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By Bob Kostoff

Lockport, an important stop in the Underground Railroad, was in the forefront of the abolition movement in the 1800s, thanks mainly to a substantial Quaker population.

The Quakers supported the Underground Railroad, raised money to help free slaves and conducted public meetings and forums against slavery.

In 1820, the U.S. census listed 13 slaves in Niagara County. However, New York state passed legislation in 1817 mandating the abolition of slavery in the state by 1827. Thus, the 1830 census listed no slaves in the county.

Nevertheless, slavery still presented a huge social problem because of the many escaped slaves who came through this area on the way to freedom in Canada. The various routes and hiding places along the way came to be called the Underground Railroad.

A special Lockport case involved a freed slave, one George Goines, who became known as "Gentleman George." The late County Historian Clarence O. Lewis wrote that Goines was a fugitive slave who had escaped from his North Carolina owner.

Goines, despite a $1,000 reward on his head, made his way along the Underground Railroad, managing to elude capture. He eventually went to Wisconsin, where he aided a wealthy man who had been in an accident. In gratitude, the man purchased Goines' freedom for $500.

Goines migrated to Lockport in the mid-1850s and got a good job as a bus driver for the Tremont House Hotel, formerly the Eagle Hotel, located on the site of the present City Hall near the Big Bridge.

In those days, hotels hired bus drivers to wait at the railroad station to greet incoming passengers and convince them to stay at their hotel. Of course, the more clientele they procured for the hotel, the more money they earned.

Goines soon paid back the $500 to his benefactor in Wisconsin. Then he concentrated on saving money to buy the freedom of his mother and a 14-year-old brother still enslaved in North Carolina.

Goines' dress and keen sense of humor not only helped him fill his bus with hotel guests, but also earned him the nickname "Gentleman George."

But again, misfortune struck.

Goines had a room at the Tremont House, which burned in Lockport's great fire in November 1854, and he lost $300 he had been saving. His plight became generally known, and a movement, headed by one Judge Jonathan L. Wood, was started to raise funds for the freedom of Goines' mother and brother. They figured about $900 would be needed.

A benefit entertainment was planned at the Arcade Hall on Pine Street for July 24, 1856, with tickets going for $1 and the hall rental waived. There was a tremendous turnout, and the event raised $1,070. Judge Wood took the funds to North Carolina and arranged for the freedom of Goines' mother and brother.

Lockport Quakers Lyman A. Spalding and Moses Richardson were most active in the abolition movement. One big event they arranged in 1851 was attracting former slave and well-known writer and abolitionist Frederick Douglass to give a lecture in Lockport on the controversial Fugitive Slave Law.

That law, pushed through congress by Southern factions, was abhorrent to Northern abolitionists. Among its provisions was a $1,000 penalty for aiding a fugitive slave. Another required anyone to aid a slave catcher if requested.

The Douglass lecture was well attended, as were several anti-slavery meetings held in the Quaker Friends Meeting House on Walnut Street. Such meetings were held in various places in Lockport nearly every month. In 1852, an anti-slavery festival was held in Ringueberg Hall, now the Masonic temple, with the money raised going to aid fugitive slaves.

In 1861, a Lockport freed slave named Chancellor Livingstone was enticed to Kentucky to work on a farm. He was led to believe Kentucky was a free state, but upon arrival learned his new employer claimed him as a slave. Lockport businessman Francis Hutchins, for whom Livingstone had worked, learned of the unfortunate incident and went to Kentucky, where he signed an affidavit affirming that Livingstone was a free man, securing his freedom.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com September 15 2009