Eber Pettit, Conductor on the Underground Railroad

 This obituary was published in the Evening Observer, Dunkirk, New York, May 14,  1885

Dr Eber PETTIT (1802-1885) died last night aged 83 yrs. He was born in Pompey, Onondaga County, NY but came to Versailles early with his father, a physician, thence early to Fredonia. For years he was trustee of the Thomas Orphan Asylum, where he died. His business energies were devoted to the manufacture and sale of his father’s eye salve, in which he was very successful. He was a member of the Baptist church at Fredonia and was noted for his purity of character and Christian love for his fellow man.

Much more about the man who was known as a conductor on the Underground Railroad can be found in the research done by Wendy Straight from Chautauqua County.  When much of her work was documented in 2009 she was the Church Archivist of the Fredonia Baptist Church.

Straight writes, in the mid -1830s, Pettit and several members of his family arrived in Fredonia from the Pompey area of central New York.  They immediately joined the congregation today known as the Fredonia Baptist Church.  Pettit’s father and others remained in Fredonia, when Eber and other family members moved to Versailles a few years late. In Versailles they became active in the First Baptist Church of Perrysburg.  Straight found two books, The Centennial History of the Fredonia Baptist Church compiled by church members and published in 1908 by Matthews-Northrup Works, Buffalo, NY and A History of the Fredonia Baptist Church written by Rev. C. Allyn Russel in 1955, published by McClenathan Printery, Inc., Dunkirk, NY that discussed the church connection to the Underground Railroad.

Eber Pettit documented some of his contacts and experiences with the escaping slaves, while operating as a conductor on the Underground Railroad beginning in 1868, when they were printed as a series by editor, Willard McKinstry of the Fredonia Censor newspaper. In 1879 McKinstry re-issued Pettit’s memoirs in a book entitled, Sketches in the History of the Underground Railroad.

In 1850 census shows the Barker and Petitt families living in the same household in Versailles. They are listed as farmers.  Petitt did grow many of the plants needed to make the family medicines.

 It has been said for years Pettit travelled from Ohio to Pennsylvania to Black Rock in Buffalo delivering patented medicines manufactured by his family. Often he had shoes, boots, leather garments to deliver as well as the hidden passengers he carried aboard his wagon. In other accounts Petitt is said to have received his passengers from his father’s home in Fredonia. When reading his own account of those he met it is evident the runaways came to him through many different routes. 

Source:  http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nychauta/CHURCH/FredoniaBapt/Straight-EberMPettit.pdf

Pettit, Eber M., Sketches in the History of the Underground Railroad, Willard McKinstry, Fredonia, New York, 1879.

Russel, Rev. C. Allyn , A History of the Fredonia Baptist Church, McClenathan Printery, Inc., Dunkirk, NY, 1955.

Compilation by church members, The Centennial History of the Fredonia Baptist Church, Matthews-Northrup Works, Buffalo, NY, 1908.


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