Second Ticket to the Underground Railroad

  • April 20, 2015

My Stealthy Sunday Selfie…. ready for some digging.

This weekend was epic–my husband hates when I use that word, but I would be robbing the experience if I used any lesser word.

Allow me to begin with the story of Daniel Kaufman. Mr. Kaufman was an abolitionist icon–if you will–and those who supported slavery attempted to make an example of him in order to deter others from helping slaves find freedom.

1-A-F7-139-ExplorePAHistory-a0a4f5-a_450If your happen to drive through the quaint town of Boiling Springs, you will see a large brick home with a historical marker. The marker reads: “Daniel Kaufman: An Underground Railroad agent from 1835 to 1847, when he was sued by a Maryland slaveowner. He was ultimately fined $4,000 in 1852, in a case that drew wide attention. Kaufman had provided food and transportation to fugitive slaves passing through this area; his barn and a densely wooded area nearby furnished shelter. In 1845, Kaufman laid out the village of Boiling Springs, and he built his 301 Front Street home in 1880.”

Now, as many of you know, I’m very strategic about asking for permissions. I steer away from knocking on doors and instead, I wait until the property owner is tending their lawn or grabbing the mail–this way I know I’m not interrupting something important and setting myself up for inevitable rejection. That being said, I have been gradually building up the courage to stop at this massive brick home and knock on the door. After the Wright House, this was was the next stop for fugitive slaves. I’m practically following in their footsteps!


I’ve outlined the property and pointed to the old structure. This map is from 1872.

I’ve spent some time–perhaps too much time–researching Kaufman. From what I’d read, I came to the conclusion that the “densely wooded area nearby” was owned by the local pool and–as most of you know–I already have that permission. So these past few weeks, I’ve been focusing my efforts on the pool and surrounding woods–hoping to forge some connection with Daniel Kaufman and his former passengers.

In scanning an old map from 1872, I discovered a small structure that appeared to be on the pool property. I began to wonder whether the people living there had known Daniel Kaufman. Then, I began to invent narratives as I often do: Had they witnessed Kaufman stealing into the swamp during the full moon? Had they turned a blind eye to the colored faces peering from the back of the family wagon as it passed by their home? I’m getting ahead of myself…

So this past Sunday, I was supposed to meet with Roman. Unfortunately, Roman had some pool issues–oh, the irony–and had to cancel our plans. With my parents reluctantly watching the kids, I had to seize the opportunity for a quick swing. My detecting buddy, Aaron, drove an hour to meet me at the pool where we went straight to work searching for evidence of the former structure.

Neither of us found much and I was growing a bit discouraged. Then–lo and behold–a vision appeared across the old spillway with a black trash-bag. Aaron was busy cleaning an old penny… which turned out to be 1984 instead of 1924. “Should I ask her about the structure?” I asked and Aaron shrugged–he is a man of few words. I mustered up the courage and walked to the edge of the spillway. “Do you own that property?” Was my first question, to which she responded in the affirmative. “Can you tell me anything about an old structure that would have been here in 1858?”


The barn was stood on this thin sliver of grass along the spillway.

Would you believe it… I had it all wrong. Since then, I’ve reread the marker a million times. It says, “An Underground Railroad agent from 1835 to 1847… Kaufman built his 301 Front Street home in 1880.” The massive brick home with the marker wasn’t built until 1880… that was after Kaufman was caught, after he was tried, after he was fined $4,000, even after slavery was abolished. That was 1880!

Now, can you guess where he lived from 1835-1847? He lived on the property across from the spillway, the property where my vision with the black trash-bag appeared at the exact moment I was passing by. Not only that, but the barn mentioned on the marker “…his barn and a densely wooded area nearby furnished shelter” was the structure I had discovered on the map. I had stumbled upon one of my most coveted permissions without even realizing it. It was as though the universe had gifted me this incredible opportunity. My parents agreed to watch the kids. Roman had to cancel. I wound up at the pool property. And I emerged from the woods at that exact moment…

As it turns out, my vision–Mary–and her husband are both historians at the historical society. We share this mutual appreciation for history and although I’m chasing tangible history, we are on the same page. In exchange for permission to search the property, Aaron and I offered them any-and-all our finds. We could both agree that the experience alone was enough incentive to want to search the property.

After Aaron discovered a musket ball, Mary invited us to search the property where the original Daniel Kaufman home stood across the street. As tempting as the offer was, it was already 6:10 and I had swore to be back by 6:30. I promised Mary that we would be back. I even offered to bring along my spare detector so she could join in the hunt. There is nothing more rewarding than the opportunity to uncover a piece of history that has been buried for a hundred years and the rare chance that it could belong to Daniel Kaufman… that is what metal detecting is all about. I can’t wait to go back.

(If you’re interested in reading about my permission for the Wright House–another stop on the underground railroad in S. Central PA–click here.)


Aaron discovered his second musket ball of the day… at two separate locations. Somebody give this guy a medal.


Aaron cleaning his penny, right before Mary appeared.


This is probably the first photo taken of me in my gear.


At one point, this had been Daniel Kaufman’s private bridge across the spillway. The spillway was hand-dug in the 1700s when the dam was installed for iron production.


One of many hand-thrown bricks discovered where the barn once stood.


My Winchester cartridge, which Mary and I thought was a whistle until Aaron “burst our bubble.”



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