Rescued from Slavery

Over fifty people gathered in Warsaw Cemetery for the dedication of the headstone for Mary Eliza Jones Burghardt and her husband, William Burghardt. The unmarked grave site was discovered when Warsaw Historical Society member Harvey Granite was doing research on Burghardt and her mother, Mary Douglas, who came to Warsaw as a fugitive slave through the Underground Railroad in 1849.

Mary Eliza Burghardt died May 6, 1898, and William died in 1913.
Guest speaker Jane Schmieder from the Wyoming Foundation stated, " We are here today to honor Eliza and her husband, who have contributed to our history, and now we can give some history back through this marker. They became very productive citizens, were prosperous, and very well-known.  Mary Conable, a member of the Warsaw Historical Society, was also instrumental in receiving funds through a grant from the Wyoming Foundation to help pay for the headstone. She told the group that she was very grateful for all who were involved from the Town of Warsaw Bicentennial Committee, the Arts Council of Wyoming County, all the society members, and the monument company, Carmichael and Reed in Warsaw, for their assistance.

"This will help continue to raise community awareness in how diverse we are, and the involvement and contributions that were made on a local and national level from various citizens in the Warsaw area."

The Woman in the Box, written by Harvey Granite, was performed last year in conjunction with Warsaw's Bicentennial celebration. Some of the proceeds from the play were used for the purchase of the headstone. The play was based on information written by Andrew Young in 1851 on the escape of Mary Douglas, also known as Mary Jones for concealment purposes, along with her daughter Mary Eliza, who was seven years old at that time in 1849.

A sympathetic market farmer, who was against slavery, packed vegetables on top of a hidden compartment, and drove them to Warsaw. They traveled for over twenty days from the Washington D.C. area in this concealed compartment of the wagon.

Historical Society President George Anna Almeter said that Wyoming County, especially Warsaw, was one of the largest conductors of the secret Underground Railway, along with Monroe County. Slaves fleeing the south traveled through here on their way to Canada.

Historical documentation shows that prominent citizens such as the Smallwood, Barrett, Darling, Martin, and Breck families, among others, help conceal these fugitives while they were in Warsaw, before most of them moved on to Canada, said Almeter. Jones decided to stay here with her daughter.
The families knew they were risking fines and jail time by harboring the fugitives, and going against the Anti-Slavery Act that was enacted in the early 1800s.

While Mary Jones was at the Michael Smallwood residence, she gave birth to a son, William. Her daughter was cared for and reared at the Allen Breck home. A few months after giving birth, she died, and the D.C. Martin family in Warsaw raised her son.

When Eliza was 22 years old, she married William Burghardt, a well-known barber who had a shop on Main Street in Warsaw. He was a free man, and originally from Connecticut. Together, they raised four children, Edward, Charles, Grace, and William, and their home, the Burghardt house, still stands at the corner of Center and Orchard Streets in Warsaw, said Almeter.

Mrs. Burghardt became famous in the community as a wonderful cook and cateress, and many people relied on her at their social gatherings. Her cheerfulness and courage were well remembered right up until the time of her death, states an 1898 Western New Yorker newspaper. She was approximately 55 years old. It further states that a service was held at the Congregational Church and at her home, and was well attended. That church is now the United Church of Warsaw.

Harvey Granite stated that a great-granddaughter who lives in Mount Vernon, NY, heard about the history and dedication, contacted him, and they are now corresponding. Up until that point, no one knew where any of Eliza's descendants were, said Granite.

There is significant history here in Warsaw and the county, said Granite. This story is just part of it. As we continue to develop programs and tours, Warsaw is well on its way to becoming an important place to visit for historical references.

From an article written by Tricia Morris-Kopinski, Warsaw's Country Courier, August 21, 2004
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