Sarah Johnson, an essay from a Portville student

The following essay was written by a 12 year old student from Portville, NY.

The Underground Railroad was a passage to freedom for many slaves from the 1780's until the end of slavery in 1865. The penalty for assisting a fleeing slave was a $1,000 fine and imprisonment; all those involved showed great bravery. One of those valorous people was my heroine, Sarah Johnson.

Sarah Johnson herself escaped slavery at a young age. In 1865, when Sarah was about 15, the man who owned the plantation on which she toiled passed away. Because there was a mortgage on the property, everything, including Sarah , was to be sold. The plantation owner's son, who had been a playmate of Sarah's when they were younger, cautioned her about this. She heeded the warning and ran away from the Chesapeake Bay plantation as darkness set in. Sarah followed the Susquehanna Trail north until she reached Southwestern New York. After the long journey the barefoot, fatigued, and famished girl stumbled into the settlement of Olean.

Sarah decided to settle in this town. She became the first African American to live in Olean. She stayed with Dr. Andrew Mead and his family in exchange for keeping house. While she lived there, Sarah also began to study mid-wifery with Dr. Mead.

After marrying, Sarah Johnson and her husband became the first African American landowners in Olean by purchasing a house at 607 Irving Street. They bought not only a house, but the headquarters of the Underground Railroad in Olean as well. Many weary travelers seeking freedom found refuge in the basement of this house. Despite the great fine if caught, Sarah continued to help those in need until the end of slavery.

In addition to her efforts with the Underground Railroad, Sarah Johnson also cared for many of the newborn babies in Olean as a mid-wife. Although she had 10 children of her own, she brought many more into the world through her important job. Sarah continued to mid-wife until her death in 1905. I chose to do my essay on Sarah Johnson as she is a local heroine who made a big difference in my community many years ago. In writing this essay I also learned a great deal about the role Olean played in the Underground Railroad. I admire and respect Sarah for not only settling in Olean but contributing to the community as well. She showed great courage by escaping slavery and helping others to do so. 

Source:,last updated January 27, 2004, website accessed: February 10, 2014. The student writer: Kelsie Norek

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