Blairsville Underground Railroad Rescue of 1858 Content

National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom

Rescue of 1858

In the spring of 1858, Robert Stump, a slave catcher from Virginia and Peter Heck, a tailor from Uniontown, PA came to Blairsville. Stump claimed to have a federal warrant for a fugitive slave named Richard Newman who had been living in town for about 6 years. When Stump spotted Newman on the street, he sent Heck to capture him. As Newman fought to escape, an angry mob of townspeople poured into the street and pulled Newman away to safety. The mob drove Heck and Stump toward the Pennsylvania Canal.

Two important men from Blairsville were among many county residents involved in the Underground Railroad. John Graff, a wealthy businessman, was adamantly opposed to slavery. Pairing his words with political action, he ran for state and national legislature on the anti-slavery ticket.

Working with Graff was Lewis Johnston, the son of a free black man and a slave woman. Johnston was a well-known leader in the African-American community and a coal miner. It was Lewis Johnston who sheltered Newman in 1858 when bounty hunters came to Blairsville searching for him.

The reenactment of this rescue received National Parks Service status in 2008 and has been performed annually since 2007. The historic marker is located west of the bandstand in the area referred to as the “Diamond” and just east of the Conemaugh River where the Pennsylvania Canal operated.

The Walking Tour

Walking Tour


  1. Start/End: 214 East Lane
  2. John Graff House: 195 South Liberty Street
  3. Alexander Graff House: 216 South Liberty Street
  4. The "Diamond" (Gazebo)
  5. Site of the African Zion Church
  6. Site of Lewis Johnston house
  7. Site of possible alternative safe house (as yet undocumented): 57 West Market Street
  8. Site of George Wilkinson store
  9. Site of Chester Davis store

Click here for the Driving Tour Map