Before the Civil War, a select group of blacks escaping the tyrannies of slavery established a special niche in the history of Waverly, about seven miles east of Factoryville.
Author Jim Remsen explained that Waverly was one of the stopping points on the ‘Underground Railroad,’ the system employed by abolitionists to hide and transport runaway slaves.
Although the goal was to take the fugitives to Canada a number of the runaways opted to stay in certain sections of the North, because they liked the area.
Such was the case in Waverly.
What made the situation unique though, according to Remsen, is the town had no previous black residents living in the area. The 50 to 60 former slaves who eventually settled at the edge of town, establishing what became known as ‘Colored Hill’ in the 1840s, were its founders.
At its peak, ‘Colored Hill’ had between 60 to 70 people living in the community right after the Civil War.
The settlers even established their own house of worship-the Waverly African Methodist Episcopal Church-the building of which still exists to this day.
“The settlement continued through the Civil War and the rest of the 1800s,” Remsen said, “before it finally ceased to exist in the 1920s.”
The reason Waverly’s black section went out of existence was because the residents moved to other locations in search of better jobs, Remsen said.
All this and other information has been chronicled by Remsen, whose book ‘Embattled Freedom - Chronicle of a Fugitive Slave Haven in the Wary North’ recently went to press.
A retired journalist who worked for many years for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Remsen grew up in Waverly-graduating from Abington Heights High School in 1967-where he developed an interest in the Civil War at an early age.
“I just loved to do guns,” Remsen explained. “And I loved learning about different battles of the Civil War.”
Remsen said that his father was a Civil War buff, who passed on to him a great deal of information.
Upon retirement, Remsen decided to turn his love of history into a book, authoring ‘Visions of Teaoga,’ which tells the conflict of Native Americans and settlers along the Susquehanna River valley in the 1700s.
That book’s success encouraged Remsen to follow up with ‘Embattled Freedom.’
‘Embattled Freedom’ depicts the lives of both blacks and whites living in Waverly as well as other parts of the northeast, including sections of Wyoming County before, during, and after the Civil War.
Remsen explained that because accounts from this period are sketchy he obtained his much of his information from letters, diaries, and old newspaper articles.
Remsen also covers Tunkhannock in his book, although he said there is little evidence the Underground Railroad operated in the area.
Even though there were definitely anti-slave elements in Tunkhannock at the time, there’s no indication that any safe havens or distribution systems were established.
There was also, Remsen continued, a pro-South element in the Tunkhannock area which opposed assistance being given to runaway slaves.
Harvey Sickler, who was the editor of the Wyoming County Democrat, published “a series of very nasty editorials that were venomous attacks on black people and black soldiers,” he said.
This combination of pro-South and abolitionist movements occurred not only in Tunkhannock and Waverly, but in many other communities in the North as well, Remsen explained.
One of the more dramatic periods occurred in the 1850s, when federal officers were authorized and ordered to capture and return fugitive slaves to the South.
Remsen explained that - under the law - anyone assisting or harboring a runaway could be fined or even imprisoned.
He said the Susquehanna County Historical Society in Montrose provided him with a letter in which the author - a white person - expressed fear over the fact that many local blacks were arming themselves with guns in response to the situation. But the black population was also frightened by the possibility of suddenly being returned to the South by Federal agents.
Despite the possibility of arrest, many of the local whites continued to assist the black population during this period.
Although many resisted out of a sense of Christian duty, Remsen said, there were others who did it simply because they resented the government’s interference in the community.
In one instance, Waverly villagers drove off Federal agents who attempted to take a black field hand into custody, Remsen explained.
In another circumstance, a white resident sent an agent on a wild goose chance, saying the person he wanted was “waiting up on a hill with a gun.”
The book also depicts the lives of 13 former slaves living in Waverly who served as soldiers during the Civil War.
The film ‘Glory,’ depicts what many of the black soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment experienced during the war, and Remsen reports that one of those soldiers was from Waverly.
The other soldiers from Waverly served in the 22nd Regiment of what were known as U.S. Colored Troops, Remsen said, and the book provides a chronology of their lives, along with others who had ties to Waverly in that time period.
Remsen has provided this and other information contained in ‘Embattled Freedom,’ at talks he’s given at Civil War Round Tables in Scranton and Philadelphia, as well as lectures to schools in Intermediate Unit 19, which includes the Lackawanna Trail School District.
Remsen said he was able to write ‘Embattled Freedom,’ thanks to a $21,000 research grant obtained from Willary Foundation.
“I’m glad they saw the value of this,” Remsen said.
On Friday, March 17, at 7:30 p.m., Remsen is scheduled to give an author talk at the Library Express bookstore in the Steamtown Marketplace in Scranton.