Joseph Plumb Abolitionist, Station Master

The Plumb brothers, Joseph (1791-1870) and Alvin ( 1802-1877) were active abolitionists. Brother Ralph (1795-1865)  may also have been an abolitionist  However, at this time we do not have the documentation to make that claim. Parents of the young men were Joseph Plumb (1763- 1845) and Mary Shepard.  Before the War of 1812 Joseph Plumb can be found in Buffalo. The United States Census in 1820)  shows Joseph living  in Pomfret, Chautauqua County, NY.  Mary Plumb died in 1820.  At  least three children were in the household, Mary born  in 1816,Borden born in 1818 and Deborah born in 1820.  The 1840 Census places the Plumbs in Collins in Erie County, NY.  Joseph had married Caroline Hale (1795-1851) in 1825.  Four more Plumb children with Caroline are known, Edward born in 1827, Albert, 1829, Charles, 1831, and Joseph Carlton born in 1832. In 1850 the Plumbs are still living in Collins, NY. Joseph is listed as 59 years old.  During the Census of 1860 the family has changed again.  Caroline died in 1851.  In 1854 at age 62, Joseph marred Elizabeth A. Blackmar (1809-1870).  Two children of Elizabeth’s are listed in the Plumb household on the 1860 census, Elizabeth Blackmar age 20 and Sarah L. Blackmar age 18. No other Plumb children are listed in the household. Joseph is now 68 years old his present wife is recorded as being 50 years old.  The family is now residing in New Albion in the community of Cattaraugus, New York. This is the last Federal US Census where we find Joseph Plumb.  He died in 1870.

It is here in Cattaraugus that we have found Joseph maintained a station or (safe house) for the escapees. We have no evidence in writing until 1924. A booklet of Poems was written by I. O. Rich  in Cattaraugus, NY. Included in the booklet was an account of the Rich Reunion that was held Wednesday, August 27, 1924 at Richardson’s Grove. .. The following paper by Ira Orsen Rich was read. Friends:-…”on this day of the Rich Reunion we are thinking of the grand old man, Mr. Plum whose history is ever dear to me, and carries me back to scenes before the Civil War. Here, scenes were enacted in the old Plumb mansion that made the faces of the fleeing …on their way to Canada, rejoice. It was the resting place of the underground railway.

The following excerpt is from the history written in History of Cattaraugus Co., NY,1879, page 386. Joseph PLUMB was born in Oneida County in [1791 or] 1792, and became a merchant at Paris, his native place, while quite young.  In 1816 he moved to Fredonia, and in 1827 to Gowanda, where he engaged with his brother Ralph in trade, and resided there until 1854.  He early became a reformer - avowing himself an abolitionist - and a temperance man, although formerly engaged in the traffic of liquor.  He was an elder of the Presbyterian Church and an active member of that body.  In 1850 he purchased the farm at Cattaraugus, to which he moved in 1854.  Here he worked zealously for the best interests of the place, and for the welfare of mankind at large, until his death, May 25, 1870.  Several of his sons became distinguished clergymen, and another has filled important civil positions under the national government.

Resources:

  • Everts, L. H.  History of Cattaraugus Co., New York.  Philadelphia: J.B Lippincott & Co., 1879
  • Patrick Cullen, Bank of Cattaraugus

Information submitted by Sue M. Cross

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Submitted by Sue Cross on

Joseph Plumb donated land for building Cattaraugus and making land availble for the building of the railroad. He built a home on the hill in Cattaraugus and took fleeing slaves into his home. The oral story is that they boarded the railroad cars and transported to Dunkirk. There they were ferried across the Lake on the boat to safety in Canada. 

Cattaraugus is in the township of New Albion. Unfortunately when the Underground Railroad Brochure was composed it states: "Joseph Plumb maintained a safe house for run away slaves in New Albion.  It should read: "Joseph Plumb maintained a safe house for runaway slaves in the village of Cattaraugus, Township of New Albion."

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