PEOPLE

UGRR - People

PEOPLE

Overview

Both ordinary and extraordinary people made history during antebellum America. Key historical figures helped shape the course of action through their writing, decision-making, oratory, military involvement, actions, and everyday living. This section of the website highlights key individuals who contributed to the abolitionist cause and clandestine Underground Railroad activity.

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Anthony Burns

Prior to living in Boston, Anthony Burns was enslaved in Sufford County, Virginia by a merchant named Charles F. Suttle. Not much is known about Burns’s childhood but he is most known for being captured by slave catchers in Boston, Massachusetts. His case sparked controversy throughout the nation, as it was one of the first high profile fugitive slave cases after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

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Arnold Gragston

For four years, Arnold Gragston took nearly three hundred slaves across the Ohio River to Ripley, Ohio. Himself enslaved in Kentucky, Gragston decided to remain in bondage so he could help others reach freedom. Those seeking freedom would meet Gragston on the banks of the river and he would take them to Reverend John Rankin’s home just across the river. Rankin would clothe and feed them and help continue their journey north. After four years helping as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, Gragston and his wife Sallie took their freedom and relocated to Detroit.

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Charles Remond

Like his younger sister Sarah, Charles Lenox was inspired to fight for freedom by their parents John and Nancy Remond. Charles traveled as a promoter of the abolitionist paper, The Liberator. In 1833 he became an officer of the New England Anti-Slavery Society. He traveled to London for the World Anti-Slavery Convention and toured the British Isles lecturing about abolition. When he returned to the United States he began working with Frederick Douglass. The two would continue to work together intermittently through the Civil War.

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David Ruggles

David Ruggles was born free on March 15, 1810 in Lyme, Connecticut and became one of the most influential and controversial black abolitionists in the United States. He moved to New York in 1827 and almost immediately became involved in the abolitionist movement. He owned and operated the first black bookstore in the nation and sheltered fugitives in his home. In 1835, he and several like-minded black abolitionists formed the New York Committee of Vigilance. He wrote hundreds of articles, letters and pamphlets on issues facing New York’s black community and events in the abolitionist movement. He resigned from the Committee of Vigilance in 1839 following a dispute and moved to Northampton, Massachusetts in 1841.

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David Walker

David Walker incited frenzy in the South when he published and circulated his Appeal in Four Articles in 1830. The Appeal called on enslaved blacks to violently overthrow their oppressors. Walker was born a free man in North Carolina but witnessed the horrors of slavery. He moved to Boston in 1825 and wrote the first edition of his Appeal in 1829.

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Elijah McCoy

Elijah McCoy’s parents were runaway slaves who escaped to Canada on the Underground Railroad. Born in Colchester, Ontario in 1843, McCoy went to Edinburgh, Scotland to study mechanical engineering when he was 15. McCoy revolutionized the locomotive industry in 1872 when he invented his steam engine lubricator, which oiled the moving parts of a steam engine while it was in transit.

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Elijah P. Lovejoy

Elijah P. Lovejoy was murdered on November 7, 1837, for reporting on abolitionist activity in his newspaper the Alton Observer. Born in Maine on November 9, 1802, Lovejoy graduated from Waterville College (now Colby) in 1826 and moved to St. Louis to teach. In 1833, after attending Princeton Theological Seminary, Lovejoy began publishing the St. Louis Observer. Anti-abolitionists ran him out of St. Louis, causing Lovejoy to settle and revamp his paper in Alton, Illinois. Though very unwelcomed, he continued to speak out against slavery. In 1837, a mob set fire to his printing press and shot him. The event turned him into a martyr in abolitionist circles across the nation.

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Elizabeth and Thomas Chandler

Elizabeth Margaret and her brother Thomas were born in Centre, Delaware. After being orphaned in 1816, the siblings lived with their grandmother. Elizabeth attended Quaker schools until she was 12 or 13, and began writing for Benjamin Lundy’s Genius of Universal Emancipation. When their grandmother died, they moved in with their Aunt Ruth who moved the family to Michigan in 1830. In 1832, Elizabeth helped start the Logan Anti-Slavery Society and continued editing for Lundy’s paper. In 1836, Thomas became one of the founding members of the Michigan Anti-Slavery Society. After the death of his sister and aunt, Thomas hosted lecturing abolitionists at his family’s Michigan homestead.

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Erastus Hussey

Erastus Hussey was an active Quaker abolitionist throughout Michigan. In addition to helping fugitive slaves, he was a member of Michigan’s Anti-Slavery Society and, as a supporter of the Liberty Party, believed that the U.S. Constitution provided a legal framework for ending slavery. He became a state senator in 1854. During his time as a senator, Hussey worked to pass Public Act 162, more commonly known as the Michigan Personal Freedoms Act. The measure established protections for accused fugitive slaves who were pursued by slave catchers in the state and penalized offenders who falsely accused free people of being slaves.

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Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass is perhaps the most well-known abolitionist of the anti-slavery movement. Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland around 1818. He learned to read in Baltimore and after being hired out to “slave-breaker” Edward Covey, fled to New York in 1833. He settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts and began his long career as an anti-slavery activist, lecturer and conductor on the Underground Railroad. He published his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Written by Himself in 1845 and began publishing his anti-slavery newspaper, the North Star in 1847.

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