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The Underground Railroad with John Freeman Walls

By The 700 Club -- From 1851 to 1854, the "Voice of the Fugitive" newspaper beckoned from its Canadian border to black slaves in America. The newspaper's publisher, Henry Bibb, an abolitionist and former slave, gave practical information that could be passed on to hopeful souls whenever possible.

Dr. BRYAN WALLS (Lecturer): I'm sure they would have heard that, despite what the plantation owners said, that the Detroit River was 3,000 miles wide. They'd find out in this newsletter that it wasn't 3,000 miles wide. And they'd find out that if you made it to Canada, the crows wouldn't pick your eyes out.

THE 700 CLUB: Of the more than four million slaves in America between 1800 and 1860, only 40,000 ever made it to Canada. Several thousands of others died trying. But the information gleaned from such newspapers by freedom seekers was an important link in what was the slaves' one hope: the Underground Railroad. This Underground Railroad wasn't a train at all, but a movement. Noted historian and lecturer Dr. Bryan Walls explains.

Dr. WALLS: It was a secretive organization, needless to say, because they were breaking the law. Property -- those fugitive slaves that came as pioneers to Canada -- were fleeing from oppression, and they were aided by good people, like Quakers, black people who were free, and others on stations along the way. These actual stations were 25 to 30 kilometers apart. And they could be barns, or church belfries, or cellars.

THE 700 CLUB: And while Dr. Walls is familiar with several accounts of the slaves' quest for freedom, there is one of great interest to him, summed up in the life of John Freeman Walls, formerly from Troublesome Creek in Rockingham County, North Carolina. John was born in 1813 on the same day as the one who, for years would be his best friend in life, Daniel Walls, his white slave master's son. Suckled together at John's mother's breast, the two boys grew until Daniel reluctantly took over his father's plantation and committed the care of the other slaves to John. Daniel married and had four children. But an incurable illness led Daniel to ask John a most strange request on the eve of his early demise.

Dr. WALLS: He was called into the home, and according to my Aunt Stella, on his deathbed called John in and said, `John, not only are you free, but because we've been such good friends,' he said to John, `please, John, I would like you to take care of Jane and my children and treat them as I would.'

THE 700 CLUB: John did just that, and John and Jane fell in love, realizing that their only recourse was to make the perilous journey through the Underground Railroad to freedom in Canada.

Dr. WALLS: You know, it certainly wasn't a common and sordid relationship. It was a Christian relationship founded upon love and they made their way, literally, through the woods, fighting off wolves and escaping and outwitting slave catchers until they came to Indiana. They stayed with Quaker abolitionists by the name of Stouts.

THE 700 CLUB: John and Jane married in Indiana, and eventually crossed over to Canada, settling in Puce, Ontario, just outside of Windsor. He eventually purchased 200 acres of land and had two more children. The humble beginnings of this blended family have produced hundreds of offspring, including a prize fighter, Harvey Walls, now inducted into Canada's Hall of Fame. The Walls know that through it all, John Freeman Walls' steadfast faith in God gave him the promise that sustained him.

Dr. WALLS: John's faith was founded on Christ, that was a solid rock on which he stood. And every Sunday, Proverbs 3 would be read, `My son, forget not my laws but let thine heart keep my commandments; for length of days and long life and peace shall they add to thee.' And he lived to be 96 and his wife, Jane, 88. She was a wonderful woman, according to Aunt Stella, who was 23 when John and Jane passed away.

THE 700 CLUB: Aunt Stella, who lived in John and Jane's home until just a few years ago, lived to be 102, and was buried in the family cemetery John began on his property many years ago. Today, the ancestors of John Freeman Walls have kept his memory and the memory of the Underground Railroad alive through the preservation of this historic site, which includes the log cabin John built for his family in 1846. This same log cabin was the first meeting place for Puce Baptist Church, which later secured its own building down the road in 1850. The rest of this incredible story is found in a documented novel written by one of John's great-great-grandsons, Dr. Bryan Walls. And it's titled, "The Road That Led To Somewhere."

Dr. WALLS: If you had the privilege of having heard Aunt Stella tell you these stories of old-time things, and tell them to you in such a way that it left you were spellbound. I didn't want to write a book of history, even though it was my family history, with just facts and figures. I wanted to try to make that history come alive.

THE 700 CLUB: And he does, every summer, to hundreds of tourists who come to see and hear the story of John Freeman Walls for themselves -- a story reflecting the spirit of unity in which God intended us to live; a story that reminds us of eternal truths that bring hope in despairing times.

Dr. WALLS: We have much to be thankful for, but the devil would like to make us feel that we don't. In essence, all we have to do is remind ourselves of what our ancestors went through, and know that they have laid a foundation that we can build on. And that's what progress is all about.

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