1.22.2016

Edmonson Sisters

slaves in washington dc

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.

10.15.2015

Underground Railroad in New Jersey

Saving Slaves from Bondage in the South

map of stations on the Underground Railroad
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.

9.25.2015

Emeline Hawkins

Slave Who Escaped from Bondage in Maryland


imprisoned for trying to escape from slavery
Image: Exhibit at New Castle Court House Museum
Simulates Sam and Emeline Hawkins in jail in New Castle, Delaware
This exhibit Emeline Hawkins: Her Journey from Slavery to Freedom on the Underground Railroad chronicles the compelling story of Hawkins and her family. They were arrested in the slave state of Delaware while attempting to reach the free state of Pennsylvania.

In 1845, three noted abolitionists guided Emeline Hawkins and her family on their journey along the Underground Railroad. Conductor Samuel Burris led the Hawkins family out of Maryland and into Delaware. Station Masters Thomas Garrett and John Hunn fed and sheltered the family, and aided their escape through the state of Delaware and on to the free state of Pennsylvania.

8.29.2015

Underground Railroad in Rhode Island

Runaways Escaped to Freedom in Rhode Island

Station on the Underground Railroad
Image: Elizabeth Buffum Chace House
A station on the Underground Railroad
Valley Falls, Rhode Island

The Underground Railroad (UGRR) was a secret system of helping fugitive slaves escape to free states or Canada by hiding them in a succession of private homes by day and moving them farther north by night. In the 1830s, the small state of Rhode Island became increasingly involved in radical abolitionism. They were inspired by William Lloyd Garrison's newspaper, the Liberator, and his call for immediate emancipation. During this period, twenty-five anti-slavery societies were formed in the state.

7.20.2015

Maritime Underground Railroad

Slaves Escaped the South on Northern Vessels

The Maritime Underground Railroad was a network of people who helped slaves travel by vessel from the southern United States to freedom in the North and Canada. Slaves escaped aboard the thousands of Southern ships that did business in the North and sailed regularly up and down the Atlantic coast. A clandestine society of slaves directed fugitives to the ships and black crewmen secreted them on board.

Image: Underground Railroad Routes on Land and Sea
Credit: National Geographic

6.23.2015

Underground Railroad on Long Island

Quakers Ran the Underground Railroad

In the seventeenth century, to the Englishmen who first settled Long Island, slavery was an accepted way of providing the labor force needed for agriculture and a comfortable life. After the arrival of the Quakers in the eighteenth century, attitudes were changed and the Underground Railroad began guiding slaves to freedom.

map of Nassau County UGRR stations
Image: Map of Long Island towns on the Underground Railroad

Long Island
Stretching east-northeast from New York Harbor into the Atlantic Ocean, Long Island comprises four counties: Kings County (Brooklyn) and Queens County (Queens) in the west, then Nassau County and Suffolk County to the east. The Island is 118 miles long from east to west and about 20 miles at its widest point, the largest island in the continental United States. It is separated from the mainland on the north by Long Island Sound and bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the south and east.

5.13.2015

Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania

slaves escaping on the Underground Railroad

Pennsylvania Conductors Led Slaves to Freedom
Abolition of slavery was the great moral issue of the nineteenth century, especially after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which allowed owners to capture their slaves in free northern states and return them to the South. The Underground Railroad (UGRR) was a loose grouping of people who risked home and safety to help runaways escape bondage. The penalties for their actions were severe. If caught, a stationmaster on the UGRR could be jailed and fined $20,000, a huge sum at that time.

The Constitution of the United States had a fugitive slave clause that Congress implemented with the first Fugitive Slave Law in 1793, placing a fine on anyone rescuing, harboring, or hindering the arrest of a fugitive. This law was rendered ineffective by a decision of the United States Supreme Court in 1842 but Congress passed a stronger Fugitive Slave Law as part of the Compromise of 1850, in which federal authorities were required to hunt runaway slaves and return them to their masters.

4.15.2015

Underground Railroad in New York

UGRR Routes and Stations in New York State

New York stop on the Underground Railroad
Cyrus Gates Farmstead
The Cyrus Gates Farmstead stands in the town of Maine in Broome County, New York. Construction of the house began in 1848; the Greek Revival style was considered extravagant for a farmhouse.

Image: Cyrus Gates House
Maine, New York
Important stop along the UGRR

Also at the farmstead are two barns, a tenant farmer's house, several outbuildings, a blacksmith's shop, a four seat outhouse. Cyrus Gates was a cartographer and mapmaker for the State of New York.

Cyrus and Arabella Gates were outspoken abolitionists. From 1848 until slavery officially ended in 1865, the Gates Farmstead was a station on the UGRR. While it was illegal to serve as stationmaster or conductor on the UGRR, many people did not consider it unethical. After arguing with Cyrus over "breaking the law," Cyrus' brother William Gates, an ardent Copperhead, moved out of the family home.

