Rachel HARRIS, at one time a slave, lived many years in this borough [West Chester], and occupied a small house by herself on West Miner Street, where Dr. Thomas Ingram's house now stands. She was ever lively and cheerful, and her clear, strong, musical voice, as she sat in her doorway in the evenings and sang, was heard by all in that part of the town. She was employed by as many families as she could serve to do their weekly washing and ironing, and in housecleaning times her services were always in demand.
A large reward had been offered for her, and a man in West Chester learning this, and having a more selfish love for money than a regard for her liberty, informed her master where she was living. He came, engaged a constable to go with him, proceeded to her house, arrested her, and took her before Judge Thomas S. Bell, and proved his property. While the examination was going on in the judge's office, then located at the southeast corner of Church and Miner Streets, she asked permission to step out into the back-yard, which was granted, the officer accompanying her. The moment she entered the yard she ran to the board fence surrounding it, about seven feet high, and, as if assisted by an Unseen Hand, scaled it with the agility of a cat, and fled. The constable had not time to seize her, for she left him in the quickness of a flash; nor could he with his best efforts climb that fence to pursue her. Rachel sped out the alley, up High Street to Samuel Auge's hat-store, down an alley and through the hat-shop, over a vat of boiling liquid, frightening the men as though an apparition or a comet had suddenly darted among them, out through an alley back of Dr. Worthington's stable, and into the kitchen of John T. Worthington's house, where Caleb E. Chambers' leather-store is now situated. Rushing up to Mrs. Worthington she threw her arms around her. "For God's sake, take me in, save me, my master if after me!" cried the poor affrighted woman. "Oh, I guess not," said Mrs. Worthington, trying to soothe her. "He is! he is! they had me, but I got away from them. Oh, hide me somewhere quickly, do!"
Her emotions and piteous appeal convinced Mrs. Worthington that she was
actually pursued, and immediately she took her up to the garret, hid her in
a cubby-hole, fastened the door and returned. Shortly after her husband
came home to dinner, the family took their seats around the table, and no
sign was manifest that anything unusual had occurred.
The constable, exasperated at her successful escape, and mortified at his
discomfiture, went back into the office and told his tale. Bewildered and
amazed at such an instantaneous flight, they knew not for a moment what to
do. Gathering their senses again, they determined upon an immediate and
vigorous search. Hearing in the afternoon that something like a phantom
had passed through "Sammy" Auge's shop that day, they went thither
immediately, examined the alley and Dr. Worthington's stables, and passed
by John T. Worthington's house without calling. The Beneficent Hand that
guided her to this place still threw the protecting mantle around her, and
it did not enter the minds of her pursuers to make inquiries here; but
meeting John on the street, they asked if he had seen or heard anything of
her. He told them he had not. His wife had fortunately revealed
to him. Rachel had washed for Mrs. Worthington for many years, and was
beloved by her as a faithful, honest woman; and now in her distress she
could return the measure of faithfulness. The colored woman had frequently
said she would rather be cut to pieces than be returned to slavery.
In the afternoon Mrs. Worthington informed Samuel M. Painter of the case,
and asked him to send his carriage in the evening for her, and to bring a
man's hat, overcoat, and boots, which was done; and, dressed in male
attire, she stepped into the carriage and was driven to John Vickers', who
immediately forwarded her on the direct route to Canada. She afterwards
wrote to Hannah Jefferis and others of her friends in West Chester stating
that she arrived there safely, and was happy and contented.
The slave-master and constable continued their hunt in West Chester for
two days, and then abandoned it.
For the part Mrs. Worthington took in this escape her friends for a long
time humorously called her "the little Abolitionist."