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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George DeBaptiste

George DeBaptiste was born free in Fredericksburg, Virginia circa 1815 to free parents. He became a servant for a Southerner named Lomax Smith. After traveling the South with Smith, he married Lucinda Lee and moved to Madison, Indiana in 1838. There, DeBaptiste displayed active disgust at racially oppressive laws, and ended up before the Indiana Supreme Court for challenging a state law regarding free black migrants. His involvement in abolitionist activities led him to relocate his family to Detroit where he continued the fight for freedom with William Lambert and others. He was deeply involved in the U.S. Civil War and Reconstruction.

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Gerrit Smith

An affluent landowner and businessman, Gerrit Smith used his wealth to advance the cause of abolition. Smith was born into a wealthy landowning family on March 6, 1797 in Utica, Oneida County, New York. In the early 1830s, Smith was a nominal supporter of the American Colonization Society but soon became a strong proponent of abolition. In 1853 he became a member of Congress as a U.S. Representative on the Free-Soil ticket. Smith proved his dedication to radical abolition in his political process but also in the ways he used his wealth. In 1846 he started a community for free African Americans, providing upwards of 3,000 African Americans 50-acre plots of land in Franklin and Essex counties, near North Elba, in northern New York.

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Harriet Tubman

Born Araminta Ross in 1820, Harriet Tubman became one of the most legendary figures of the Underground Railroad. She fled slavery alone in 1849 but frequently returned to Maryland to rescue more than sixty enslaved men and women. Her actions agitated Maryland slave owners so much that they raised a $40,000 reward for her capture. After moving to Auburn, New York she became active in the abolitionist movement. During the Civil War she worked as a cook for contrabands and a spy for the Union Army.

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Henry Bibb

Born enslaved in 1815, Henry Bibb took his freedom when he ran away to Detroit in 1837. He returned to Kentucky to rescue his wife and daughter but was recaptured and sold further south. He escaped bondage in Louisiana but was unable to save his family and never saw them again. He returned to Detroit, becoming active in Detroit’s Anti-Slavery Society and the Colored Vigilance Committee and befriending William C. Monroe and William Lambert. He published a narrative of his life as a slave and moved to Canada in 1850 to ensure his safety. In 1851 he founded The Voice of the Fugitive abolitionist newspaper and died three years later at the age of 39.

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Henry Box Brown

After his wife was sold further south, Henry Brown decided to take his freedom by shipping himself in a crate from Richmond, Virginia to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A black carpenter built Brown a box, and an anti-slavery activist addressed the box to the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society. After 27 hours and 350 miles in the box, Brown arrived in Philadelphia. News of his miraculous journey traveled fast and Brown became an active abolitionist, touring New England to tell his story.

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Henry Highland Garnet

As a child, Henry Highland Garnet escaped slavery in Maryland with his family on the Underground Railroad. By 1825 the family was living in a predominately black neighborhood in New York City. Three years later, Maryland slave catchers attempted to recapture the family but were unsuccessful. After a mob tried to burn down the Noyes Academy, Garnet enrolled at the Oneida Institute and graduated in 1840. He helped found the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society and began working with the Liberty Party. He publically challenged Frederick Douglass on his position on moral suasion and traveled to Europe to spread his message. In 1881, he was appointed U.S. minister and consular to Liberia.

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Hiram Wilson

Hiram Wilson was born in 1803 in Ackworth, New Hampshire. He attended Lane Theological Seminary and participated in the legendary antislavery debates at the school. Like his classmate Theodore Weld, he transferred to Oberlin College when Lane’s administration repressed abolitionist attitudes at the institution. In 1836, he moved to Toronto to spread the American Anti-Slavery Society’s abolitionist message. He remained in Canada until his death in 1864.

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James Caesar Anthony Smith

James Caesar Anthony Smith was a freeman who lived in Richmond, Virginia. He and his white abolitionist employer sealed Henry “Box” Brown in a crate and shipped him to Philadelphia. After fleeing Virginia, Smith used the famous escape to earn a living. He and Brown partnered to perform songs about the escape. In 1850 Smith was almost captured by slave catchers, prompting the duo to relocate to Liverpool, England where they continued to perform and, at least once, reenact the internationally famous escape.

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James M. McKim

James Miller McKim was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on November 14, 1810. In the summer of 1832, McKim reportedly came across William Lloyd Garrison’s “Thoughts on Colonization,” which convinced him that he should become an abolitionist. In 1836, Garrison and Theodore Weld chose him to tour the free states and “spread the gospel of emancipation.” After the tour, McKim moved to Philadelphia where he began working as the Publishing Agent of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society and assumed editorial duties of the Pennsylvania Freeman. He un-boxed fugitive Henry “Box” Brown when Brown shipped himself to Philadelphia in a box to escape slavery. McKim remained active in abolitionism through the Civil War.

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Jermain Wesley Loguen

Jermain Wesley Loguen was born Jarm Logue in Davidson County, Tennessee in 1813 to an enslaved mother named Jane and a white slave owner named David Logue. After being sold with his mother, Loguen fled slavery via Kentucky and Southern Indiana. He became a famed orator, African Methodist Episcopal Zion clergyman, and activist in New York’s antislavery movement. Loguen enrolled at the Oneida Institute in 1839 and decided to start a school dedicated to African American children nearby. By 1842 Loguen was ordained as an A.M.E. minister and began working as an itinerant preacher with support from the American Missionary Association. Originally a moral suasionist, he became more militant in the late 1850s.

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

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