3.12.2015

Underground Railroad in Ohio

Ohio was the Promised Land

According to Ohio State University history professor Wilbur Siebert, Ohio had the most estensive Underground Railroad network of any other state, with an estimated 3000 miles of routes used by runaways. There were more that twenty points of entry on the Ohio River, and as many as ten exit points along Lake Erie.

monument to the Underground Railroad
Image: Underground Railroad Monument
Created by Cameron Armstrong at Oberlin College

Terminology
The Underground Railroad did not run on tracks, nor was it under ground. The word underground was used because helping escaped slaves was illegal and must be kept secret. The word railroad spawned other terms to describe people and places associated with the practice of assisting runaway slaves:
• Slaves are cargo or passengers.
• Hiding places or safe houses are stations.
• Guides leading the fugitives to the next stop are conductors.
• People helping the escaping slaves, but not guiding them, are agents.
• People providing financial resources for these activities are stockholders.

2.13.2015

Underground Railroad in Delaware

Delaware: A Short Path to Freedom

Delaware, the northernmost slave state, may be small but it played a big part in the lives of men and women fleeing from slavery. The city of Wilmington was the last station on the Underground Railroad (UGRR). With the slave state of Maryland on one side and the free states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey on the other, Delaware offered a direct route to freedom.

map showing the routes taken by slaves on the Underground Railroad
Image: Map of the United States showing routes traveled by fugitive slaves

Running the Underground Railroad
The system of aiding fugitives was established in the early 1800s, but the term Underground Railroad was not used to describe the network of secret routes and safe houses used by slaves to escape to the North until the early 1830s. Aiding them in their flight were a string of abolitionists who helped them along their way, even though such actions violated state and federal laws.

1.23.2015

Pearl Incident

map of the Pearl Incident

Mission to Rescue Slaves in Washington, DC

Pearl was the name of a sixty-five foot Chesapeake Bay Schooner that was chartered by free African Americans for $100 to rescue 77 people from slavery in Washington, DC in 1848. The Pearl Incident was the largest recorded nonviolent escape attempt by slaves in United States history.

Image: Map of the Voyage

Backstory
Like the nearby states of Maryland and Virginia, Washington, DC had a slave market and was part of the slave trade; because it was connected to the Chesapeake Bay by the Potomac River, slaves were shipped or marched overland through this city. Slaves worked as domestic servants and artisans for their owners, or were hired out to work for others. Free blacks and whites were active in the city, trying to abolish slavery and the slave trade. In 1848 free blacks outnumbered slaves in the District of Columbia by three to one.

11.11.2014

Antebellum Slavery in Virginia

The first Africans in Virginia brought to Jamestown in 1619 were quickly purchased on the same terms as English indentured servants: after seven years of labor, they were free. By 1625, there were said to be twenty-three Africans serving in Virginia; twenty-five years later, there were 300.

women and children waiting to be sold at the slave market
Image: Slaves Waiting For Sale in the Richmond Slave Market
Oil Painting by Eyre Crowe

Slavery in Colonial Virginia
Blacks were not automatically slaves in early Virginia. Some held property, married and raised families outside the institution of slavery. Before 1660, most slaves in Virginia lived on plantations with two or three others, and most slaves were male. Interactions with whites were common and restrictions based exclusively on race were not rigid.

11.03.2014

Catherine Coffin

Conductor on the Underground Railroad

Quakers Levi and Catherine Coffin helped thousands of fugitive slaves to safety in Newport, Indiana and Cincinnati, Ohio through the Undergound Railroad, a network of more than 3,000 homes and other stations that helped runaway slaves travel from southern states to freedom in northern states and Canada.

abolitionist who fed and clothed runaway slavesleader of the Underground Railroad and savior of slaves
Image: Catherine Coffin and her husband Levi

On October 28, 1824, Levi Coffin married Catherine White, sister of his brother-in-law and long-time friend. The Coffins and the Whites were Quakers and abolitionists who opposed slavery. Catherine's family is believed to have been involved in helping runaway slaves, and it is likely she met Levi while taking part in these activities. Catherine gave birth to Jesse, the first of their six children, in 1825.

3.18.2014

Women Slaves in Colonial Virginia

African American woman in front of slave cabin

Women Slaves in the Colony of Virginia

Slavery is a civil relationship in which one person has absolute power over the fortune, life and liberty of another. Chattel slavery further defines that relationship with the added dimension of ownership as personal property (chattel), in which the chattel can be bought and sold as if they were commodities. Chattel slavery was legal in the American colonies from the mid-17th century to the end of the Civil War in 1865.

