Secret Burial Sites Found in Fort Erie

February 27, 2013 Updated Feb 27, 2013 at 8:30 PM EDT

By Ed Reilly

February 27, 2013 Updated Feb 27, 2013 at 8:30 PM EDT

FORT ERIE, ONTARIO (WKBW) During Black History Month in the United States, students are taught how Western New York played a major role in helping slaves escape to Canada as part of the Underground Railroad.

What happened to those slaves when they got to Canada is a question that historians are now trying to answer.

"Even today you can't find any information really about them," commented Doryne Thompson Levere.

Levere, and her daughter Darlene, are helping the Fort Erie Historical Museum do research about the former-slaves who settled in this part of Ontario.

"Most black history was spread by word-of-mouth," said Darlene.

The reason so little is known about runaway slaves in Canada is because bounty hunters were on the hunt for them, and that forced slave families to live secretly in rural areas where they couldn't be found.

"They didn't talk to a lot of people because they were afraid someone would tell," added Darlene Levere.

Bounty hunters working for plantation owners could collect payment for bringing back a live slave or even a deceased body.

That resulted in many former slave families burying their dead in unmarked secret locations.

"They would dig a hole, put you in there, cover you up, make sure there are no markings and that the ground wasn't disturbed or anything," explained Darlene.

So far, a handful of secret grave sites have been located around Fort Erie, and it is believed there could be many others.

"Where are all the bodies? Who knows?" added Darlene Levere.

The two women are now trying to gather information from the long-hidden cemeteries with hopes of tracing family trees for escaped slave families - including their own.

"Its a day-by-day vigil. You get little pieces here, and little pieces there," added Doryne Thompson Levere: "And you kind of keep putting them together until you have a story."