Our Maine Street's Aroostook Issue 7 : Winter 2011 - Page 30

Hiding in Plain Sight: The Friends Church in Fort Fairfield by Ruth Mraz, afterward by George Montee Cars and trucks whiz by the Friends Church on Route 1A leading to Fort Fairfield with occupants hardly giving it a second glance. And certainly never realizing the mystery the old building holds. Its past was hidden away and gently guarded by tight-lipped members of the Society of Friends (Quakers) who settled in the Maple Grove area beginning in 1844. They had good reason to be quiet. They were involved in the Abolitionist movement and were part of a network of secret hiding places for slaves escaping from the South, headed to Canada prior to and during the Civil War. Nothing was ever written down that would imply their illegal activity. It was too dangerous. The Quakers were an upstanding group, admired in the community and would never generally break a law. If detected, their secret missions could have meant the loss of their property, heavy fines, and time in prison. A code of secrecy evolved. Even as late as 1894, when Caleb Ellis wrote a history of Fort Fairfield, the only mention of freed slaves involved a local Quaker, William A. Sampson, who dedicated his lifetime to helping the “Freedmen.” He left Fort Fairfield after the Civil War, continuing his work with the blacks in Washington D.C., the Deep South and later in California, where he died. The illegal work done by the Fort Fairfield Friends was never mentioned in the book. The first Quakers to arrive in Fort Fairfield were Joseph Wingate Haines from Hallowell with his wife Mary Briggs of Winthrop. He had received a land grant of 1000 acres on the condition of building a sawmill for settlers.