Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

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Reverend Hillhouse Buell (b. ? - d. ?)
MSA SC 5496-10599
Accomplice to slave flight, Alleghany County, Maryland, 1850s


Local folklore of the Shantytown in Cumberland recorded during the construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal said that many runaway slaves passed through Cumberland in the 1850s when the Reverend Hillhouse Buell was rector of the Emmanuel Episcopal Church.  The Buells were from New York and were known to be Union sympathizers.  During Buell’s tenure at Emmanuel, there was a noticeable increase in the number of African-American slaves as well as freemen listed in the parish records.  Another noteworthy episode occurred at the church under Buell's leadership:  a local farmer, Samuel Middleton Semmes, was a Roman Catholic and he wanted his slaves to receive communion; however, the pastor of Saint Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, which was less than a mile from Emmanuel, did not believe that Blacks should receive communion. Semmes approached Hillhouse Buell with a pledge of five thousand dollars to the church construction fund, on condition that a balcony be built for the slaves.  Buell agreed to add the balcony and to offer the slaves communion.  However, the slaves still did not receive communion because they had been baptized Roman Catholic and did not wish to receive communion in an Episcopal Church.  Semmes became a member of Emmanuel on March 3, 1849.

Hillhouse Buell's outreach to African-Americans extended beyond the church walls, for his church was a "stop" on the Underground Railroad. The many runaway ads which mentioned the Canal as a possible route or destination are evidence that the construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal offered some slaves an opportunity to run away.  The runaways would follow the canal to Cumberland and while under the cover of the high brush, they would wait for a signal from the church.  Samuel Demson, a free black who had escaped to Maryland from Mississippi, rang the church bell twice when the coast was clear.  The runaways would come up the hill to a gate, which led to a maze of tunnels under the church.  After resting, receiving food and instructions, the runaways were taken through the tunnels that exited to the other side of the rectory which was across the road,  from which point it was only a five mile walk to the Mason-Dixon Line and freedom.

Return to Rev. Hillhouse Buell's Introductory Page

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