Underground Railroad Elkhart County


Charles L. Murray, editor of the Goshen Democrat, lived at Jefferson Center.

Abolitionists in Goshen

The Underground Railroad activity in Goshen is usually associated with the Penn, or Balser Hess, house, which is discussed and questioned in Section B under “Big Houses.”

But there definitely were two Goshen newspaper editors who became active in the abolitionist cause and contributed to the Underground Railroad in important ways. They were Charles M. Murray, editor of The Goshen Express, a Whig publication, from 1837 to 1840. And his fierce rival, E. W. H. Ellis, editor of The Democrat from 1839 to 1850. Both papers were originally ambivalent about abolishing slavery in the U.S., but Murray and Ellis eventually gave active support to the cause of abolition. Bartholomew says that Ellis "occasionally asked [Col. Henry G. Davis and James G. Mitchell of Jefferson Center] to keep slaves who were moving northward" (PH 274). Editor Charles M. Murray, who lived at Jefferson Center, was one of the most active people in the Underground Railroad in the Jefferson Center area. The 1874 Atlas of Elkhart County gives lengthy biographies of both men—Ellis on p. 30 and Murray on p. 37. I will select only those facts that are related to them as abolitionists.

Charles L. Murray (1815-89) edited the first newspaper in Goshen, and perhaps even in northern Indiana, from the young age of 22 years. He was a lifelong journalist, beginning in Pequa, Ohio, before moving to Indiana in 1836, and continuing—after he sold his Goshen paper in 1840—in Warsaw, Indianapolis and South Bend. He was politically engaged from his youth, taking up one cause after another, with shifting allegiances. By reputation, he knew all the "public men" in Ohio and Indiana. His home in Jefferson Township was the most important one on the Underground Railroad near Goshen (more about this in Section F). His maternal grandfather was a Quaker. His paternal grandfather was first a Baptist, then a Universalist minister. The Murrays became founding members of the Presbyterian church in Goshen. Most of those associations are of liberal political persuasions.

Originally a Whig, he joined the Republican Party before the Civil War (and joined the Democratic Party in 1872). When the Civil War broke out, he quickly formed a company of volunteers and took them to Indianapolis, where they were turned back because his efforts were not within the official recruitment program of the government. Murray's call for volunteers survives. Eventually he became quartermaster of the 48th Indiana Volunteer regiment. He served in both houses of the Indiana legislature. In his later years he took up the cause of Prohibition. His son Gordon became editor of the Nappanee newspaper. His son Charles T. was a Washington correspondent who owned his own newspaper bureau in New York City in 1893. His daughter Emeline (later Mrs. Sigerfoos) became active in local history and recorded a few personal recollections of Underground Railroad activity (Section F) in her parents’ home. (See also Deahl 656-59, Chapman 276, Goodspeed 74-76, Weaver I:287.)

A close analysis of the contents of The Goshen Express during the years when Murray edited it might further clarify his thinking on abolitionism. But the early issues were certainly not obsessed with the question, although a poem "A Prayer for the Oppressed Affricans" appeared on March 26, 1837; a report on fugitive slaves on April 8, 1837; an article "Slave Trade" on May 13, 1837; and one on the "Slavery Question" in the U. S. Senate on March 10, 1838.

By local reputation, he lived at the site where the 1930s bungalow now stands on the east side of SR15 a few houses north of Jefferson School. The Elkhart Historical Society erected a wood marker there in his honor, now gone. The second house on the property (following a log house) burned down in 1927. However, the plat map of Elkhart County in 1861 shows that he owned a tract at the northeast corner of the intersection of SR15 and old US20, which is probably where he lived prior to the Civil War. Bartholomew mentions that his house was “across the fields” from the Jefferson school, which would not be true if he had lived at the bungalow property. Perhaps Murray lived at the bungalow site with a child in his later years. A large photographic portrait of Murray hangs in the Elkhart County Historical Museum.

E. W. H. Ellis (1815-76), although trained as a medical doctor, was recruited by E. M. Chamberlain of Goshen to become editor of The Democrat in Goshen, which he did from 1839 to 1850. The period of 1839 to 1840 saw a lively, even bitter, rivalry between editor Murray (Whig) and editor Ellis (Democrat). During his editorship, the Democrat seemed to support the Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed owners to re-capture runaway slaves and was Democratic Party policy. Although Ellis was sometimes accused of supporting slavery, most evidence suggests the contrary—an evolution toward abolitionism. He opposed the extension of slavery in the 1848 campaign, which contradicted the Democratic Party position. In fact, in January of 1855 he left the Democratic Party and joined the Republican Party.

He was in contact with Underground Railroad conductors in Cincinnati, and reference has already been made to Ellis sending runaway slaves to Murray and Mitchell in Jefferson Center. At the beginning of the "Rebellion," he was appointed as an Indiana delegate to the Peace Congress, which failed. Early in the war he took 128 drafted men to Indianapolis, as commandant of the 48th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers, which had been stationed at "Camp Ellis" (named for him) on the Elkhart County fairgrounds, then located south of Goshen along SR 15. He was elected Elkhart County auditor and, later, auditor of the state of Indiana. In addition to the Goshen Democrat, he edited the Indiana Statesman in Indianapolis; for two years he edited "We, the People," a Republican Party publication in Indianapolis. (Also see Chapman 935-38.)

Dr. W. C. Matchett (1816? - ) of Goshen is the only Elkhart County person specifically named—by a number of writers—in the Siebert papers. Along with Drs. Latta and Grove, Matchett was one of the “regular” physicians for some years “from pioneer days to 1840.” (Deahl). His exact contribution to the Underground Railroad is not known, but during the Civil War he was surgeon in Company D of the 100th regiment, which had been recruited in Elkhart in August 1862. “Dr. Matchett’s house stood where the Economy is located. It was a peculiar structure, the front part comprised of two stories, the middle part one and one-half and the rear one story; all faced Main Street and there were three front doors, one in each part. (Weaver, as recalled by Dr. Sparklin.) There is some ambiguity about Dr. Matchett’s connection with surrounding towns. He is credited as the first physician in New Paris (Chapman) and his wife Elizabeth A. Violett (daughter of John W. and Chloe Bishop Violett, Goshen pioneers) lived in Benton when she died in 1853. Also, a Matchett owned a tract of land as neighbor to many of the Jefferson Center Underground Railroad families near Pine Creek. The fact that the Siebert papers name only him and none of the other Elkhart County Underground Railroad people is not surprising. On the Underground Railroad it was not prudent to know the names of other “conductors,” lest they be betrayed and prosecuted. Of course, one needed to know the people to whom one sent runaways, but not necessarily the names of the people who sent them to you or of people beyond the next link in the route.