Wright’s Ferry Mansion in Columbia, PA
In 1726, the Quakers John Wright and Robert Barber settled in the area that is now Columbia, Pennsylvania. Sixty-one years later, Wright’s grandson, Samuel, laid out the town of Columbia, which originally was called Wright’s Ferry, as the Wrights operated a ferry that crossed the Susquehanna River at the time. With most of its settlers being Quakers, who were staunch foes of slavery, and its close proximity to Maryland and easy accessibility by way of the Susquehanna, a large number of manumitted slaves settled in Columbia. The kidnapping there of a former slave in 1804 led to the town’s active involvement in aiding runaway slaves. It is said that Wright’s ferry was used during this early period.
View near site of original Wright's Ferry
As early as 1812 a bridge was built near the Wright mansion crossing the Susquehanna and another in 1837. William Wright, the son of Samuel, married the daughter of Chester County conductor, Daniel Gibbons, and continued the family tradition. But probably the town’s most important conductor during the time of the Underground Railroad’s greatest activity was black businessman, William Whipper, who grew up there and established an extremely successful lumber business there. His home also was near the bridge.
Whipper later wrote in a biography that was part of William Still's book that: “My house was at the end of the bridge,” he wrote, “and as I kept the station, I was frequently called up in the night to take charge of the passengers. On their arrival they were generally hungry and penniless. I have received hundreds in this condition; fed and sheltered from one to seventeen at a time in a single night. At this point the road forked; some I sent west by boats, to Pittsburgh, and others … in our cars to Philadelphia . . . . From 1847-1860, I contributed from my earnings one thousand dollars annually.”
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