(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — Another Erie intersection soon will sport a historical marker.
The marker will be placed at the northeast corner of the intersection of Parade and East 12th streets. It’s the location of Erie’s first Underground Railroad station.
The “Ford Station” of Erie began in 1811 and continued until 1836. It was the only Erie station known to have operated during that time. It was operated by Erie’s first emancipated slave — Emma Howell — and her husband, James Ford, who was a runaway slave. Howell also was the first black woman to own property in Erie — 45 acres of farmland.
At the intersection was a house where runaway slaves were sheltered by Howell, Ford and their family.
According to historical marker nomination documents submitted to the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, Ford had purchased his freedom but later was captured by Native Americans during Anthony Wayne’s war and was forced to “run the gauntlet” three times. He was taken to Detroit and ultimately sold to a citizen of Canada. He was denied his freedom papers and after eight years, he escaped with two other slaves, sailing to Cleveland. He eventually traveled to Erie where he settled.
The Ford house at the intersection was the first meeting place for Erie’s black population. It served as the first boarding house and the first tavern for black people, and it’s where black travelers could find food and shelter.
Howell and Ford had a daughter — Amy Martin — who, as an adult, worked with Harriet Tubman. Martin’s testimony of the Erie events was submitted to the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission (1863-1864) and is contained within a report maintained by the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
“When we were in Erie, we lived a little way out of the village, and our house was a place of refuge for fugitives – a station of the underground railroad. Sometimes there would be 13 or
14 fugitives at our place. My parents used to do a great deal towards helping them on to Canada. They were sometimes pursued by their masters, and often advertised, and their masters would come right to Erie,” Martin had testified. “We used to be pretty careful, and never got into any trouble on that account, that I know of. The fugitives would be told to come to our house.”
The Erie marker is one of 36 new state historical markers approved by the Historical and Museum Commission. A total of 91 applications were received. More than 2,500 historical markers can already be seen throughout Pennsylvania.
“This marker will allow people to realize how important that spot is and was how Erie played an early and major role in helping slaves to freedom, whereas without the marker, people would continue to be oblivious to this fact,” the application said. “The Anti-Slavery Society of Erie County began in 1836, after the Ford station had shut down. It is thought the society was created at this time to carry on the work previously done by the Ford station, sheltering and helping slaves to freedom, which the station had secretly done for 25 years.”
A Historical and Museum Commission spokesman said there currently is no timeline for installation of the new marker.