Gateway to Freedom: The Town Clock Church
(Original) This church was used to hide escaped slaves from people trying to capture fugitive slaves to return them to the South because of the Fugitive Slave Act. It is located in New Albany, Indiana. It was one of the first places that escaped slaves could go when they crossed the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky, which was a slave state, into Indiana, which was a free state, because it was right across the border of Kentucky. (Levi's) Located in New Albany, Indiana, this church was one of the first stations that many freedom-seeking fugitives arrived at upon entering Indiana. Situated less than two tenths of a mile from the Ohio river, the Second Presbyterian Church (today the Town Clock Church) was a beacon that could be seen across the water for runaway slaves in their journey to freedom.
Backstory and Context
The following is work of Levi Adkins
New Albany was a city consisting of prominently pro-slavery sentiments in the early to mid-19th century. Yet the Second Presbyterian Church was very active in its efforts to promote the anti-slavery sentiments of the North and help freedom-seeking African Americans in their journey to that freedom. Much of the Presbyterians in New Albany’s community shared anti-slavery sentiments, having moved from slaves states which they felt uncomfortable in or from northeastern free states.
The Second Presbyterian Church had many members who where influential in New Albany’s community. Reverend Samuel Sneed was the church’s pastor from 1832 to 1848 where he led the anti-slavery discussion amongst Presbyterians. Following Sneed was John Atterbury who shared the strong anti-slavery and abolitionist views as his predecessors. Atterbury served as pastor in New Albany’s Second Presbyterian church until 1866 and publicly vocalized his anti-slavery sermons at the height of the Civil War. Atterbury and Sneed worked closely with Levi Coffin in contributing to raising funds for “contraband families” and organization of the Underground Railroad within the State.
Due to the Church’s location on the Ohio River, and its proximity to the ferry route used to cross the river, it was likely the very first stop in Indiana that African Americans took in their journey to freedom. The build has multiple areas which oral history indicates were used to hide African Americans from southern slave hunters. The Church’s basement, for example was used to store food and clothes which were often provided to fugitives who had just crossed the river. The nature of this Church’s location as a heavily used first station of the Underground Railroad has earned it the state historical marker called, “The Gateway to Freedom.”
Historical Videos. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.townclockchurch.org/historical-videos/
Peters, P. R. (2001). The underground railroad in Floyd County, Indiana. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co.