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Warren County Historical Society Presents …
The Digital Version “REWIND”
The Education Committee of the Warren County Historical Society has updated and improved three teaching kits about the ‘Underground Railroad’ and Warren County. Kits are available to schools and are appropriate for elementary, middle and high school. To picque your interest in the Underground Railroad, we present this article, a reprint from the Johnsburg newsletter from 2011.
Cumberland Landing, Virginia group of “contrabands”at Foller’s House. James F. Gibson, photographer; published May 1862. Library of Congress.
Johnsburg and the Underground Railroad
Just as the issues leading to the Civil War divided a nation, those issues divided churches as well. Johnsburg’s Wesleyan Methodist Church on Garnet Lake Road became a stronghold of the crusade against slavery. Its members, led by vehement abolitionist Reverend Enos Putnam, considered it their moral obligation to aid escaping slaves on the journey through Johnsburg to Canada and to freedom.
Reverend Enos Putnam, a strong abolitionist, preached at the Mill Creek Wesleyan Methodist Church at the intersection of today’s Garnet Lake Road and Hudson Street.
Reverend Enos Putnam (1810-1865) was one of a group of Methodist ministers who had seceded from the parent Methodist Episcopal Church when that church refused to condemn slavery. Putnam build the Mill Creek Wesleyan Methodist Church in 1859 on property donated by Wesley Somerville and led its members in the fight for liberation of all slaves in the United States.
The Putnam family would accept escaping slaves at night as they arrived hidden under a wagonload of hay. After a rest at the Putnam farm, the slaves would depart on the next moonless night, again hidden in hay wagons.
Corporal Henry R. Putnam of Company D, 118th NY Volunteer Infantry. Henry Putnam enlisted in Johnsburg on 8/11/1862 in Johnsburg and signed on for three years. He was killed on June 3, 1864 at the Battle of Cold Harbor. He is buried in the Cold Harbor Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Glenn Pearsall.
An adopted daughter of the Putnams, Lucia Newell Oliver, remembers this scene from her childhood at the Putnam home:
“I came down the stairs in my nightgown. Father was just opening the cellar door. He had a lighted candle in one hand and a plate of food in the other. He did not see me and I followed him part way down the cellar stairs. He set the plate of food on a box and took a key form his pocket and unlocked the door of a room where Mother kept her preserves. I could see from my perch, two or three steps down, that there was a kind of bed in the room and a young man, very black, sat on it. I was frightened for I had never seen a black man before and I hurried to go back to bed.”
The war soon took its toll on the Putnam family in tragic fashion. Their adopted son, Henry, was killed in the Battle of Cold Harbor, Virginia in 1864. After their daughter Mary died in childbirth and the infant a few days later, Mary’s grieving husband, James Flansburg, enlisted with Henry in the 118th Infantry Regiment NY Volunteers. James, too, was killed in Virginia in 1864, at the Siege of Petersburg.
Mill Creek Wesleyan Methodist Church at the intersection of today’s Garnet Lake Road and Hudson Street, where Reverend Enos Putnam preached. The church was razed in 1965. Photo courtesy of Glenn Pearsall.
The church cemetery at the corner of Garnet Lake Road and Hudson Street contains the headstones of Reverend Putnam and his wife, Sybil. Henry is buried at the Cold Harbor Cemetery in Virginia, and James’ headstone is located near the Putnam’s at the Wesleyan Cemetery on Garnet Lake Road, but his body was never recovered after the battle in Petersburg.
Corporal Henry R. Putnam’s Headstone. He died on June 3, 1864 and is buried at Cold Harbor Cemetery, Virginia. Photo courtesy of Glenn Pearsall.
Pearsall, Glenn. Echoes in These Mountains, Pyramid Publishing, Inc. 2008.
“Rev. Enos Putnam Sleeps in Churchyard at Johnsburg,” The Warrensburg-Lake George News, August 2, 1962
The material for this column was taken from the newsletter of the Johnsburg Historical Society, Vol. 5, No. 1, Summer 2011. It is reprinted here with permission.
©October 16, 2015, Warren County Historical Society.