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The Bloodgood House

~by Fred Milton~

The Underground Railroad and White Savior Complex

Hello everyone, and welcome to my section of the tour. The Underground Railroad can be best understood as a decentralized, interconnecting web of safehouses that fugitive slaves would use to escape north to freedom. The conditions these runaway slaves would face were brutal, and the safe houses operated as a means of making their journey north safer. That being said, those who hid slaves faced extreme risks in doing so, especially after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, after which those who were caught harboring runaway slaves would be faced with severe legal punishment.[1]

            With this historical context in mind, here, at 326 South Cayuga Street, we have what historians believe to be the oldest site of the Underground Railroad in all of Ithaca. Because the original house was torn down, we cannot know for sure what it may have looked like, beyond that it probably conformed to the rustic aesthetic of early houses built in the Ithaca area of the Finger Lakes region. This was the house of Francis Bloodgood, who had bought the house and much of the surrounding area from Simeon DeWitt, one of the founders of Ithaca. The area Bloodgood purchased was then divided and became known as the Bloodgood Tract. Suffice it to say, Francis Bloodgood was very much a prominent member of the Ithaca community, selling a total of 42 properties between 1824 and 1841. In the area of what is known today as the 300 block of South Cayuga Street, it is believed that Bloodgood would hide fugitives on his property.

            There were several newspaper articles written about Bloodgood, including an article by Sue Rochman in The Ithaca Times in 1996 as well as an article in The Ithaca Journal written by Franklin Crawford in 1997. Gretchen Sachse—a historian gathering information on the Underground Railroad in Ithaca in 1997—was quoted in Crawford’s article as referring to the Bloodgood House as “possibly the oldest Underground Railroad site” in Ithaca.[2]

            However, we must take a closer look at the truth behind the claim that this place is a legitimate site of the Underground Railroad. It can be difficult to prove whether any given site was a station of the Underground Railroad, as illegal activity of this nature was often left unrecorded. Using the Wellman Scale can help, as it is a useful metric for assessing the legitimacy of any given Underground Railroad site. On the Wellman Scale, the Bloodgood House is a Level Three, which means that there is a solid chance that the story is true due to sufficient circumstantial evidence. There were both abolitionist sympathies and an African American background associated with this site via Titus Brum. Titus Brum was a black freeman who Francis Bloodgood eventually sold this house to, and he had an affiliation with members of the Ithaca community involved in the Underground Railroad. The house itself contained potential hiding spaces where it is believed fugitive slaves were hidden, and this site is also mentioned multiple times by sources documenting the Underground Railroad in Ithaca. The only obstacle keeping this site from being ranked higher is a lack of evidence of actual direct involvement in the Underground Railroad itself. In order to rank it as a Level Four on the Wellman Scale, we would have to find clearer evidence of Underground Railroad activity. The site, therefore, remains closer to a Level Three than a Level Four.

            As I previously mentioned, the house was sold to black freeman Titus Brum in 1824, who it’s believed continued to have the house serve as a station of the Underground Railroad. This is not without evidence, as when the building was torn down more than a century later, there was a trap door found over a baking oven where it is believed fugitive slaves would rest. This would not have been suspicious, since Titus Brum’s wife, Eunice Brum was a prominent cook and baker in town, gaining a reputation for baking high-end wedding cakes. The need for such a well-concealed hiding space makes sense considering Titus Brum and his family would be prime suspects in any search for escaped slaves because of Titus’s own status as a black freeman. Further evidence of the Brum’s connection to the Underground Railroad can be found with Titus’s daughter, Mary, who married George Johnson, who was himself heavily involved with the Underground Railroad.

            Although Francis Bloodgood is the name most associated with this site and its Underground Railroad activities, it is important to note that there is no evidence to suggest that the site’s affiliation with the Underground Railroad could not instead be due entirely to Titus Brum as opposed to Bloodgood. In fact, all available evidence connecting this site to the Underground Railroad is more closely connected to the Brum family than to Bloodgood himself.