A slave is a human being who is forced to obey the commands of others, and to work for nothing. A chattel slave is an enslaved person who is owned forever and whose children and children's children are automatically enslaved as well. A chattel slave has no rights, and is no longer viewed as a human being, but as an object used to accomplish a task, like any other tool.

10.31.2013

Angelina Grimke

public speaker on behalf of emancipation and women's rights

Abolitionist and Women's Rights Activist

The first woman to address a state legislature (Massachusetts in 1836), Angelina Grimke fearlessly traveled across New York and New England, speaking out against slavery at a time when women were scarcely seen and never heard in the public arena. In order to lecture about this sensitive issue she had to first fight for her right, as a woman, to participate in the abolionist movement.

Born and raised in South Carolina, Grimke grew to detest the institution of slavery at an early age. Unable to influence her family to free their slaves, Angelina joined her older sister Sarah in Philadelphia, where they became Quakers, and soon thereafter began to fight for emancipation.

2.18.2013

Sojourner Truth

image of an itinerant Methodist preacher who became a leader in 19th century social reforms movements
Sojourner Truth was an African American abolitionist and women's rights activist who escaped from slavery in New York in 1826. She began as an itinerant preacher and became a nationally known advocate for equality and justice, sponsoring a variety of social reforms, including women's property rights, universal suffrage and prison reform.

She was born Isabella Baumfree in 1797 on the estate of Colonel Johannes Hardenbergh in Swartekill, a Dutch settlement in upstate New York. She was one of 13 children born to Elizabeth and James Baumfree, who were slaves on the Hardenbergh plantation. Both the Baumfrees and the Hardenberghs spoke Dutch in their daily lives. After the colonel's death, ownership of the Baumfrees passed to his son Charles.

8.03.2012

Jane Johnson

North Carolina slave who was freed in Philadelphia

Slave Freed by Abolitionists in Philadelphia

Jane Johnson (1820-1872) was a slave whose escape to freedom was the focus of precedent-setting legal cases in 19th century Philadelphia. Safeguarded by Philadelphia abolitionists after her escape in 1855, Johnson later settled in Boston. There she married, and sheltered other fugitives slaves. Her son Isaiah served in the American Civil War with the 55th Massachusetts Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops.

Jane Johnson is believed to have been born into slavery as Jane Williams in or near Washington, DC, the daughter of John and Jane Williams; the exact year of her birth is unknown. Virtually nothing is known of her early life, which she presumably spent on Virginia plantations; it is believed that she lived for part of that time in Caroline County and had several owners.

8.01.2011

Lord Dunmore's Promise of Freedom

Lord Dunmore, Royal Governor of Virginia during the American Revolution

Slavery and the American Revolution

In early 1775, Patriots in the Virginia Colony began to organize militia companies and seek out military supplies (weapons, ammunition, and gunpowder) to arm and equip them for the conflict that seemed to be inevitable. The Virginia Conventions were organized by the Patriots after Royal Governor Lord Dunmore (John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore) dissolved the House of Burgesses in an effort to retain Royal control of the colony.

After Patrick Henry gave his "Give me Liberty, or give me Death!" speech on March 23, 1775, at the Second Virginia Convention, Dunmore became concerned. Among the delegates to the convention were future U.S. Presidents Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. The conventions would serve as a revolutionary provisional government until the establishment of the independent Commonwealth of Virginia in 1776.

4.01.2011

Sally Hemings

Thomas Jefferson slave who gave birth to his children

Thomas Jefferson's Slave and Mistress

Sally Hemings was the daughter of Elizabeth Hemings and, allegedly, John Wayles, Thomas Jefferson's father-in-law - Elizabeth Hemings and her children did live at John Wayles' plantation during his lifetime. In 18th-century Virginia, children born to slave mothers inherited their legal status, therefore Elizabeth and Sally Hemings and all their children, were legally slaves, even when the fathers were their white masters.

If Sally Hemings' father was John Wayles, she would have been the half-sister of Thomas Jefferson's wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson. After Wayles died in 1773, Martha inherited the Hemings family; when Martha died in 1782, she left the Hemings family to Thomas Jefferson.

2.11.2011

Elizabeth Freeman

Massachusetts slave who sued for her freedom in court and won

Black History Month: Massachusetts Slave

Mum Bett was among the first black slaves in Massachusetts awarded freedom in court under the 1780 constitution, and a decision that slavery was illegal. Her county court case, decided in August 1781, was cited as a precedent in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court appeal review of the Quock Walker case. When the state Supreme Court upheld Walker's freedom under the constitution, it was considered to have informally ended slavery in Massachusetts.

When Elizabeth Freeman was nearly 70 years old, Susan Ridley Sedgwick painted a miniature portrait of her in watercolor on ivory. Sedgwick was the young wife of Theodore Sedgwick, Jr., whose father had represented Freeman in her claim for freedom from slavery under the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780.