The Hays-Heighe House at Harford Community College is the first place in Harford County to be put on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.
A part of the National Park Service, the Network to Freedom National Underground Railroad program was implemented "to coordinate preservation and education efforts nationwide and integrate local historical places, museums and interpretive programs associated with the Underground Railroad into a mosaic of community, regional, and national stories," according to its website.
While doing research for the exhibition "Faces of Freedom: The Upper Chesapeake, Maryland and Beyond," which commemorated the 150th anniversary of the adoption of the Maryland Constitution of 1864 that ended slavery in the state, Hays-Heighe House coordinator Iris Leigh Barnes discovered that Sam Archer, an enslaved person living on the property, successfully escaped in 1860. Archer's story was one of several local stories narrated in the exhibition. Sites with connections to a documented freedom seekers can apply for inclusion on the Network to Freedom, and it is on this basis that the Hays-Heighe House was accepted.
Archer's escape from his "so-called owner, Thomas Hays," is documented in a major source about freedom seekers, "The Underground Railroad" by William Still.
First published in 1872, Still's book documents freedom seekers from the Delmarva region and beyond. It includes an account of nine freedom seekers from Maryland who sought help in 1860. One of these men was Sam Archer.
Still published Archer's story as follows: "Sam Archer was to 'become free at thirty-five years of age.' He had already served thirty years of this time; five years longer seemed an age to him. The dangers from other sources presented also a frightful aspect. Sam had seen too many who had stood exactly in the same relations to Slavery and freedom, and not a few were held over their time, or cheated out of their freedom altogether. He stated that his own mother was 'kept over her time,' simply 'that her master might get all her children.' Two boys and two girls were thus gained, and were slaves for life. These facts tended to increase Sam's desire to get away before his time was out; he, therefore, decided to get off via the Underground Rail Road. He grew very tired of Bell Air [sic], Harford county [sic], Maryland, and his so-called owner, Thomas Hayes [sic]. He said that Hayes [sic] had used him 'rough,' and he was 'tired of rough treatment.' So when he got his plans arranged, one morning when he was expected to go forth to an unrequited day's labor, he could not be found. Doubtless, his excited master thought Sam a great thief, to take himself away in the manner that he did, but Sam was not concerned on this point; all that concerned him was as to how he could get to Canada the safest and the quickest. When he reached the Philadelphia station, he felt that the day dawned, his joy was full, despite the Fugitive Slave Law."
It is not known whether Sam Archer reached Canada, which he told Still was his intended destination. It is not certain if he joined the ranks of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) and fought in the Civil War. According to the National Park Service's database, All U.S. Civil War Soldiers, 1861-1865, there were two Sam Archers who joined the USCT – one in the 65th Regiment and the other in the 67th Regiment.
"We were excited to discover that we were documented in Still's seminal book," Barnes said. "Together with the invaluable records at the Historical Society of Harford County and our records about the Hays family, we were able to piece together an important story about 19th century Harford County life. It is an honor to be included as part of the Network, representing the tenacity in the human spirit to attain the God-given right to freedom."
The mission statement of the Network to Freedom is: "Recognizing that all human beings embrace the right to self-determination and freedom from oppression, the historical Underground Railroad (UGRR) sought to address the injustices of slavery and make freedom a reality in the United States. The National Park Service, through shared leadership with local, state and federal entities, as well as interested individuals and organizations, will: promote programs and partnerships to commemorate, preserve sites and other resources with and educate the public about the historical significance of the UGRR."
Carol Allen, director for the library and the Hays-Heighe House, said the purpose of the "Faces of Freedom" initiative carried out at Harford Community College in the spring 2014 was "to use a local exhibition and a series of educational programs to inspire learning and community engagement about freedom, slavery and emancipation by relating stories of individual enslaved persons who freed themselves by running away, individuals who helped freedom seekers and individuals who worked to abolish slavery."
One of the goals of the initiative was to provide a foundation for continuing dialogue (after the completion of the project) about the impact of slavery and emancipation on current culture and individual and group identities within the Upper Chesapeake region.
"We believe that the inclusion of the Hays-Heighe House in the Network to Freedom and the story of Sam Archer's brave escape from bondage will promote this continued discussion. In fact, several local churches have carried out such discussions since last spring," Allen said.
Annette Haggray, vice president for academic affairs at Harford Community College, said that "educational programs promoting cultural diversity, such as the 'Faces of Freedom' project, are intended to create an environment in which all students feel welcome, supported and able to achieve their academic and vocational goals. We believe that stories from the past, such as that of Sam Archer, that portray the strength and dignity of the human spirit and the determination to succeed despite overwhelming obstacles can inspire us to meet today's challenges with equal strength and determination."
The Hays-Heighe House at Harford Community College is a dynamic educational facility and public history site that showcases elements of Harford County's diverse social and cultural history through exhibits, inclusive programming and strategic partnerships. Its mission is to promote lifelong learning, community engagement, critical thinking and historical and cultural understanding within the context of local, national and global issues.