            Considering how the evidence of this site being a station in the Underground Railroad is more connected to Titus Brum, it is bizarre that Francis Bloodgood is always the one that gets brought up with this site. In fact, it was originally believed that Francis Bloodgood was a black freeman himself, as was claimed by Rochman in her 1996 article,[3] but this was a misconception. In truth, Bloodgood was not a black freeman, but merely sold the house to Titus Brum, an actual black freeman, which is where the confusion originated. The fact that Bloodgood’s name and legacy has overshadowed Brum’s is indicative of how our biases may have contributed to the whitewashing of this particular site, by overstating the contributions of Bloodgood and understating those of Brum. Moreover, if it is true that this site’s connection to the Underground Railroad is primarily due to Titus Brum as opposed to Francis Bloodgood, it would be yet another example of how the white savior complex permeates our historical analysis of the Underground Railroad and obfuscates the truth behind our understanding of such.

            For context, the white savior complex is a sentiment emerging from white people in positions of privilege attempting to help or “save” people of color and is the belief that they as white people have a level of knowledge or competence that people of color lack and that they, therefore, know better than them. This sentiment can take many forms, including a real-world attitude that affects the way white people perceive and interact with racial liberation movements, as well as a prevalent trope in media. An infamous example of the white savior trope in media can be seen with the movie The Help, in which a white journalist living during the Civil Rights Movement speaks up regarding the unfair treatment black maids face. The movie has been lambasted by critics for overemphasizing the journalist’s contributions whilst simultaneously ignoring the role of Black activists. Producer Manny Fidel went as far as to say that the movie “What makes ‘The Help’ worse than your typical white savior film is the implication that the main character is being brave by merely socializing with Black people.”[4] The notion of the white savior is fundamentally one for white people who only want to view black liberation through the narrow lens of their own internalized racial superiority and self-actualization. In layman’s terms, the white savior complex is a biased political framing white people engage in where they infantilize underprivileged ethnic groups and make alleviating racial oppression all about themselves rather than about the people they want to help. Essentially, it’s a way for privileged groups to fight against racism whilst reinforcing their own white supremacist framing of the world.

            At first, it might sound surprising that there was and still remains a prevailing white savior complex that permeates our understanding of the Underground Railroad’s history. However, not only has this been a prominent view of the Underground Railroad, but it has also been the primary perception of the abolitionist movement and anti-slavery action as a whole. The prevalence of this sentiment is exemplified by a piece of abolitionist art called “America, or, The Emancipation of Slaves.”

Author’s photo

This primary source is considered incredibly rare with only two other copies in existence, one of which can be found at Cornell University, bringing greater richness and depth to the history of the anti-slavery movement that can be found in Ithaca. The piece itself dates back to the 1860s, with the purpose behind such pieces being to push for abolitionist agendas through the medium of art, mythologizing slaves and glorifying abolitionists in the process.[5]

            This source depicts a multitude of vignettes showing many depictions of the cruelties black slaves were made to suffer, from being sold at auction, to tirelessly being worked in the fields, and being whipped by their owners. The final of these vignettes shows the image of a Union officer holding out the Emancipation Proclamation to an angry plantation owner, all the while a group of slaves observe the scene and beg for their freedom. Through these images, we can see that this piece is meant to glorify abolitionists, emphasizing the suffering of black people and thus the nobility of their cause to free them.[6]

            However, despite the work’s anti-slavery message, this piece is an overt example of the prevalence of the white savior complex within the anti-slavery movement. The presence of this sentiment in this source is made clear by the final part of this piece which we have yet to talk about. At the center of the piece is a white woman in a flowing white dress with angel wings and a halo of golden stars, holding broken chains in her right hand and ivy plants in her left, and with black slaves groveling below her. One slave holds her child up to the white angel, while another kisses her feet. Another slave, his hands still in chains, wears nothing but a piece of leopard skin, clearly meant as an indicator of the black man’s comparatively uncivilized nature. It is believed that this central figure is meant to be an allegory for America as an emancipator of the slaves, though this allegory relies on the notion of America carrying out the will of abolitionists, meaning that this figure could also be an allegory for the abolitionists themselves. With this imagery in mind, it is not hard to see how this source is indicative of the white savior complex as it existed in the abolitionist movement.

