‘North to Freedom’ statue in Brewer only official Maine memorial to Underground Railroad

James Varner (left), executive director of the Maine Human Rights Coalition, speaks next to Brewer mayor Arthur Verow after placing a wreath next to the &quotNorth to Freedom" statue at the fifth annual Juneteenth Day celebration, which honors the freeing of slaves in the U.S., at Chamberlain Freedom Park in Brewer on Friday, June 18, 2010.
Bridget Brown | BDN
James Varner (left), executive director of the Maine Human Rights Coalition, speaks next to Brewer mayor Arthur Verow after placing a wreath next to the "North to Freedom" statue at the fifth annual Juneteenth Day celebration, which honors the freeing of slaves in the U.S., at Chamberlain Freedom Park in Brewer on Friday, June 18, 2010. Buy Photo
By Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN Staff
Posted Sept. 01, 2012, at 5:37 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — Stories about how fugitive slaves in the 1800s made their way to freedom in Canada by way of Brewer are pieces of local lore that should never be forgotten, historian Richard “Dick” Campbell said Saturday.

“Nothing was documented,” he said, but “there are lots of tidbits of history” that link Brewer to the Underground Railroad.

Brewer’s Chamberlain Freedom Park is home to the only official Maine memorial to the Underground Railroad, a vast network of secret routes and people credited with helping thousands upon thousands of runaway slaves escape the tyranny of their southern owners.

The park sits at the location of the former Holyoke House, a brick house once occupied by wealthy abolitionist John Holyoke, where a “slave-style shirt” was found tucked in the eaves of the attic in 1995 and a stone-lined shaft was discovered the following year when the Department of Transportation tore down the house to improve the four-way intersection at State and North Main streets.

The handstitched white shirt is now on display at the Brewer Historical Society, which oversees the park that features a historic display, a bronze statue of Brewer native and Civil War hero, Col. Joshua Chamberlain, and the “North to Freedom” statue.

The statue depicts a runaway slave looking back toward the south and leaning to the north as he hoists himself out of an underground tunnel to freedom. It serves as a tribute to slaves who used the Underground Railroad, to the abolitionist movement and to the role the state played, Campbell said.

Houlton sculptors Glenn and Diane Hines created the historic figure that sits on a grate over the stone-lined shaft that Campbell, fellow historian Brian Higgins and others believe was used to hide slaves. The shaft is located where the root cellar of Holyoke’s summer kitchen once stood. The home also was known as the Christmas House.

“Oral traditions are that it was the site of the Underground Railroad,” Campbell said.

Even though every state in the north had legally abolished slavery in the first decades of the 1800s, thanks to abolitionists who believed slavery was against their Christian faith, the federal government continued to pass laws allowing the capture of runaway slaves, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center’s website states.

“The federal government had passed Fugitive Slave Acts as early as 1793 that allowed slave catchers to come north and force runaways back into slavery,” the site states. “By the 1830s and 1840s, these laws were expanded in reaction to increased Underground Railroad activity. With the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, assisting or helping hide fugitive slaves became a federal offense, making all Underground Railroad activity subject to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine.

“Escaping from slavery or helping someone to escape from slavery was a very difficult and dangerous task,” the Freedom Center’s website states.

Educating people about the city’s link to history is one way the Brewer Historical Society is helping future generations learn from the past, Campbell said, adding this year it is especially important because the city is celebrating its bicentennial.

The plan is to rededicate the Chamberlain Freedom Park next year at 150th anniversary of the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, where more than 50,000 people died during three days of battle, and Chamberlain, who led the 20th Maine, helped to turn the tide of the war by defeating a band of Confederates at Little Round Top.

Chamberlain grew up next door to the Holyoke House and attended the same Brewer church.

Upcoming Brewer bicentennial events include:

• Sept. 8-9, Brewer Days annual celebration, which includes two days of events for young and old at Brewer Auditorium, with “Bean Suppah” hosted by the Brewer and Holden historical societies scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8.

• Sept. 15, River Celebration-Paddle Brewer, dedicated in honor of the late Richard “Dick” Ruhlin, a salmon fisherman who helped to clean up the Penobscot River. The Penobscot River Keepers are offering a full-day paddle Brewer event in 10-person canoes.

• Sept. 15, annual yard sale at the Brewer Historical Society’s Clewley Museum, 199 Wilson St.

• Sept. 27, Bicentennial Lunch Series, speaker to be announced.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/09/01/news/bangor/north-to-freedom-statue-in-brewer-only-official-maine-memorial-to-underground-railroad/ printed on July 31, 2014