"I do not ask who you are that is not important to me"

From an obituary in the Union County Journal, 29 Apr 1897:

Samuel Alonzo Cherry was born in Oswego, N.Y., Dec. 16, 1811 and came to Marysville [Ohio] in '38. He was therefore Marysville's oldest resident. He was the last surviving charter member of the Delaware Encampment [a branch of the I O O F] and had been a member of the order for over 50 years. He was one of the founders of the Congregational church in this city and in all respects a pillar therein.

It was the New School Presbyterian Church in Samuel A Cherry's time;
 today it is the Congregational United Church of Christ.
Photo by Robert Burnett

Samuel Alonzo Cherry was also an older brother of my maternal third great-grandmother, Mary Ann Cherry (17 Dec 1813 - 11 Nov 1853). His obituary concludes:

In antebellum days his home in this city was a prominent station on the underground railroad, and many a poor slave was housed therein, or rather thereunder, until he could be ticketed through to the next station. He was a grand, good man and citizen, whose long life is an example well worthy of emulation.

Indeed. On the same day that I went up to visit Marysville and see Samuel Alonzo Cherry's old haunts, I read in the newspaper that a predominantly white high school's football team in New Jersey staged a fake lynching as a "joke" for their crosstown rivals, whose student body was primarily black.

The Cherry family, headed by a maternal fourth great-grandfather, John Wallace Cherry (27 May 1788 - 10 May 1857), came to Ohio in the 1830s, first to Huron, and then as early residents of Marysville. They were considered a prominent family, among whose members were a doctor, a clothier, and the third postmaster in town, along with the more prosaic occupation of farmer. As was common in that era, they tended to reuse family names, so there were numerous Samuels and Johns across multiple generations; as a consequence, many of the men went by their middle names. The Samuel Cherry of today's post (not to be confused with his grandfather, uncle, or cousin) was thus also known as Alonzo Cherry. To complicate matters further, three of the Marysville Cherry brothers married women named Mary, also the name of their sister, my direct ancestor.... The Cherrys were a patriotic family as well, with Washington and Jefferson being common middle and first names; where "Alonzo" arose I have no idea. But their patriotism went beyond names: John Wallace Cherry fought in the War of 1812, his father in the Revolutionary War; at least two of his sons served in the Civil War, one losing his life, another suffering wounds that troubled him until his death.

Too old for battle, Samuel Alonzo Cherry chose to serve the cause in another way. In Samuel's own words, in an interview conducted 10 Nov 1894 by Wilbur H Siebert, author of the seminal, if now controversial The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom (1898), Cherry said:

"I was told that the only anti-slavery man in town was Nathaniel Beecher [20 Jun 1879 - 15 Apr 1840]. I was told to look him up. Mr. Beecher talked anti-slavery principles a great deal."

And no wonder. Nathaniel Beecher was from a family of longtime abolitionists that included a distant cousin, Harriet Beecher, who married Calvin Ellis Stowe and was living in Cincinnati about the same time Cherry met Beecher. The Stowes' home was another station on the Underground Railroad. It would be just a few years later that she would write Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Cherry continues:

"A short time after I came back [from briefly living in Huron, Ohio in 1840] I began the work.

The fugitives usually came in groups of twos and threes....They usually came in the latter part of the night and would sleep during the day. Hence they would frequently be kept a day or two. In our house we had a room on the first floor where we usually kept them, and if there was any danger of discovery we would take them through the hall into a cupboard or closet where my wife kept her flour-barrel. Beneath that there was a trap-door, through which they would get into a secluded part of the cellar.

The period of my knowledge of the "road" was from 1840 to 1857. In the latter year I went to Delaware [Ohio] and was there until 1860, and during those three years I knew little or nothing of the operations.

Years later, Cherry was so well-regarded in the community for his abolitionist "work" that even before his death, his house got an obituary, which ran to several columns. It appeared in the Marysville Tribune, 17 May 1893:

The article goes on to say:

The fugitives always knew before reaching Marysville, if they could find Deacon Cherry they would find a friend who would care for them. He invariably took them to his home and provided for their comforts, even to polishing up their usually well worn foot-gear.

Which is not entirely surprising, since for many years Cherry was a tailor. In fact, when he first arrived in Marysville, he took out this ad, which ran in the Marysville Union Star, 6 Jun 1839:

The undersigned has taken the shop immediately opposite the court house where he will at all times be happy to wait on those that may see fit to patronize him. Cutting done on the shortest notice, and warranted to fit if not properly made up.

The article adds:

Almost half a century has elapsed and new generations have been born since those barbaric acts in connection with slavery were enacted.

The same day that I explored Marysville and found this clipping, it was reported the state of Georgia was considering offering the Confederate flag as an image on their license plates.

The domestic obit concludes with this:

An imperishable granite monument ought to be erected in front of the old building to remind coming generations of the place where the poor and friendless refugee always found a welcome stopping-place, and where no withholding hand was known or cold frown ever met the gaze of any of God's lowly and oppressed poor.

261 West Sixth Street today. There is no granite monument,
 nor any other recognition of the site's historical importance.
Photo by Robert Burnett

While there is--as yet--no plaque for Samuel Alonzo Cherry, across the street there is a marker for another Cherry relation: Cyprian Lee (10 Apr 1792 - 24 Sep 1854). Lee was another prominent Marysvillian, whose only child, Mary Lee (10 Oct 1823 - 9 Jul 1897) married George Washington Cherry (10 Sep 1809 - 17 Jan 1890), Samuel Alonzo's older brother and consequently another third great-granduncle.

