|Daniel Dinkle Lightner and Polly Seward (sitting). Elvira (Lightner) Hull Allen and her daughter Mary Florence Hull Johnson. Taken 1879. Courtesy Bertha F. Johnson Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Mass.|
Over the past few weeks I have shared the adventures of the Lightner family in the 1850s and 1860s as they ran a station on the Underground railroad. I've shared some of the ways they secreted slaves and their close calls. Today, I'll share why Daniel Lightner was so passionate about saving slaves.
According to a story written by Alfaretta Niver as told by her mother Elvira L. (Lightner) Hull Allen, Daniel had every reason to hate the concept of slavery. Elvira, was Daniel's daughter and was also a witness to the family's role in saving slaves. She relates that Daniel's hatred of slavery began when he was only 12 years old in Virginia while visiting his uncle, William Baker. Baker was a plantation owner who had a large number of slaves.
I warn you that the following stories are of a horrific nature and the language used is of that of the original author and may be offensive to some readers.
"Daniel visited a neighboring plantation where the owner was much excited because a black woman had run away after being whipped, leaving her little baby. She was thought to be hiding in a rocky canyon. Her owner went there and called through a speaking trumpet, 'Malinda Flowers, unless you come back to Massa, I will beat your black brat's brains out on this rock in the morning.'"
Sadly, the slave owner carried through with his threat. Daniel was horrified.
"Daniel fell to the ground in a faint. When he came to, he looked up to Heaven and said, 'If I live to be a man, I'll give my life to help free the niggers.'"
Ten years later, William Baker called his slaves together and set them free. Some left, but many wanted to stay and Baker divided his land and hired the now free persons to work it. This infuriated the local populous and they began to threaten Baker, burned down his property and tried to frighten the African Americans any way they could. Sadly, the angry mob came and took two former slave boys named John and Edward, that Baker had adopted and educated as if they were his own children. The boys were murdered and Baker was forced to watch. According to Elvira's tale, he died from the shock.
I have yet to prove the above accounts. Unfortunately, William Baker is a very common name and to date I do not know where in Virginia he had a plantation. However, it is no stretch of the imagination to think that there could be some truth in these stories.
These horrible events clearly made an impact on Daniel Lightner. He was willing to risk the lives of himself and his family to support a cause he dearly believed in. Elvira best sums up the reason behind their drive in her own words.
"You ask how we felt while going through such scenes. I presume we felt much as people have always felt, who risked life, liberty, health, property and friends for a cause that was unpopular. There seemed to be a sanctity about it. I can remember hearing father and mother say, "God has called us to this work and he shant find us shirking."
The photo and letter excerpts featured here are courtesy The Bertha F. Johnson Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Mass.