James Wells, Conductor on Underground Railroad

Information from:  http://orbitist.com/2014/07/07/anti-slavery-activists-in-the-1800s/


By Douglas H. Shepard

This location is Private property.

James Wells was born in VT around 1803. He is first recorded in Leon, Cattaraugus County, as a Road District Overseer in 1833. He and his family remained in Leon at least through 1865. James Wells’ involvement in Underground Railroad activities was attested to by a stepson of Joseph B. Nessel (Nessle).  W.S. Bailey in his article entitled “The Underground Railroad in Southwestern New York” (The Historic Annals of Southwestern New York , William Doty, Ed., Lewis Historical Pub. Co., New York, 1940) noted, “The Ellington station was conducted by Joseph B. Nessle, Mr. Stafford’s stepfather, at his home in Ellington village. Mr. Stafford well remembered the frequent signal at the door during the night and of hearing his stepfather open the door and admit the conductor and his party. With the curiosity of a boy, young Stafford often stole down to see the strange visitors whom he recalls as extremely shy and in constant dread of capture. After the slaves had been fed by Mr. Stafford’s mother [Polly Stafford Nessel], Mr. Nessle would immediately harness his horses and the same night drive on to the next station which was conducted by James Wells two miles north of Leon Center. The Leon station was in a more secluded location and the slaves could be secreted there during the day with greater security. Mr. Stafford’s only knowledge of the route beyond Leon was that it led to Buffalo.”

There were three Stafford stepsons living in the Nessel family in the 1850s and 1860s, Austin, Joseph and Martin. Earlier in his article, Bailey described other Underground Railroad activities in Ellington, adding, “This statement was confirmed by Austin H. Stafford, whose memory of the activities of the Ellington Underground Railroad station was very clear.” James Wells married Laura, who was born in 1806, and their children listed in the 1850 census were Champion (age 16), Albert (12), Mandeville (7), Sarah (10), Mary (4). Added in the 1860 census was May Wells (19) and Minerva Frances (11).

Source: Selected excerpts from sources

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