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Making Freedom

The Underground Railroad and the Politics of Slavery

R. J. M. Blackett

Publication Year: 2013

The 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, which mandated action to aid in the recovery of runaway slaves and denied fugitives legal rights if they were apprehended, quickly became a focal point in the debate over the future of slavery and the nature of the union. In Making Freedom, R. J. M. Blackett uses the experiences of escaped slaves and those who aided them to explore the inner workings of the Underground Railroad and the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, while shedding light on the political effects of slave escape in southern states, border states, and the North.
Blackett highlights the lives of those who escaped, the impact of the fugitive slave cases, and the extent to which slaves planning to escape were aided by free blacks, fellow slaves, and outsiders who went south to entice them to escape. Using these stories of particular individuals, moments, and communities, Blackett shows how slave flight shaped national politics as the South witnessed slavery beginning to collapse and the North experienced a threat to its freedom.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Series: The Steven and Janice Brose Lectures in the Civil War Era


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

Many years ago, while working on a study of the role African Americans played in the transatlantic abolitionist movement, I ran across William and Ellen Craft, former slaves who were enormously popular with British audiences. Following up their story, I discovered that they had escaped from slavery in Macon, Georgia, over the 1848 Christmas holidays. ...

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pp. 1-6

Over the last few years, there has been reawakened interest in the operations of the Underground Railroad (UGRR), an interest that has risen to levels not seen since the 1890s, when the children of those involved in aiding slaves escape sought to preserve (and some would say glorify) the memory of their parents ...

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1. Making Their Way to Freedom

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pp. 7-31

“I find myself in a Position to address you a few lines and I hope that they may find you in as good health as I am myself in.” There is nothing unconventional about this opening salutation except that it was written by a slave to his master soon after he had escaped. ...

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2. The Workings of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law

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pp. 32-67

In August, as Congress put the finishing touches on the Fugitive Slave Law, which, in the eyes of the South, was the political fulcrum on which the entire 1850 Compromise turned, eight slaves from Clarke County in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley arrived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, followed closely by their owners and slave catchers. ...

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3. Taking Leave: Fugitive Slaves and the Politics of Slavery

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pp. 68-89

On April 14, 1860, almost one year to the day before the outbreak of the Civil War, Nathan James, a free black, and Alfred Savage, a slave drayman, took a large pine box to the Adams Express Company office in Nashville, Tennessee, and arranged to have it shipped to Hannah Johnson—very likely a fictitious person—in Cincinnati, Ohio c/o Levi Coffin. ...

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Conclusion: Counternarratives

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pp. 90-102

In May 1858, William Connelly, a thirty-year-old former reporter for the Cincinnati Commercial announced that he would reveal the workings of the UGRR. It was a startling declaration, the sort of news opponents of the largely secret organization had been seeking for years. ...


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pp. 103-116


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pp. 117-122

E-ISBN-13: 9781469611792
E-ISBN-10: 1469611791
Print-ISBN-13: 9781469608778
Print-ISBN-10: 1469608774

Page Count: 136
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: The Steven and Janice Brose Lectures in the Civil War Era
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OCLC Number: 858861358
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Making Freedom