UGRR - Events



Pre-Civil War America witnessed countless historic events that either advanced or restricted the abolitionist cause. These defining moments reflect the spirit of the antebellum times. This section of the website highlights watershed events, both leading up to and during the American Civil War.

Page 4 of 4

Browse Resources

The Great Postal Campaign

The members of American Anti-Slavery Society hoped that their Great Postal Campaign would plant seeds of antislavery but it created a frenzy of anti-abolitionist activity. By July 1835, the American Anti-Slavery Society had mailed about 175,000 pieces of antislavery literature to the South, infuriating southern slave owners. A North Carolina mob conducted a mock lynching in protest, rumors spread that southerners were planning to assassinate the society’s leaders and President Andrew Jackson condemned the group and urged Congress to ban antislavery literature from U.S. mail.

The Nelson Hackett Case

Nelson Hackett stole a horse, saddle, overcoat, and watch from his owner, Alfred Wallace, and escaped from Arkansas to settle in Upper Canada. Wallace soon discovered Hackett’s location and had him arrested and jailed in Sandwich, Ontario and later Detroit, Michigan. Under the charge of larceny, Hackett was extradited back to Wallace’s Arkansas plantation, where he was beaten and sold into Texas. The case upset Canadian and American abolitionists and soon influenced the decision to add Article 10 to the Webster-Ashburton Treaty that limited the extradition on criminals.

The Pearl Escape Attempt

Not all runaway slaves tried to make their way north overland. Captain Edward Sayres leased the schooner Pearl intending to transport coal to Pennsylvania. When he could not find work, Sayres partnered with a man named Daniel Drayton to help 76 men, women and children escape slavery in Washington D.C. On April 13, 1848, the schooner set sail down the Potomac River but strong headwinds prohibited them from getting far. A group of slave owners and catchers caught up to the Pearl and overtook everyone on board. Many of the enslaved men and women were sold south and Sayres and Drayton were tried and found guilty.

The Rescue of Shadrach Minkins

In May 1850, Frederick “Shadrach” Minkins fled slavery in Virginia and settled in Boston, Massachusetts where he joined Twelfth Baptist Church. John Debree, his former owner, followed him to Boston and provided U.S. Deputy Marshal Patrick Riley with an affidavit to arrest Shadrach. Boston’s black community provided legal representation for Shadrach and many white abolitionists attending the hearing. At the end of the hearing, black abolitionists captured Shadrach and smuggled him to Cambridge. Slave owners and abolitionists turned his rescue into a national political issue.

War of 1812

The Detroit River region was a critical strategic locale for the War of 1812 between the U.S. and the British. In Detroit, Governor William Hull mustered a black militia composed of thirty-six black men, some of whom were former slaves who had fled their Canadian owners. Though Detroit’s black militia was never used in battle, its presence helped in the rapid demise of slavery on either side of the Detroit River. Black sailors were critical for Admiral Perry’s victory over the British fleet in the Battle of Lake Erie. Nationally, free blacks and fugitive slaves fought in many battles, most notably General Andrew Jackson’s black regiments who were crucial for the U.S. victory in the Battle of New Orleans. After the War of 1812, returning black soldiers spread the word about Canada as a legally safe place for African Americans seeking freedom.


© 2012 Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. All rights reserved. 315 East Warren Avenue, Detroit, MI 48201 | (313) 494-5800 |

This program was funded by the U.S. Department of Education Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural Program.