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The Underground Railroad in Connecticut

Horatio T. T. Strother

Publication Year: 2011

Here are the engrossing facts about one of the least-known movements in Connecticut's history--the rise, organization, and operations of the Underground Railroad, over which fugitive slaves from the South found their way to freedom. Drawing his data from published sources and, perhaps more importantly, from the still-existing oral tradition of descendants of Underground agents, Horatio Strother tells the detailed story in this book, originally published in 1962. He traces the routes from entry points such as New Haven harbor and the New York state line, through important crossroads like Brooklyn and Farmington. Revealing the dangers fugitives faced, the author also identifies the high-minded lawbreakers who operated the system--farmers and merchants, local officials and judges, at least one United States Senator, and many dedicated ministers of the Gospel. These narratives are set against the larger background of the development of slavery and abolitionism in America-- conversations still relevant today.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-2

IT HAS been said that we shall never know the events of the past as they actually occurred. And it is true that the historian, writing from a position more or less distant in time and viewpoint from the happenings that concern him, can hardly know his materials as his more or less distant...

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pp. 3-9

NEWS traveled slowly in 1831, but few newspapers in the United States failed to report with all possible speed that a bloody slave insurrection, led by Nat Turner, had broken out in Southampton County, Virginia. This dramatic attack against the South's "peculiar institution"...

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1. Blazing the Trail

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pp. 10-24

THERE had always been runaway bondsmen in Connecticut. In 1643, just four years after the first slave set foot on the colony's soil, the Articles of Confederation between the United Colonies of New England—Massachusetts, New Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven—provided...

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2. Thorny Is the Pathway

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pp. 25-42

IN BOSTON, on the first day of the year 1831, that same abolitionist issued a forthright call to action in the antislavery cause. His name was William Lloyd Garrison; and in the initial number of his newspaper The Liberator he stated his position in words that no man could fail to...

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3. Fugitives in Flight

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pp. 43-64

AMONG the first runaways from the South to reach Connecticut was William Grimes. He came into the state on his own two feet, with little guidance from others, for at this early date—just after 1800—the Underground Railroad as even a quasi-organized entity was still years in...

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4. The Captives of the Amistad

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pp. 65-81

THERE wasn't any doubt about Antonio, the mulatto cabin boy. He was a slave, property of the late Captain Ramon Ferrer of the schooner Amistad, and he was perfectly willing to return to bondage in Cuba. But what of the forty-odd Negroes, Cinque and Grabbo, Banna and...

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5. A House Divided

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pp. 82-92

THE AFFAIR of the Amistad Negroes unquestionably stimulated Connecticut's traditional Yankee devotion to independence, and it aroused widespread sympathy for those who were held as slaves, whether in Africa or in the American South. All over the state, people who believed...

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6. "This Pretended Law We Cannot Obey"

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pp. 93-106

THE SPLIT between North and South became wider and more serious as the number of runaway slaves became ever greater. It has been estimated that in the decade of the 1840's over a thousand fugitives annually escaped from what abolitionists liked to call "the land of whips and...

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7. New Haven, Gateway from the Sea

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pp. 107-118

THE Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 gave the Underground Railroad its greatest impetus; but the lay of the land, together with the disposition of cities and villages, determined the main routes into and through Connecticut. Unlike Pennsylvania and the states along the north bank...

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8. West Connecticut Trunk Lines

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pp. 119-127

WHILE some fugitives entered Connecticut from the sea, at New Haven or another port, the majority came by overland routes. Pennsylvania, whose southern border was the Mason-Dixon line, received thousands of runaways from the contiguous states of Virginia, Maryland,...

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9. East Connecticut Locals

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pp. 128-136

TO A SIGNIFICANT extent, the Underground Railroad lines of East Connecticut received their passengers from neighboring Rhode Island. The people of that small state had had their own experiences with slavery, by which some of them had prospered. Merchants of Newport had...

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10. Valley Line to Hartford

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pp. 137-149

BESIDES the vessels that brought fleeing slaves to landings at New Haven, New London, and other saltwater ports, not a few river steamers, transporting with their cargo those same stowaways, sailed up the Connecticut River. In its great river, flowing 400 twisting miles...

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11. Middletown, a Way Station

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pp. 150-162

IN THE decade before the Civil War, Middletown presented a peaceful scene of horse-drawn vehicles rolling along the tree-lined streets. It was not unusual to see a Negro hackman quietly speaking to his team as they climbed the slope toward Wesleyan University's brownstone...

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12. Farmington, the Grand Central Station

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pp. 163-174

FARMINGTON, in the year 1696, was a self-contained farming village whose citizens produced virtually all the things they consumed, minded their own business, and elected their own leaders. One whom they honored with public office was Frank Freeman, a Negro and a man of...

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13. The Road in Full Swing

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pp. 175-188

THE Compromise of 1850 had been intended to allay the sectional conflict over the extension of slavery to the territories; and for a time, despite Northern opposition to the Fugitive Slave Law that was one of its provisions, it seemed to succeed in its purpose. The Missouri...


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pp. G1-G8


1. Narrative of Mr. Nehemiah Caulkins of Waterford, Connecticut

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pp. 191-209

2. Underground Railroad Agents in Connecticut

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pp. 210-211

3. Slaves and Free Negroes in Connecticut, 1639–1860

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p. 212-212

4. Antislavery Societies in Connecticut, 1837

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pp. 213-215

5. Slaves in Connecticut, 1830

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pp. 216-218


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pp. 219-238


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pp. 239-252


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pp. 253-262

E-ISBN-13: 9780819572967
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819530257

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2011