The Pettit Family – Bicentennial Biography No. 29

Bicentennial Biographies is a not-for-profit radio project designed to raise awareness and increase interest in local history. It is brought to you as a public service by the Chautauqua County Historical Society throughout 2011 to celebrate the county’s 200th birthday. To learn more, visit www.McClurgMuseum.org or contact your local historical society.

Eber M. Pettit (Photo from Fredonia Baptist Church and scanned by Wendy J. W. Straight, Archivist)

The Pettit family played an instrumental role in the Western New York Underground Railroad. Doctor James Pettit was born in 1767 and practiced in both Madison and Onandaga Counties, N.Y. prior to coming to Fredonia. His son, Eber M. Pettit, was born in 1802.

For about 25 years, Eber and his wife Euretta Pettit operated an Underground Railroad station in Versailles, New York, about 15 miles northeast of Fredonia. While there, they also produced herbs and seeds for his father’s patent medicine company. Their daughter, Helen Pettit Barker, and her husband, Darwin R. Barker, assisted in the effort of helping fugitive slaves.

James and Lucy Pettit were also active in the Underground Railroad from their home in Fredonia. The family’s medicine business led them on several trips into Ohio to get supplies. This also provided opportunities for both father and son to transport runaway slaves on the road to freedom. James died prior to 1850, but Eber and other family members continued as conductors in the Underground Railroad even after that time.

Shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in 1863, Pettit and his family closed their station and returned to Fredonia. In 1879, Eber Pettit wrote a memoir entitled “Sketches in the History of the Underground Railroad.” The memoir was dedicated to Frederick Douglass, and was published by Willard McKinstry of the Fredonia Censor.

Ref: Wendy J.W. Straight – “Pettits and the Underground Railroad” (2006); The African American History of Western New York

Further Reading: Eber M. Pettit, W. McKinstry –  “Sketches in the History of the Underground Railroad” (1879)

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– J. Sample

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