Underground Railroad in Maryland

Underground Railroad in a Border State

Along with the earliest legal references to slavery in Maryland in the 17th century, there were attempts to control runaway slaves through legislation. Acts of self-emancipation made slaves “fugitives” according to the laws of the time. The abolitionist movement that began in the 1830s and its Underground Railroad focused the nation’s attention on slavery to a much greater degree than earlier attempts to end the institution.

Image: Kunta Kinte – Alex Haley Memorial
Annapolis, Maryland
Ed Dwight, sculptor
The inscription reads:

To commemorate the arrival in this harbor of Kunta Kinte, immortalized by Alex Haley in Roots, and all others who came to these shores in bondage and who by their toil, character and ceaseless struggle for freedom have helped to make these United States.

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Harriet Forten Purvis

Abolitionist and Suffragist

Harriet Forten Purvis was an African-American abolitionist and suffragist who helped establish the first women’s abolitionist group for blacks and whites, the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. She fought against segregation and for the right for blacks to vote after the Civil War.

Early Years
Harriet Davy Forten was born in 1810 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of wealthy African-American inventor and businessman James Forten and educator and abolitionist Charlotte Vandine Forten. Hers was the most well-known black family in the city, who, according to William Lloyd Garrison, “have few superiors in refinement, in moral worth, in all that makes the human character worthy of admiration and praise.”

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Elizabeth Buffum Chace

Abolitionist, Suffragist and Philanthropist

Elizabeth Buffum Chace was a tireless life-long activist in the Anti-Slavery, Women’s Rights, and Prison Reform movements of the mid-to-late 19th century. Following in the footsteps of her father, the first president of the New England Anti-Slavery Society, Chace helped found the Fall River Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1835.

Early Years
She was born Elizabeth Buffum in Smithfield, Rhode Island on December 9, 1806 to Arnold Buffum and Rebecca Gould Buffum, whose families were among the oldest in New England. Elizabeth grew up in a household of anti-slavery Quakers and she spent a year studying at the Friends’ Boarding School in Providence in 1822.

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Underground Railroad in New York City

Slaves Seeking a Place to Live Free

Image: Plymouth Church
Brooklyn, New York

Thousands of people escaped bondage on the path from slavery to freedom called the Underground Railroad (UGRR) that ran through New York City. Sometimes the ships in the harbor carried slaves who slipped ashore and filtered into the population of the largest city in the country. Several Brooklyn churches participated in the UGRR; Plymouth Church was called its Grand Central Depot.

Plymouth Church
The Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims was founded in 1847, and its first pastor was Congregationalist minister Henry Ward Beecher, brother of the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe. The Reverend Charles Ray, an African-American living in Manhattan and the founding editor of the Colored American newspaper, stated that he “regularly drop off fugitives at Henry Ward Beecher’s Plymouth Church in Brooklyn.” Beecher was quoted as saying:

I opened Plymouth Church, though you did not know it, to hide fugitives. I took them into my own home and fed them. I piloted them, and sent them toward the North Star, which to them was the Star of Bethlehem.

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Ann Carroll Fitzhugh Smith

Abolitionist and Women’s Rights Activist

Ann Carroll Fitzhugh Smith and her husband Gerrit Smith were wealthy activists and philanthropists who committed themselves to the movement to end slavery in 1835. They were prominent members of antislavery societies in New York State and on a national level.

Image: Gerrit and Ann Fitzhugh Smith Mansion
This house was a refuge for the many escaped slaves who received food and comfort on their journey to freedom on the Underground Railroad.

Early Years
Ann Carroll Fitzhugh was born January 11, 1805. Her father William Fitzhugh, a colonel in the Continental Army, built a home near Chewsville, Maryland which he called The Hive because of the many activities carried on by his twelve children and the work necessary to sustain life in the surrounding wilderness. Fitzhugh left Maryland for New York, where – along with Colonel Nathaniel Rochester and Charles Carroll – he purchased the “100-acre Tract” at the Genesee Falls that would become the city of Rochester.

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Underground Railroad at The Wayside

Safe House for Authors and Fugitive Slaves

The Wayside, a residence in Concord, Massachusetts, served as a safe house for fugitive slaves seeking freedom on the Underground Railroad in the mid-nineteenth century. It was also home to three American literary figures: Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Sidney.

Image: The Wayside

Underground Railroad at The Wayside
The Wayside is located on the same road upon which the British advanced and retreated on April 19, 1775 when the colonists began fighting for their liberty from Britain. One of the early occupants, Samuel Whitney, was a muster master for the Concord Minutemen. Whitney had fought bravely for American independence, but he also owned slaves, who yearned for liberty as much as their master. Henry David Thoreau wrote that one of Whitney’s slaves fled from the house and volunteered as a soldier in the Revolutionary War, thereby earning his freedom at the end of the war.

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Edmonson Sisters

Slave Girls Searching for Freedom

In the seventeenth century, all slave states passed laws declaring that the children of an enslaved mother inherited her legal status. Mary and Emily Edmonson were two of fourteen children who survived to adulthood, all of whom were born into slavery in Maryland. In the late 1840s they became icons in the abolitionist movement.

Image: Mary Edmonson (standing) and Emily Edmonson (seated), shortly after they were freed
Credit: Ipernity.com

Early Years
The Edmonson sisters were the daughters of Paul and Amelia Edmonson, a free black man and an enslaved woman. They were described as “two respectable young women of light complexion.” At the ages of 15 and 13, Mary (1832–1853) and Emily (1835–1895) were hired out to work as servants in two elite private homes in Washington DC; their wages were the sole income of Amelia’s mistress.

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Underground Railroad in Washington DC

Slaves Find Freedom in the Nation’s Capital

The Underground Railroad refers to the effort of enslaved African Americans to gain their freedom. Wherever slavery existed, there were efforts to escape. In the 1840s, a group of people came together to support the Underground Railroad in the District of Columbia. Despite the illegality of their actions, and with little regard for their own personal safety, people of all races, classes and genders participated in this widespread form of civil disobedience.

Image: Ann Marie Weems
Dressed as a male carriage driver, she successfully fled slavery in Rockville, Maryland via Washington DC in 1855. People of both races and various class backgrounds assisted in her escape, demonstrating the diversity of the underground railroad activists.

Ann Marie Weems
Ann Marie Weems was a slave to Charles Price, a slave trader in Rockville, Maryland. Weems had four older brothers, all of whom had been sold to the Deep South; she feared she would face the same fate. Her owners so feared that she would escape they made her sleep in their chamber. Weems was described as a “bright mulatto, well-grown, smart and good-looking” fifteen-year-old girl.

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Underground Railroad in New Jersey

Saving Slaves from Bondage in the South

Tens of thousands of fugitives from the slave states of Maryland, Virginia, and North and South Carolina found refuge in New Jersey. Most of them arrived here by crossing the Delaware River under the cover of darkness. Slaves and the courageous people who aided them on their journey risked their lives for freedom. Quaker Abigail Goodwin was one of the figures whose work was instrumental in the success of the Underground Railroad in New Jersey.

Image: Stations on the NJ UGRR

Backstory
New Jersey’s path to abolition for all of its citizens was a rocky one. In 1804 New Jersey passed its first abolition law, An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery. It freed all black children born on or after July 4, 1804, after serving an apprenticeship to their mother’s owner for 21 years for females and 25 years for males. A law passed by the state legislature in 1826 stated that fugitive slaves from other states who were residing or apprehended in New Jersey had to be returned to their owners.

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