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Thursday, March 10, 2016

George H. Frost, 1796-1872: Cherry Creek Pioneer Resident and Underground Railroad (UGRR) Conductor

By Sharon Howe Sweeting, Innkeeper
Cherry Creek Inn

Several reliable sources describe the character and activities of George H. Frost who came to Cherry Creek in 1823 and in his log home at the corner of Southside Avenue and Union Street in the Village ran a hotel/tavern, a post office, and shoe shop. In several respected local histories, Frost is portrayed as an outstanding, upright citizen, a Baptist and Abolitionist.

But is some of this just local lore, I have wondered, or can it be documented? My partner-in-research, Joanne Mansfield, and I set out to prove such claims by these various authors using official records such as census reports, contemporary church proceedings and military files. In the process we discovered several conundrums.

George H. Frost was born in 1796 in Dartmouth, Bristol County, Mass., on the Rhode Island border. According to Charles Shults in Historical and Biographical Sketch of Cherry Creek, Chautauqua County, New York (1900), George H. Frost learned about the Revolutionary War struggles for the equal rights of all men from his parents. He personally knew many veterans of the War.

“Into the very fiber of his existence was born and bred an intense love of justice and of country,” according to Shults. However, we were unable to locate official documentation regarding his parents.

He next appears in 1814 at 17 or 18 years of age as a private in Capt. Joseph Lord’s Company NY Militia, from Nassau, Rensselaer County, as a substitute for Theron Webster. On March 22, 1820, he married Zerviah Sherman in Nassau. (War of 1812 Pension Application Files) However, Shults reported that the marriage took place in Bennington in Genesee County. Both Andrew Young in A History of Chautauqua County, New York (1875) and Shults find them in the spring of 1823 in the log home in Cherry Creek which served as their residence, hotel/tavern, shoe shop and post office. In 1830 the first Town meeting was held at the G.H. Frost hotel; he also served as a town supervisor and Justice of the Peace. (Shults)

Local Baptist Church records confirm that he served as a deacon of the church whose early congregation figured prominently in the underground railroad. This connection might have been influenced by Fredonia Baptist Deacon Eber M. Pettit (1802-1885) who authored “Sketches in the History of the Underground Railroad” (1879) although Cherry Creek was not specifically mentioned as were the nearby towns of Leon and Ellington.

Frost was outspoken in his opposition to slavery, denouncing the Atherton (US Senator D-NH) Gag proposing to ban “Congress from discussing petitions which mentioned bringing slavery to an end” (Wikipedia). He also opposed the Lecompton Usurpation which protected the rights of slave holders and especially the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law passed by Congress to provide for the return of escaped slaves. (Shults)

In 1838 or 1839 we find the family removed to a farm 6 miles NW of the village in what is now Farrington Hollow, formerly Vermont Hollow. The home appears on the 1854 Map of Chautauqua County and on the 1867 and 1881 Atlases of Chautauqua County. Away from the prying eyes in the Village perhaps might make it easier to hide slaves.

Obed Edson in History of Chautauqua County (1894) wrote that “After 1845, George H. Frost of Dartmouth, in Bristol County Massachusetts and his wife Zerviah Sherman Frost, turned their home in Cherry Creek, Chautauqua County NY into an Underground Railroad waystation. The Frosts pioneered the Cherry Creek Settlement in 1823 and opened a tavern and inn. In addition to farming, storekeeping and operating the Post office, they supported local efforts to rescue slaves and earned respect for greatheartedness.” Shults described it thus: “and for a long time [he] was actively engaged in the services of the ‘Underground Railroad’, so called, and many a fugitive slave was assisted by him on his secret journey in his effort to escape bondage to Canada. In his house he sheltered and fed alike the traveler and the fugitive slave.”

Another conundrum: Fugitive slaves were usually hidden in out buildings and barns. Were Frost’s invited into the house? According to a family who lived in the house at 7165 Route 85 in the 1980s, the signs of hidden passages and hiding places still remained. Also, for an illegal, secret organization such as the U.G.R.R., why were G.H. Frost’s activities described in such detail?

Whatever the truth is, we do know his devotion to his moral principles and belief of equality for all men lasted a lifetime. He remained a Lincoln Republican to the end and retired back to the village around 1867 where he lived in a house across the street from his original log home. He died there in 1872. The 1881 Atlas of Chautauqua County lists the property as belonging to Mrs. Frost. He rests from his labors in cemetery plot 113 up the hill behind his house. Also in cemetery plot 113 lies a Ruth Harris who died on Feb. 5,1865. His mother perhaps?

Additional source: Phelan, Helene C. And Why Not Everyman? An account of Slavery, the Underground Railroad, and the Road to Freedom in New York’s Southern Tier. 1987

About the author: Sharon Howe Sweeting is a CCHS trustee and owner of the George N. Frost House, which is now known as the Cherry Creek Inn.

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