Daniel Hughes and The Freedom Road Cemetery

Freedom Road Cemetery. Williamsport

I was too busy talking to Haylee, a friend from college and my copilot for the day’s journey, and missed the small pull-off along Freedom Road. I passed a familiar blue Pennsylvania historical marker as we continued northward until I found a safe place to turn around and return to the cemetery. Note: The pull-off is at the start of the old, grassy road that goes up the hillside into the cemetery. Due to not knowing where any unmarked graves may be located, I do not recommend driving up it.

“I never knew this was here,” Haylee spoke echoing my own thoughts. If it had not been for the historical marker, I would never have realized this grassy plot of land was a cemetery, a cemetery that has a historical importance to the region.

The two of us cautiously walked along the narrow road to the historical marker and read the information about the old cemetery. Carefully climbing the steps, we paused at the top of the old stairs and scanned the grounds. A number of stones protruded from the sea of grass – most of the marked stones were marked with flags. Studying the closest memorial, I could see the flag was placed in a GAR marker – he was a Civil War veteran.

“Watch your step,” I warned as we entered the sacred piece of ground. “There may be holes or broken stones hidden by the grass.”

I carefully walked to the marked graves, pausing to read each of the stones. Nine of the memorials marked the resting place of a Civil War veterans. These veterans are:

Jacob R. Anderson, who was a sergeant of Company I of the Forty-Third Regiment.

Private David Briggs who served in Company D of the Sixth Pennsylvania Infantry.

Henry A. Thompson who served in Company C of the Eighth Regiment. Note: In some places he is listed as sergeant, but I have not discovered any official paperwork verifying this.

John C. O’Brien – also listed as O’Brian in some places – who served in Company I of the Thirty-Second U.S. Infantry.

 Samuel J. Johnson who served with Company A of the Eighth Regiment of the U.S. Infantry. According to records, Johnson was captured, escaped. He was wounded in the leg February 18, 1844, and had it amputated before passing on March 18.

Private Hiram Armstrong who served in Company C of the Third Infantry.

James H. Johnson who served in Company G of the Twenty-fifth U.S. Infantry.

James Haywood who served in Company D of the Eighth Pennsylvania Regiment. Haywood was listed as being wounded in February 1864 while his unit was in Florida.

John Monroe who served with Company K of the Eighth Infantry. Monroe was listed as a substitute for Thomas Rendall. Note: The listing of units on the memorials all match with what few records I was able to find. However, Monroe’s tombstone information does not match up with his death record, which lists him as serving in Company A of the Third U.S. Regiment.

I finished paying my respects before turning my attention to the man who rests in an unmarked grave on the grassy hillside. The man, who gave the acre of land that became the Freedom Road Cemetery was Daniel Hughes, who once called this hollow home. The cemetery was called a number of names – Hill Cemetery, Hughes Cemetery, and Civil War Veterans Cemetery – until 1936 when the hollow and cemetery was renamed Freedom Road.

Daniel was born in Oswego, New York in 1804. He was a mulatto with a Mohawk heritage. In the early 1820s, Daniel moved to Williamsport and here he married Ann Rotch, a local freewoman and they had sixteen children. By 1854, Daniel was living in Lycoming Township, just north of Williamsport. He operated a lumber business and would raft the lumber down the West Branch and Susquehanna Rivers to Maryland.

Hughes used his business and land to help escaping slaves as they journeyed to freedom in Canada. Hughes would hide escaped slaves on his barge and transport them up the river to his property. In addition to the escaping slaves Hughes brought with him from the southern portion of the state, the family who also helped those traveling overland from the Lewisburg region.

With the constant threat of bounty hunters and neighbors who did not agree with their actions, the Hughes family carefully hid the escaping slaves in caves on the property. Once it was safe for them to continue, the escaping slaves would be taken by members of the Hughes family to the next station located near Trout Run. In their years of helping escaping slaves, never once did they have anyone captured on their lands as the slaves fled northward.

“How many people do you think are buried here?” Haylee asked as we returned to the top of the stairs.

“I really don’t know,” I replied. There are ten marked graves and I know Daniel is buried here. There appears to be a couple more unmarked graves. I wish I knew.” Note: the only other marked grave I could find belongs to David Hughes.

“It is so sad that they seem to have been forgotten.” I silently agreed. Even though the importance of this place has been marked with a historical marker, I wondered how many actually knew it existed. Men who served their country forgotten on the hillside north of Williamsport. Local residents who slumber forgotten in unmarked graves. A man who risked it all to help escaping slaves on their journey northward to freedom.

We finished paying our respects to the known and unknown resting on the grassy hillside. Silently, we made our way back down the steps and to the vehicle, leaving those buried there to slumber peacefully in the shadow of the historical market..

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