front cover

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title page

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copyright

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Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

Like the Underground Railroad, this book has required support from many good people from varied backgrounds, North and South, some of whom have since passed away. In my case, the journey has taken eighteen years, with many twists and turns along the way. ...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-6

On August 9, 1932, several elderly African Americans stood at the corner of State and Second streets in downtown Troy, in upstate New York, eyeing the side of a stately old brick office building where a bronze plaque proclaimed: ...

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1. Genesis

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pp. 7-13

Like most other slaves, Charles would never know exactly when he had come into this world—a slave didn’t receive any birth certificate or celebrate his birthday—but indications are he was probably born about 1821. Slave mothers in that neck of Virginia weren’t permitted to divulge who had fathered their children, ...

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2. Revelation

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pp. 14-22

In October 1847 an event occurred that would transform Charles’s life and permanently alter his relationship with Blucher. Because Charles later regarded the incident and its aftermath as so important, and also because the episode reveals so much about the nature of slavery, it warrants being examined in some detail. ...

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3. Master and Slave Relations

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pp. 23-33

Although Charles’s orbit was limited to a small and sparsely populated geographical area that was governed by slavery’s rigid constraints, by the 1850s his changing world was full of paradoxes and complexities that complicated many traditional notions of omnipotent and despotic masters and hapless, subservient slaves. ...

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4. The Shakeup

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pp. 34-43

In May 1855 the world of Kitty and Charles became unmoored due to the death of Colonel Thom.1 A master’s death prompted apprehension and dread among his slaves because it meant that the departed person’s debts to society finally would have to be paid—something that could prove ruinous in a culture kept afloat by unpaid debts. ...

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5. Making the Break

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pp. 44-51

By that time in the late 1850s, the term “Underground Railroad” or “Underground Railway” had been used for several years in northern newspapers, plays, and books such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), to describe a cadre of intrepid individuals who participated in a conspiratorial network that tried to help fugitive slaves escape from bondage.1 ...

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6. The Escape

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pp. 52-58

Upon reaching Washington with their bona fide travel passes, Charles and Jim were supposed to meet with their wives, under the watchful eyes of the local authorities and some of their masters’ relatives. But they somehow gave their custodians the slip and vanished. ...

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7. Still in Philadelphia

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pp. 59-65

The long journey to Philadelphia always posed its hardships and worries. The discomfort they felt from being tossed on the waves while confined in the hold was bad enough, but they also had to fear getting caught. Many fugitives experienced twinges of guilt for having escaped. ...

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8. Farmed Out

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pp. 66-72

After their long journey from Philadelphia, Charles, Jim, and Perry set foot in Albany, located about four hundred and fifty miles north of Culpeper and midway between New York City and the Canadian border. The Albany office of the Underground Railroad was situated near roads that headed west ...

Illustrations

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9. Family Pays a Heavy Price

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pp. 73-77

Then Charles received the first communiqué about what had happened to the others since his escape. Upon hearing its sketchy but brutal contents, he learned that two weeks after his escape, Kitty was arrested in Washington on charges of living there as an emancipated colored person contrary to law. ...

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10. Meteors

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pp. 78-87

Early in the morning of August 11, 1859, the heavens unleashed a freakish explosion over Sand Lake. “About seven o’clock in the morning,” one observer wrote, “while the sky was perfectly cloudless, while hardly a breath of air was stirring, while not a single indication prevailed of a natural commotion of any sort whatever, ...

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11. Hooking Up

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pp. 88-95

Conducting correspondence through the U.S. mails was difficult and dangerous for a fugitive slave, even more so in the hysterical months following Harpers Ferry. Anything put down on paper could prove incriminating if it fell into the wrong hands, so any fugitive or fugitive’s correspondent had to be especially careful not to inadvertently divulge any secrets. ...

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12. Caught

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pp. 96-103

Five months after Brown’s hanging, Harpers Ferry continued to fan the flames between the abolitionist movement and the slave power, thereby putting more pressure on the federal government to crack down on the Underground Railroad and other radical abolitionists. ...

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13. Busting Out

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pp. 104-114

Meanwhile, one of Gilbert’s sons, thinking it strange that Charles had not returned from his errand, went next door from Holeur’s to the house on Division Street where the servant boarded to see if anyone there knew what had happened.1 Charles’s landlord and chief protector, William Henry, sensing that something was wrong, ...

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14. Rescue

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pp. 115-122

The distance across the Hudson River looked to be merely about two hundred yards, but it might have seemed that Charles was crossing the Jordan. To his back, his assailants and saviors continued to mark his progress with muffled curses and cheers, while in the front he looked west into the four o’clock sun ...

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15. Aftermath

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pp. 123-126

Right after the exciting events of April 27, 1860, as she was still recovering from her injuries sustained in the rescue, the black woman the slaves called “Moses” had continued on her way to Boston as planned to attend a series of meetings on abolitionism and women’s rights.1 ...

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16. The War Hits Home in Culpeper, 1861-65

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pp. 127-132

Less than a year after the Troy rescue, and four months after South Carolina’s secession, the real deadly fighting began. Soon, normally quiet little Culpeper found itself in the path of hurtling armies. Its environs became the scene of several bloody battles, among them Kelly’s Ford, Brandy Station, and Cedar Mountain. ...

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17. Moving On

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pp. 133-136

During most of the Civil War, Charles and his family continued to live in Troy, away from the carnage and upheaval of their ancestral land. Winna Ann and Lewis Burrell moved there to be with them.1 In 1863 Charles took new work as a porter for a local druggist, A. B. Knowlson, sometimes accompanied by his six-year-old son, John.2 ...

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18. The Search for Charles Nalle

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pp. 137-152

In 1993, I took my first research trip down to Culpeper, hoping to find some trace of Charles Nalle, the slave. Culpeper is a charming town of about 10,000 residents that recently was voted “one of the ten best small towns in America.” Before my initial arrival archaeologists had come upon more than two thousand dinosaur tracks ...

Appendix

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pp. 153-156

Notes

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pp. 157-204

Index

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pp. 205-214