NEWBURYPORT — In a city where residents celebrate the past whenever opportunity arises, there's little question that local history will be a big part of this week's Yankee Homecoming.
The summer festival, after all, is a celebration of everything Newburyport.
About a dozen people turned out yesterday morning to take a heritage walking tour with local historian Ghlee Woodworth to learn about the African-Americans in the Newburyport 1800s and the city's abolitionist movement. The tours are ongoing all week during Yankee Homecoming.
Throughout the 11/2-hour tour, the group learned about key figures who called the Port City home in the 1800s, from the wealthy real estate mogul Moses Brown and his Brown Square property, to Dr. Luther Dimmick, who served as a reverend at North Church for 41 years.
She told of the time Dimmick invited William Lloyd Garrison to speak to the congregation about slavery. The townspeople didn't want him to speak for a second day and ran him out of town. He returned to Boston where he began working on the first issue of The Liberator, Woodworth says.
She explained the city's role in the Underground Railroad, touching on the subject of the "underground tunnels" around the city. Little is known of their purpose, Woodworth said. Were they used to help slaves escape or for rum runs, or to store items following the two devastating fires in the town?
"We just don't know," Woodworth said.
During the walk that began at Brown Square and traveled down Pleasant Street to the Unitarian Church and over to the library, Temple Street, State Street, Harris Street and Titcomb Street, Woodworth discussed a range of the city's more colorful characters and important figures in the anti-slavery movement.
William Ashby would hold picnics on the banks of the Merrimack River, inviting family, friends and supporters of the antislavery movement: Wendell Phillips, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Garrison and John Greenleaf Whittier.