In the story of the Underground Railroad, Black women don’t always get the credit they deserve. In Cincinnati, there was at one time a house at 46 Race Street, which was home to at least three Black women active in Underground Railroad work: Mary Liverpool, Elizabeth Liverpool, and Sarah Fossett.
The background is this: in 1831 two Black men named James and John Liverpool, originally from Virginia, paid $1,300 to purchase a lot with a brick building on the east side of Race Street, between Front and Second Streets. The lot was 29’-6” wide and 95’ or 100’ deep. At some point, the lot was partitioned between the two men, and there were two buildings side-by-side, each three stories tall. The address became 46 & 48 Race Street.
The Liverpool family would live here for the next fifty years. In 1885, the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette reported that “The Liverpool family are probably among the best known and oldest citizens of color in this city.” John Liverpool quickly established himself as one of the leaders of Cincinnati’s African American community. He worked as a barber, but he was also a schoolteacher, and he was on the first board of directors of the Colored Orphans Asylum (COA).
By June 1837, John Liverpool was part of a vigilance committee formed to discourage “Sabbath-breaking, gambling, drinking, and lewdness.” Such committees were also, frequently, involved in Underground Railroad work. The committee in Cincinnati in 1837 had nine members, including known Underground Railroad figures John Hatfield, Joseph Fowler, and Owen T. B. Nickens.
James Liverpool (whose exact relationship to John Liverpool is not clear) died on July, 31, 1848, at the age of 76. Somewhere around this time, a woman named Frances Liverpool, apparently James’ widow, came into ownership of half of the Race Street property.
In the years leading up to the Civil War, Frances Liverpool lived at 46 Race Street with her daughters Elizabeth and Mary. Sometime prior to the census of 1860, Sarah Fossett and her husband Peter Farley Fossett also moved in and would live there for more than twenty years. Frances Liverpool swore out a will in 1863 naming her four children, including Elizabeth and Mary, and leaving them the house at 46 Race Street. Frances Liverpool died in July 1868.
Mary Liverpool died in 1881. The Cincinnati Commercial reported that she had “resided in the city for over fifty years” and that “In the time of slavery her hands ministered to the escaping bondsmen and her heart poured forth her fervent prayers for the liberation of the oppressed.”
Mary’s sister Elizabeth “Betsy” Liverpool survived her. It was later reported of Elizabeth that “During the ante-bellum times she assisted many slaves to freedom with the others in the Underground Railway.”
And when Sarah Fossett died, her obituary in the Cincinnati Post was headlined, “Woman of the Underground Railroad Dead.”
After the death of Mary Liverpool in 1881, the household changed rapidly. By 1882, Sarah and Peter Fossett had moved to Stone Street, taking an elderly Elizabeth Liverpool with them. In 1883, the houses at 46 and 48 Race Street were simultaneously offered for sale, described as “two 3-story bricks, 8 rooms each.”
Elizabeth Liverpool, who never married, lived with the Fossett family on Stone Street for the rest of her life. She died in 1899. No one knew for sure exactly how old she was, but she was widely believed to be over 100. Her death certificate gives her age as 105.