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February 2015

Underground Railway in

Underground Railway in Northeastern North Carolina by Wanda E. Hunt McLean February is the culmination of history focused on people of African descent. February is not enough time for me to tell you what I know. So, I will introduce myself through Mary Arnold Parks, one of my great grandmothers who died in the late 1950s. Based on the United States Census and other documents she was born ca. 1848, 1853. She was a former slave in Georgia. As incredible as it sounds, as a young child I knew this woman. I have no idea as to whether or not she was involved in assisting other slaves to escape, or for a better term the Underground Railroad. What I do know is that being in her presence and later understanding that she was once a slave has lead me on a phenomenal journey in North Carolina. Living here has led me to better appreciate the history of the Underground Railroad and how people of all races came together to fight this institution. In 2003 I became involved with the National Park Service (NPS) Underground Railroad (UGRR) Network to Freedom Program (NTF). From the time Congress directed the NPS to create this program North Carolina has more designations than any other state in the NTF Southeast Region totaling fifteen in all. Ten of these designations are located in northeast North Carolina. Perhaps the most well-known UGRR designation is the Great Dismal Swamp. This swamp is documented as being a safe haven for runaway slaves and maroon communities. So safe that the slave owners in Pasquotank, Camden, Currituck, Gates, Perquimans and Chowan counties petitioned the N.C. General Assembly “For the Apprehension of Slaves to the Great Dismal Swamp and for Other Purposes,1846”. The first river in the United States to be designated as part of the UGRR is the Pasquotank River, and the second district in the country to be designated is Old Halifax Town Historic Site in Halifax, North Carolina. Of the four rivers designated as part of the UGRR, three are in North Carolina. And, Henry and Dorothy Copeland, Quakers originally from Perquimans and Chowan counties, settled in Rich Square as conductors of the UGRR assisting over 300 runaway slaves. The various segments I contribute to this magazine will attempt to provide information about the UGRR in various parts of North Carolina, and how slaves, free blacks, and white people in the south assisted freedom seekers in their quest to be free. Most of the stories will center around the UGRR, but many will address, for instance, the United States Colored Troops (USCT) in Elizabeth City, and a long forgotten Elizabeth City trial referred to as “The Easter Plot of 1802”. And, if time and publication space permits, I will tell you more about Mary Arnold Parks and her pure African slave witch-doctor uncle, and how they both built a reputation from their medicinal cures. With any luck these articles will encourage you to ask questions or share your own stories for preservation. Wanda can be reached at Your local computer repair store. From Laptop Repair to virus removal we do it all. Located in Elizabeth City NC. 252-562-0987 Albemarle Tradewinds has never required contracts from it’s clients. 22 Albemarle Tradewinds February 2015

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