The crossroads community of Willow Grove has been linked to the Underground Railroad through Harriet Tubman. In an interview with Professor Wilbur Siebert in 1897, Tubman listed this and other landscapes that were of importance to her in her missions. She called it “Will’ Grove,” confusing her interviewer and researchers until the late 20th century. It should be noted that the entire mile-long corridor was referred to as Willow Grove, a section of Route 10 connecting the white community of the west with the free Black community in the east.
Willow Grove is also the birthplace of Samuel D. Burris (1813–1859), an educated, free Black blacksmith and “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. In 1845, Burris aided the Hawkins family in their escape from enslavers in Caroline County, Maryland. He escorted them to Camden, a diverse town, and to the home of the Quaker Ezekiel Jenkins, who gave Burris a letter of introduction to sympathetic Quakers near Middletown, John Hunn, John Alston (Hunn’s cousin) and Daniel Corbit). This would mark Hunn’s first involvement in the Underground Railroad and would lead to a long and dedicated career helping freedom seekers and newly free people. This encounter would also lead to highly publicized legal actions against Hunn and another fellow Quaker abolitionist, Thomas Garrett of Wilmington, in 1848 (see New Castle Court House).
Burris was arrested in 1847, accused of attempting to entice an enslaved person to escape. From his jail cell in Dover, he wrote impassioned letters to friends chronicling his ordeal. Burris was heavily fined by the Delaware court and served a prison term. Fellow abolitionists and agents paid his unusually heavy fines and he was released. Burris and his family relocated to San Francisco, California, where he continued to support the abolitionist cause in the east.