Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Albion Recorder, February 7, 2002, pg. 15
There are some fascinating historical aspects regarding Albion’s ethnic diversity which we’ll explore in this column during “Black History Month.” The Underground Railroad is the term applied to the practice of secretly transporting fugitive slaves from the South through Northern states into freedom in Canada primarily in the 1840s and 1850s. Fugitive slaves were often hidden in barns, attics, cellars, tunnels, and in the woods during the daytime. Traveling was done at night.
Albion was one of the stops in the network, and the local “stationmaster” was Rev. Charles Taylor (1804-1848), assisted by his father, David Taylor (1774-1851). Their home at 1400 E. Michigan Avenue (demolished in the 1960s) just east of Five Points has traditionally been surmised an Underground Railroad site. Other local sites, however have been unidentified and hard to document, as secrecy was the nature of the operation and many of Albion’s pre-Civil War homes have been demolished. Other area communities have been fortunate in positively identifying specific locations, but not here in Albion. Fortunately, we recently learned of one Underground Railroad hiding place in Albion through a descendant who related information to us that had been passed down in the family.
Back in the 1830s, there were several families in the vicinity of Dryden, New York (Tompkins County) that purchased land from the U.S. Government and moved here. One of them was the Snyder family clan that purchased hundreds of acres of land in Albion and Homer Townships in 1835 and 1836. More specifically, Peter Snyder purchased 320 acres of land on what today is both sides of Irwin Avenue from approximately west of Orchard Drive west to Findley Drive/27 Mile Road. Historically, the Snyder (originally Schneider) family clan traces its roots back to Tinnen, Germany (by the Ems River near the Holland border), and came to America in 1746. They first settled in Oxford, New Jersey, and moved to Dryden, New York in 1802.
Peter’s son Samuel Snyder (1811-1857) and his wife Deborah (Whipple)(1819-1908) came from New York and settled the Albion property in 1838. According to the 1858 plat map, the family home was located someplace on the north side of what is presently the 800 block of Irwin Avenue. Here the couple built a residence and raised their family of two children, Elizabeth (1840-1871) (Mrs. John W. Broas), and Delos (1844-1933). The children were educated at the pioneer “Little Red Schoolhouse” and knew David Duncan, the “Albion Hermit” who lived adacent (west) to the Snyder property.
The Snyder’s were faithful Methodists, and supporters of the anti-slavery movement. When the time came to put their faith into action, Samuel and Deborah allowed their land to be used as the very first stop for the Underground Railroad in Albion when it was instituted. He and his wife were able to hide and care for the first five fugitive slaves that passed through Albion on their route to freedom when the Underground Railroad began. Their property was perfect for the operation, as it was located on both sides of the Kalamazoo River southwards to Condit Road, and there were various woods, swamps, and the river itself for protection. One can imagine fugitive slaves passing through here coming up from Homer and Babcock to the Snyder property on the outskirts of town.
From the Archives this week we present photographs of Albion’s first Underground Railroad hiders, Samuel and Deborah Snyder, courtesy of a descendant of the aformentioned Delos Snyder, Clifford C. Ott of Cleves, Ohio. Samuel unfortunately died quite suddenly in 1857, and was buried with Masonic rites. He and his wife are buried right behind (west) the Riverside Cemetery office. Special thanks also goes to Beth (Murray) Wiest of Concord, a descendant of the aformentioned Elizabeth Snyder, for relating the family Underground Railroad information at my “German Hill Tour of Riverside Cemetery” last October. The Snyder family was my first stop as part of the program, and tour programs are still available at the Albion Chamber of Commerce.
All text copyright, 2014 © all rights reserved Frank Passic