Long Lost Journal Reveals Historic Underground Railroad Site

Lebanon NH Underground Railroad Mystery Solved

June 1, 1862 Fugitive Slave Journal Entry

Discovery of 1862 Journal Proves Lebanon, New Hampshire
as an Underground Railroad Site

James Wood During the Civil War

James Wood Served with the New Hampshire Militia in 1845

James Wood ran on the Constitutional Union Ticket in NH

James Wood in the 1890's

Rebecca Pillsbury Wood, wife of James Wood

Rebecca Pillsbury was from Boscawon where the journal was found

Oldest Photo of Wood House Before the War

James Wood House During the Civil War

James Wood House Today off Route 120, Lebanon NH

copyright 2008, All Rights Reserved, Steve Restelli

The discovery of a journal written in 1862 by a prominent New Hampshire farmer has shed new light on the highly secretive Underground Railroad and its existence in a small New Hampshire community.
According to Charles Blockson of Temple University and a noted authority on the Underground Railroad, "there are no previously known New Hampshire sites that have been documented."
The journal's owner, Steve Restelli of Vermont who made the discovery said, "I was browsing in a New Hampshire antique shop through some stacks of old books and papers when I uncovered it.  The year 1862 was penned on the cover and as I read the first few pages I could see it was fairly detailed, well written and most fascinating.  I then skimmed to the June 1st entry and immediately bought the book.  It was this entry that proved to be of profound importance in documenting that the journals writer harbored a fugitive slave."
This entry boldy states, "A fugitive slave? Came here abt 10 O'clock this eve to stay all night.  I fixed him a bed in the wool room...."
Unfortunately a cover to cover search did not indicate who owned and authored the handwritted text in this book.  I then realized I now held the evidence to a federal crime.  A crime of compassion which at the time violated the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
I then set out on a quest to determine who had writted this journal.  I made enquiries to New Hampshire libraries, underground railroad historians and also the Shaker Village at Enfield, NH.
About a month went by before I was contacted by an Enfield, New Hampshire historian named Richard Henderson.  He was familiar with many of the names and places detailed in this journal.  It was through his efforts and knowledge that the authorship of the journal was determined.
From my very first meeting with Mr. Henderson I could see he would indeed solve this mystery.  But he would do more than that, he would take me to the very site and introduce me to the decendants of this mysterious New Hampshire abolutionist.
James Wood, was born on March 2, 1823 in Lebanon, New Hampshire.  He married Rebecca Pillsbury of Boscawen on October 24, 1855 and operated the James Wood & Son farm.  This was a bee, hay and sheep marketing business in Lebanon. 
James was a quaker, who donated some of his land for a "Town Farm" to assist his neighbors that needed financial assistance.
He was also a member of the Constitutional Union Party and ran for office under that banner before the start of the Civil War.
James would also do surveying work within the community and served for many years with the Lebanon NH schools, until his death on February 12,1895.
James Wood kept diaries probably every year as his family decendants have quite a few of them, along with all the images I have except for the 1862 journal.
The old Wood Homestead still stands on Rt. 120 just before the East Plainfield town line.  The structure faces gable end towards the road. Ownership passed out of the family following the 1938 hurricane which blew down most of the valuable standing timber.  The last family owner was George Wood, the youngest son of James Wood's four children.
It was a few years later that I discovered a book written in 1898 by Wilbur Siebert called The Underground Railroad.  James Wood is listed as a station conductor for a county just below where he lived.  This further strengthens the evidence for his indictment for violating federal fugitive slave laws.  And this is obvioulsy why he didn't write his name as the owner of this 1862 journal.
It would be nice some day to have a memorial placed at the James Wood homestead memorializing his brave and secretive work helping his fellow man escape the shackles of slavery and the bonds of injustice.