John Forsyth and his brother William were known smugglers in their youth while they resided in Canada. It should be little surprise then that William continued to smuggle for the remainder of his life.
What was he smuggling though?
This is William's home, known as Bertie Hall. It sits on the river's edge across from Buffalo, New York. It was here that people like Harriet Tubman led hundreds of freed slaves across the boarder and into Canada. A tunnel beneath the house connects the cellar to a secret entrance at the River.
Harriet Tubman is just one of many guides that led people here. She traveled from Maryland, not far from the birthplace of John and William Forsyth; taking a similar route that their parents did many years before.
Along the way she and the people that she was leading to freedom had to stop, rest and hide.
One of the places that they hid was at the then Former Forsyth-Warren Tavern. Its former keeper, Ezra was now a traveling preacher with the Methodist Church and Mary, wife of a renowned smuggler, probably retained some her late husband's skills in the trade. The both of them, along with the rest of the Warren and Forsyth Families, made Warren's Corners a safe place on the Underground Railroad.
Southern bloodhounds and slave catchers are abroad! Our remarkably quiet neighborhood has this day been thrown into great excitement from the appearance and suspicious deportment of some strangers. Charles Brown, a colored man, who has resided in our midst more than two years, and who has won the respect of all who made his acquaintance, was at an early hour this morning, rather surprised by the appearance of his master's nephew from Kentucky. Two gentlemen had been making strange maneuvers in the neighborhood by the residence of Brown on the Lockport and Warren Plankroad, going towards Lockport. They stopped nearly in front of Mr. David Carlton's then wheeled around and drove up the lane to Brown's house. One of them went back to Mr. Carlton's and inquired for Mr. Mighells (on whos farm Brown lives): the other remained in the carriage looking directly through the door of Brown's house, watching apparently for someone. The one in quest of Mr. Mighells pretended to want to rent his farm for the ensuing year. Brown saw him, recognized him. It was the nephew of his old master! Brown fled to the woods with the avowed intentions of crossing Niagara River. We have not heard from him yet to-night, but we hope that he has kept clear of the river, as all the crossings are undoubtedly watched. It probably was the plan of the hunters to start him from his place and trap him there. But we know that others are on the alert, and that the fugitive will not be captured without a struggle.
Lockport Journal: Warren's Corners, Niagara Co., June 20, 1854
Charles returned to Warren's Corners some time later and resumed his well respected work as a cabinet maker with his wife Martha.
The Forsyth-Warren Tavern has several hidden rooms behind its walls but the one that family stories say was used as a hiding place for the Underground Railroad can be found behind the walls of the second floor. There is no access to it aside from a narrow crawlspace above the Tavern's front porch and is hardly even noticeable from Mary's residence on the second floor. The only tell-tale sign of the room's existence is the ceiling height on the northern wall of the second floor against that of its southern wall.
On your next visit to the second floor of the Tavern, take a look at this wall and imagine for a moment the life of a runway slave as they hid behind it and waited for a safe chance to flee to the waiting home of William Forsyth on the other side of the boarder.