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Myths and Legends
by Linda Abrams- Curator and Michael Gelinas, President- Longmeadow Historical Society- May 2011

MYTH : When the “meadows” settlers received permission from the Springfield Town Meeting to move up onto the “hill” in 1703, they used teams of oxen to pull their houses on the ice up to the area of today’s Green.

 TRUTH: For years the settlers had complained about the damage done to houses and crops by the overflowing Connecticut River. The 1695 Flood was only one of many, and not even the worst. But, the flooding renourished the land and provided more nutrients for farmland.

The earliest homes in the meadows, from the 1650’s, were simple saltbox designs, with thatched roofs, small windows and no basements. These somewhat primitive, early Colonial houses were NOT like what visitors now see on Longmeadow Street.

After getting permission to move, and receiving new land grants on the hill, the “meadows” people built barns and animal pens. The barns provided temporary shelter until new housing could be erected. The first dwellings were not large; four rooms on one one floor, or six on two floors would have been the norm; only later would the “Georgian” style have begun to emerge, indicating accumulation of some status and more land and income.

The decrepit, disintegrating houses in the meadows were not moved; they could not have survived.


MYTH: The “tunnels” (in Longmeadow) that were built in the 18th century became, in the 19th century, part of the “Underground Railroad” that helped runaway slaves escape to freedom.

TRUTH: The original tunnels from the new houses on the hill were built as part of a system of protection, hiding, or escape from possible Indian threats. It is hard to imagine, but this was the “wild west” of a later time period (The infamous Raid on Deerfield and Massacre had occurred in 1704!). These early tunnels also served as constantly cool areas for food preservation, especially of cold weather crops like apples and squash. There is no real documentary evidence of any runaways using these tunnels.

The larger historical context provides even more proof. Very few escaped slaves moved through New England before the Civil War. The vast majority of runaways was from the Upper South and had one Northern state to pass through—Ohio—to get to Canada. Another favored route was through western Pennsylvania and western New York State to Canada via Great Lakes traffic. Those few runaways who passed through this area would come up on the western side of the Connecticut River Valley, and then would have crossed over into Springfield. There is real evidence of runaways in Springfield; some of these slaves settled in Springfield and became part of a black middle class that has lived in Springfield for generations.

There are also social/cultural reasons why there were no runaway slaves in Longmeadow. Like many New England towns in the Colonial era, Longmeadow had its share of slave owners. The famous “Marchant” Samuel Colton owned one or more slaves throughout his adult life (until Massachusetts abolished slavery in 1780). The town’s only religious leader, Stephen Williams, owned a slave or two during part of his life. The impulse toward abolition of slavery came from religious groups, primarily Quakers, and somewhat from northern Baptists. These groups were not part of the religious community on the Street. The Longmeadow Lyceum discussed slaves and slavery. What they considered important was to support shipping slaves back to Africa. There is no real proof of any involvement of Longmeadow residents helping runaways to escape.


 

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Longmeadow Historical Society

697 Longmeadow Street
Longmeadow, MA 01106
(413) 567-3600
LongmeadowHS@gmail.com
 
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