Capt. Alexander Graves, a Mr. William Jackman and Richard Plumer were all active on the underground railroad in Newburyport. The Plumer house had a barn in the rear where fugitives were hidden. Plumer’s young son Wendell Phillips Plumer would ride in the wagon at night when his father drove to the south end of town to meet escapees brought from Ipswich by the bridge over the Parker River. Fugitives were hidden among the grain and driven though the town to Mr. Jackman’s house near the Chain Bridge, and Jackman took them to Amesbury or as far as Lee, New Hampshire. Sometimes, Mr. Plumer would cross the Merrimack and take the fugitives directly to Amesbury, delivering them to John Greenleaf Whittier or his agent.
Mr. Plumer also owned the Coffin House just over the border in Newbury. Sometimes if he felt the house was being watched, he would drop off his ‘cargo’ at the Coffin House until he felt it was safe enough to hand them off to Mr. Jackman. Since using regular paths was a sure way to be caught, often the passengers after being gained at the Parker River Bridge would be transported to the Turkey Hill Farm homestead overlooking the Artichoke. At one junction, he had a carriage full of runaways while traveling to the farm. Bounty hunters were bearing down on the carriage and he instructed all the passengers to flee into a cornfield and then to make their way to Turkey Hill. Happily, not one was captured and all made it back safely.
This home is quite famous on the national scene and the National Park Service features it in its telling of the Underground Railroad in Essex County. Unfortunately, the home is listed as being located at 62 Federal Street – on the wrong side of the street and much further down. I am trying to get the NPS via the Essex Heritage Commission to correct this misstatement.
Another thing to note on this house is the skylights. One of the big issues nationwide is how to present your ‘historic home’ properly for maximum enhancement of property values and to properly display the home to champion our Nation’s heritage. Compare this with the need to add light to ancient homes that tend to be very dark inside. The usual solution is to add skylights. But the park service makes it clear that skylights facing the street detract from the historic nature of the home. These skylights should have been placed on the other side to not violate the National heritage of this site. As the local historic district gathers steam, using common sense will improve property values and also make the homes more comfortable. The result will be a further enhanced historic district and improved equity.
Right now, there’s no harm done. Visitors can’t find the house anyway until the brochures are fixed!
PS. I will be adding information on the Underground Railroad in Newburyport. There is a lot of confusion as to what occurred and this field of conjecture will be explained and to why such obscurity still clings to this exciting time in Newburyport.