            But what remains unclear is whether this depiction of the white savior is meant to appeal to the white supremacy of the broader American public, or if it is instead reflective of the white supremacist worldview through which many abolitionists viewed the anti-slavery cause. In truth, the manifestation of the white savior trope in this piece is most likely due to a mixture of both. Regardless of the intent behind such depictions, however, the imagery and the biases behind it remain clear and shine a light on the often-overlooked fact that racism took hold even in the anti-slavery movement, and colors our understanding of the history of abolitionist activity. As it pertains to our understanding of the Underground Railroad, the white savior trope has contributed to a narrative surrounding the Underground Railroad’s history where enslaved African Americans were helpless victims of slavery incapable of taking action to fight for their own freedom, and instead were only able to see freedom through the benevolence of noble whites who took up the mantle of both resisting and fighting to end slavery. In reality, much of the success of the Underground Railroad was only made possible by the bold actions taken by those being oppressed, such as with the famous Harriet Tubman, who herself has a connection to Ithaca, as is covered in another part of this tour.[7] To teach about the Underground Railroad through a narrative saturated with this white savior trope is a means of analyzing and explaining the history of the Underground Railroad without challenging America’s persisting white supremacist racial hierarchy, and is why this biased framing persists in how we teach history to this day.

            It is important that this source is preserved and studied, as it encapsulates the sentiments of the abolitionist movement at the time and how said abolitionists went about spreading their anti-slavery message to broader American society. The presence of the white savior trope within this piece gives even greater reason for its preservation and teaching, as doing so allows for people to recognize the nuance in the history of the American anti-slavery movement, which is paramount to gaining a greater understanding of the movement’s history. However, this source leaves us with some questions, mainly how both the broader African American community and the anti-slavery movement responded to such depictions? To answer this, one would need to look at a broader range of historical information in order to gain a more complete overview of how different communities reacted to the use of this trope in service of an anti-slavery message.

            Regardless of the answer to this question, it is clear that our current understanding of the Underground Railroad is still one that is inseparable from the legacy of this narrative of the white savior. Through the knowledge of how this narrative seeps into our view of our history, we can help foster a more fair and inclusive understanding of the Underground Railroad and of anti-slavery action in America as a whole. Moreover, we as a community can contribute to the rectification of this issue by celebrating the minorities who led the charge on this issue, thus giving them the credit they’re due. With all of this in mind, we have a greater understanding of why Francis Bloodgood, the influential, white landowner, is the name people remember being associated with this Underground Railroad site, as opposed to Titus Brum, the black freeman who has the most connection to this site’s historical evidence connecting it to the Underground Railroad. But what do you think, is Titus Brum the primary contributor to this site who’s been whitewashed by history, or is Bloodgood the one we have to thank for this site?


Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Fugitive Slave Acts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, July 23, 2020.

Crawford, Franklin. “Ithaca’s safe houses.” The Ithaca Journal, August 11, 1997.

“I will be heard!” Abolitionism in America. Cornell University Library, 2003. https://rmc.library.

Jigsaw Puzzle. “America, or, The Emancipation of Slaves.” Gift of Rita Guerlac. Ca. 1860s. In Cornell University Library. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.

Renfro, Kim. “’The Help’ is trending on Netflix, and it’s the worst type of ‘white savior’ movie Americans could watch right now.” Insider, June 8, 2020. lp-is-a-terrible-movie-to-watch-about-racism-2020-6.

Rochman, Sue. “Life on the Run: Myths and legends persist about the Underground Railroad connections.” The Ithaca Times, 1996.

Steecker, Matt. “Oldest standing church in upstate N.Y. college town was stop on the Underground Railroad.” The Ithaca Journal, October 29. 2019. https://www.ithacajourna

[1] Encyclopaedia Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Fugitive Slave Acts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, July 23, 2020.

[2] Franklin Crawford, “Ithaca’s safe houses,” The Ithaca Journal, August 11, 1997, 4.

[3] Sue Rochman, “Life on the Run: Myths and legends persist about the Underground Railroad connections,” The Ithaca Times, 1996.

[4] Kim Renfro, “’The Help’ is trending on Netflix, and it’s the worst type of ‘white savior’ movie Americans could watch right now,” Insider, June 8, 2020, h-about-racism-2020-6.

[5] “I will be heard!” Abolitionism in America, Cornell University Library, 2003. abolitionism/spread_word.htm.

[6] Jigsaw Puzzle, “America, or, The Emancipation of Slaves,” gift of Rita Guerlac, ca. 1860s, in Cornell University Library, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.

[7] Matt Steecker, “Oldest standing church in upstate N.Y. college town was stop on the Underground Railroad,” The Ithaca Journal, October 29. 2019, 10/29/harriet-tubman-underground-railroad-oldest-church-ithaca-stop-runaway-slaves/3907677002/.