Westbrook Mayor Michael Foley, center, thanks those involved in “preserving the history of Westbrook” at a ceremony last week to dedicate a plaque marking the 1800s site of an Underground Railroad safe house. Also pictured, from left, are Westbrook Historical Society President Michael Sanphy, historical society board member Deborah Shangraw, State Historian Earle Shettleworth Jr. and historical society member Phil Spiller. Robert Lowell / American Journal

Westbrook has honored a piece of its history and four men who risked their lives to help slaves escape to freedom on the Underground Railroad during the 1800s.

The Westbrook Historical Society and Discover Downtown Westbrook dedicated a plaque last week at the Westbrook Commons site of what was once a safe house for slaves fleeing the South for Canada.

Included on the plaque describing Westbrook’s role in the Underground Railroad are the names of the men involved in the network that provided transportation, safe houses and other assistance to slaves: merchant Sewell Brackett; real estate businessman Capt. Isaac Quinby, railroad agent John Brown and the Rev. Horace Bradbury, pastor of the Universalist Church.

The safe house in Westbrook was a 4½-story brick building that housed Brackett’s store, said historical society President Mike Sanphy. The building was razed during urban renewal in the 1970s.

“It’s a special place in Westbrook,” historical society member Phil Spiller said at the Aug. 11 dedication.

The Westbrook Woman’s Club placed a marker at the site in 2003, and that marker is now in the historical society’s museum.


The Underground Railroad rescues also involved boats and horse-drawn vehicles, Sanphy said, and in addition to connecting slaves to the next stop on their journey, those involved also provided food, clothing and medical assistance.

The four operatives in Westbrook were so secretive that even their families didn’t know about their Underground Railroad involvement. Brackett’s wife wondered why food was disappearing, Sanphy said.

“They did this for people they didn’t know, simply to save lives,” said Deborah Shangraw, a historical society board member, who organized the dedication event.

State historian Earle Shettleworth Jr. said at the dedication that Maine supported abolition and preservation of the union. The dedication of the plaque in Westbrook memorializes that struggle, he said.

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