Boston Daily Globe August 9, 1908
Up From Slavery.
Washington Mills Now a Boston Janitor.
How He Ran Away as a Boy and Reached Yankee Lines.
Washington Mills, born into slavery in Murfreesboro, N.C. in 1848, was destined to pass through many and varied experiences before he attained his present pleasant position as janitor and engineer at the American Unitarian association building in Boston.
As a boy his life was uneventful until Noverber, 1862, when the rumor spread that the "Yanks" were near by in Winston, N.C. A little company of 12 slaves, two of whom besides young Mills were boys, decided to run away to the Yankee lines.
So one dark Sunday night they met and set out upon this desparate venture. They travelled through a dense wood until 2 o'clock in the morning, when they reached the house of the mother of one of the men. Here they rested a short time, then went on to the banks of the Clowan river.
They waited a week, hoping that a gunboat would pass which would put them across. None came, however, but at sunset, just a week from the time they started, they procured a boat which landed them on the other side.
They travelled on and on through the deserted confederate country, till they were halted by a Yankee picket. Their leader stepped forward and replied "Friends."
The little band was at last within the northern lines, and under the protection of the Federal government, and then, for the first time in his life, Mr Mills says, he "breathed free air."
This camp which the company had reached was at Trenton, N.C., and they were placed upon an old schooner which in a week's time landed them in Newburn, N.C. There they separated and little "Washy" with another boy set out to look for employment, which they soon found with the 43rd Mass regiment; "Washy" working for the cook, and the other boy for an officer.
In the middle of December, the regiment went on a short expedition, and engaged in several skirmishes. The little colored boys tramped in advance of the regiment. One day, as they were on the march, little Washington Mills happened to walk beside Adjt James Whitney, of Boston, who was riding in front.
"Hello! Where are you going?" Mr Whitney asked the boy.
"With a regiment," he replied.
Mr Whitney said he had promised his mother to bring her a little black boy from the south, and suggested to the boy that he enter service and go home with him. It was satisfactorily arranged, and young Washington Mills entered upon the fourth great change in his life.
When the regiment was ordered home at train for Baltimore was boarded. All the cars were flat except one, a box car, into which "Washy" climbed, and fell asleep. When he awoke he was amazed to find that the train was wholly made up of box cars. Upon inquiry he learned that his car had been switched off. Within a few hours he arrived in Washington, friendless and alone.
He tried to board a train, but was knocked off.
At last he climbed onto a train which he was told was bound for Philadelphia. He had no idea of either the route or the destination, but as luck would have it, he rode into Baltimore. At that time the railroad passed through the main streets of the city, so the train was obliged to slow down. The boy, tired of the long ride, got off and ran beside the cars.
He happened to glance across the street, and there stood Adjt Whitney, who had given him up for dead.
The completes the story of the more exciting adventures which Mr Mills has passed through.
He reached Boston on July 21, 1863, and went to live in Adjt Whitney's home. Miss Whitney, his benefactor's sister, undertook to teach him the "three Rs," as he did not know A from B. He learned quickly, and attended the public schools for two years and a half.
He remained with Mr Whitney for four and one-half years.
He had become a young man and began to feel the natural desire to earn a salary. A Mr Weld offered him work, and he worked for him for 10 months.
Mr Weld then offered to find him a chance to learn the carpenter's trade. Through the influence of Adjt Whitney's father, he was apprenticed to Jonas Finch, a carpenter. He learned the busines, married and settled in Jamaica Plain. He worked for Mr Finch for 20 years.
On December, 1887, he obtained the position of Janitor and engineer at the headquarters of the American Unitarian association, where he is at present pleasantly situated.
I took the following entries from the Boston directory of the time.
Sampson, Murdock, & Co.
Mills, Washington, carpenter, home Boylston av. near Porter, J. P.
Sampson & Murdock Co.
Mills, Washington janitor 25 Beacon home 18 Boylston av J P
Boylston avenue was the present section of Amory street between Boylston street and Green street. Eighteen Boylston avenue was a split two-family house just south of Porter street. It is no longer there.