Bryn Coed and the Underground Railroad

did you know…?

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Quakers and free blacks in Chester County quietly assisted fugitive slaves on their journey to freedom.

One such stop along the Underground Railroad was the farm of Jonathan and Ann Thomas who were active abolitionists and offered their home as shelter for run-aways from 1805 to about 1830.

In 1838, the property was sold to Dr. Bartholomew Fussell, a Quaker who grew up in Chester County but moved to Baltimore to study medicine. In Baltimore, Fussell opened a Sabbath School for African American students, teaching as many as 90 students at a time. When he returned to Chester County, his farm was used as a secret hospital for exhausted, injured, or ailing slaves escaping through northeastern Maryland into Pennsylvania. Historians estimate some 2,000 run-aways visited there, including some of Fussell’s former pupils from the Sabbath School.

In her account of the farm’s history, local historian Estelle Cremers noted that there was a four-foot entrance hole in the earth at the property, which many believed led to an underground passageway used by fugitives. “Local teenagers found they could crawl through it into a chamber not more than seven feet in height. The first chamber led to a second that measured about 10-feet long by six-feet wide.” The opening was intentionally destroyed in the late 1960s when neighbors became concerned about its safety.

But the Thomas house still stands and is a part of the Bryn Coed Farms tract. The house and the lot on which it stands is under contract; the buyer plans to undertake an extensive renovation.