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In February of 2004, Chuck and Joy received a copy of Senator William Ernest Mason's autobiography from one of his decedents. William was the youngest son of Lewis and Nancy Mason. This autobiography contains stories that William wrote about some of his experiences while growing up here in Bentonsport. The entire document is 50 pages long. One of the experiences he wrote about was about the Underground Railroad. The following excerpt are his words:
"If I became interested in 1856 in politics, I was more so in 1860. (William was 10 years old in 1860.) I used to listen to my father's talk about politics, and go out to hear him and others speak on that subject. I cannot remember the year when we used to help the run away slaves. I remember my first experience. I was sent out to the barn with a basket of bread and meat and told to take it up to the hay loft. I did so and as I put the basket on the floor near the stairs, I saw two or more black curly heads stick out from the hay, and you can imagine my fright and that it did not take long to get back to the house. I was smart enough not to tell anyone, for if I told, the poor fellows would have been sent back to slavery. I learned afterwards that my father's house and barn was the first station on the Underground Railway, being about ten miles from the Missouri line, and that the negros came in the night, knew where to go, and were fed and slept and directed on to a Quaker settlement at Salem as near as I now remember. My father was a great lover of law, and yet I wonder when I think of it, he helped escaping slaves, and in that way openly violated the law. It brought him into some trouble with his church, but he was not expelled from the church nor was he indicted, though both were threatened. I believe that the time will never come again in this country, when a man will be justified in breaking the laws of his country. We will never have slaves again and the laws must be written by the conscience of a Christian people, and obeyed until repealed by that same power."
In the back, on the left side of this photo (taken in 1887), you can see the barn that was used in the Underground Railroad. It is no longer standing. However, the house was also used. Verbal history has it that a tunnel exists in the backyard which was used as a hiding hole with access under a wood shed. Using dowsing rods, Chuck and Joy found an area approximately 8 feet wide and 60 feet long in the backyard behind the Caboose Cottage that fits the description of the hiding hole. In 2012, they used a backhoe to dig in the area and found large, square nails about 4 feet down. The nails were big enough to be used in beams. More excavations are planned in Aug. 2013.
Underground Railroad History | Iowa Underground Railroad History