Photo by Robert Burnett

Although the Cherrys and Lees were all involved in the Underground Railroad to some extant, including George and Mary's son, Jefferson Lee Cherry (3 Sep 1842 - 16 Jan 1907), I expect that Cyprian Lee's plaque derives primarily from the fact that his house is the only one still standing. That, or the fact that it was later occupied by Noah Orr, AKA "The Ohio Giant," who at seven feet plus was a noted circus performer with P T Barnum, and member--as the only non-midget--of The Lilliputian Opera Company.  When I went into the Cyprian Lee house (currently used as an insurance office) to inquire about the house and its history, the receptionist knew nothing about the Cherrys and Lees, but was happy to provide a brochure on The Ohio Giant, which I politely declined.

Noah Orr with Mrs Tom Thumb. Neither are ancestors of mine.

Feeling that I had seen enough of Marysville proper, I drove a few miles to Oakdale Cemetery, among whose inhabitants apparently is Noah Orr. I did not notice (nor seek) his no-doubt gargantuan tomb, but continued my quest for ancestors. I did find some names I recognized, but not from my family tree: there were numerous headstones and memorials with the name Vanatta (and its variants), who are ancestors of my brother-in-law! Unbeknownst to us both, his family and mine were buried a few hundred yards apart, over one hundred years ago.

Slogging through snow, I finally located a large marker for some of the Cherry family, which included George Washington Cherry, his wife (the former Miss Lee), and another brother (so another third great-granduncle), John Wallace Cherry (26 Apr 1829 - 28 Jan 1887), and his wife, Mary Elizabeth LKU (24 Nov 1833  - 27 Nov 1903).

The Cherry family marker, Oakdale Cemetery.
Marysville, Union, Ohio.
Photo by Robert Burnett

Alongside the quasi-obelisk are two markers inset into the ground, for the aforementioned Jefferson Lee Cherry and his wife--not a Mary!--Josephine C Rakestraw (19 Apr 1843 - 26 May 1929), whose name appeals to me tremendously because it sounds like something from Gilbert & Sullivan, but I digress. While living, Jefferson and Josie resided in the house pictured below, taken from Handsome Homes of Columbus Ohio.

About 1897. The original caption reads, in part :
"This splendid residence... is the home of J. L Cherry.
Mr. Cherry is the well known Electrical Contractor,
who has furnished electrical work to a great many homes...."

Alas, the splendid residence has been replaced by a warehouse in a declining neighborhood, another beautiful old building razed, another Cherry home gone. While at Oakdale Cemetery, I was not able to find a headstone nor any marker, whether vanished or merely covered in snow, for the ostensible subject of this far-wandering post, Samuel Alonzo Cherry. As time goes on, some things change or disappear, while others stay the same. The day after I got back from my outing, the newspaper reported that a fraternity at the University of Mississippi was suspended following its members putting a noose around a statue of James Meredith, the first black student therein enrolled.

One more article, this time in the Marysville Tribune, 27 Apr 1881. It was a profile about "old Uncle Joe Mayo," a free man of color who was another of the principle members of the Underground Railroad in Marysville, in which Mayo praised those who aided the slaves (including S A Cherry), and sadly denounced others, who as the article states, "were the colored man's natural enemy from pure malice and on general principles of devilishness."

It seems that even in 2014 such malice still exists, despite the many advances we have made. I wonder what Deacon S A Cherry would have made of it all.

Samuel Alonzo Cherry
From the Wilbur H Siebert collection,
Ohio Historical Society

"Marysville's chief operator of the Underground Railroad was Samuel A. Cherry, who owned a large plot of ground at the corner of West Sixth and Ash Streets. He had two houses on this lot; a large square two-story frame house at the corner and a one-story brick house, farther east on Sixth Street. Both houses had roomy excavations beneath their floors reached by trap doors and it was in these underground places that the runaways were hidden while waiting to go to the next station. Though Mr Cherry was often suspected by the 'slave powers' as an ardent leader and conductor for the Underground Railroad and had many narrow escapes, he was never betrayed and his house was never searched. All in all he helped about 250 negro men and women to escape north." --Steve Scheiderer, "The Underground Railroad in Union County,"
Union County Community News, 14 Jan 2000

Property in Susan Augusta Cherry's (Samuel's wife) name, located off Cherry Street.
Although other street names in the area are types of trees,
 it is nice to imagine the name was an homage to the family.
From an 1887 map of Marysville, Union, Ohio.

Samuel Alonzo Cherry was born 16 Dec 1811 in Oneida, New York, to John Wallace Cherry (27 May 1788 - 10 Feb 1857) and Clarissa Adams (31 Jan 1791 - 7 Feb 1872). He was the second of eleven children. Sometime in the late 1830s, he married Susan Augusta Goodsell (11 May 1814 - 24 Jan 1885); she was more commonly known as Jane, and was born in Pennsylvania, parents unknown. The Cherrys arrived in Marysville, Union, Ohio in 1839, where he started a tailoring business. The Cherrys had no children of their own, but adopted John A Cherry (actual last name unknown), who had been born in New York in Sep 1854. By 1860 or so, Samuel Alonzo Cherry was no longer a tailor, but owner of the town saw mill; he was also Deacon of the Presbyterian Church. He must have been an active man; after his first wife's death, he remarried--at age 75!--this time to the Welsh-born Madeline Jones (12 Mar 1828 - 22 Mar 1921), herself a widow of a man named Anderson, by whom she had at least three children. Samuel Alonzo Cherry died on 27 Apr 1897, age 85, at his mill. He is buried in Oakdale Cemetery.

My trip to Marysville was in part inspired by this terrific driving tour of central Ohio's Underground Railroad sites, Taking a Stand for Freedom:

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