, Wilbur Moore and Claude Thomas, ages three and four respectively, were given the honor of pulling a rope which unfurled a large American flag at the church. This was done in recognition of Mrs. Blakeley’s participation in the Underground Railroad many years earlier.

Unfortunately, the original Blakeley home at 121 W. Cass/103 S. Clinton St. that served as an Underground Railroad stop here was demolished years ago. The Blakeley’s moved to a new home a block away at 203 W. Center St. on the corner of S. Clinton St. around the turn of the century. Mrs. Blakeley allowed a room in that house to become Albion’s first city hospital in 1907.

As we approach Memorial Day on May 27, may we remember its origins as the result of the Civil War, and the patriotic duty and sacrifice made by local people such as Juliet Calhoun Blakeley who participated in the Underground Railroad. From our Historical Notebook this week we present the classic 1913 photograph of Mrs. Juliet Calhoun Blakeley, entitled “The Mother of Albion Methodism.” We also are also picturing a present-day photo of the parking lot corner where the Blakeley home once stood. It would be nice if some local citizens would place flowers on Mrs. Blakeley’s grave in Riverside Cemetery this Memorial Day.


The Mother of Albion Methodism


Location of Blakeley home, now a parking lot

Next: SOUTH ALBION CEMETERY


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All text copyright, 2013 © all rights reserved Frank Passic

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