“John Underwood, a “free Negro” living on a farm he owned in pre-Civil War Vigo County, took part in the dangerous work of helping fugitive slaves flee the United States to Canada as part of the “Underground Railroad.”
“On one occasion, slave catchers discovered what Underwood was doing and “were threatening to do [him] bodily harm,” according to John W. Lyda’s book, “The Negro in the History of Indiana.” But Underwood, a member of the local Masonic lodge “saved himself by giving the Masonic Recognition sign. As those who were threatening him were themselves members of that lodge, they desisted from injuring him,” Lyda wrote.
“This story is one of few that remain from what was once a thriving black settlement in Linton Township in southern Vigo County. Settled by [North Carolina-born] John Underwood in about 1841, it was one of dozens of free, black settlements in Indiana that existed many years before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It became known as the Underwood Settlement. …”
See Arthur Foulkes, “Life on Underwood Settlement,” Terre Haute Tribune Star, 13 February 2011.
[Hat tip to Edie Lee Harris.]