Upon being captured by slave catchers, Margaret Garner murdered her children to prevent them from returning to slavery. With her husband, four children, and in-laws, Garner had fled the Kentucky plantation on which they were enslaved. The family was discovered after they arrived in Cincinnati. Robert Garner fired a shot at the slave catchers, but he missed. Desperate, Margaret grabbed a knife and cut her daughter’s throat. The entire family was arrested and sold down river. The Garner family tragedy has inspired several works of art, from Thomas Satterwhite Noble’s 1867 work “The Modern Medea” to Toni Morrison’s haunting masterpiece Beloved.
Martin Delany was born in Charlestown, Virginia in 1812 to Pati, a freeborn seamstress and Samuel, a plantation laborer. Pati fled Virginia for Pennsylvania with her children and purchased her husband’s freedom in 1823. When he was 19, Delany attended the Lewis Woodson’s African Educational Society School in Pittsburgh. In 1846 he founded the Mystery, an abolitionist newspaper, leaving it to serve as editor of Frederick Douglass’s North Star. After the passing of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, Delany became an active supporter of emigration. He wrote several works on race and traveled to Africa to set up an American colony for former slaves.
Mary Ann Shadd was born to free parents Abraham and Harriet Shadd on October 9, 1823. Her parents were leaders of a free black community in Wilmington, Delaware but moved the family to West Chester, Pennsylvania in 1833 to escape Delaware’s black codes. Shadd attended a Quaker school and learned literature, religion, writing, arithmetic, Latin, French and mechanical arts. As a teenager she returned to her hometown, opening a school for black children. She later taught in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, eventually moving to Canada with her family. In Canada she started a school, wrote several guides for fugitive slaves, started a newspaper and campaigned against Henry Bibb and the Refugee Home Society.
Osborne Perry Anderson was born on July 27, 1830 in West Fallowfield, Chester County, Pennsylvania to free parents. He fled to Chatham, Ontario after the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. He served as secretary of John Brown’s Chatham Convention and was the only black attendee from Chatham to participate in the raid on Harpers Ferry. After surviving the raid, Anderson returned to Canada and published an account of what happened. He embarked on a speaking tour but the Civil War interrupted his travels. After the war he returned to Canada and, in 1872, resumed his speaking tour, but fell ill and passed away later that year.
Reverend Calvin Fairbank served nearly twenty years in prison for helping forty-seven enslaved men and women reach freedom in the North. Born in 1816, Fairbank began transporting runaways across the Ohio River in 1837. Once in Ohio he took them to Levi Coffin who would escort them further north and into Canada. He helped rescue Lewis Hayden, who would go to be one of Boston’s most prominent black abolitionists. This rescue was also the cause of his first imprisonment in 1845. He was sentenced a second time in 1852 for helping an enslaved woman named Tamar. Kentucky Lieutenant Governor Richard Jacob pardoned him in 1864.
James W. C. Pennington was an internationally known preacher and abolitionist. Born enslaved in Maryland, Pennington left behind two parents and eleven siblings when he took his freedom in 1828. After running away, Pennington learned to read and write from Quaker farmers in Pennsylvania. He continued his studies in New York, where he became a minister and an active participant in New York and Philadelphia abolitionist movements. In 1849 he received an honorary doctor of divinity degree from the University of Heidelberg in Germany.
Salmon P. Chase was born in Cornish, New Hampshire in 1808 and graduated from Dartmouth College in 1826. After finishing college, Chase moved to Washington D.C. to work as a teacher and study law under William Wirt. After finishing his studies at Wirt’s firm, Chase moved to Cincinnati and became more actively involved in abolitionist concerns. A turning point in Chase’s life came during his role in the case Jones v. Van Zandt. Chase defended John Van Zandt when he was charged with aiding fugitive slaves. The court case went all the way to the Supreme Court, earning him the name “Attorney General for Run-Away Slaves.”
Samuel D. Burris was born a free man in Willow Grove, Delaware in 1809. He helped many enslaved men and women take their freedom on the Underground Railroad. While helping someone escape, Burris was captured, jailed and sentenced to seven years enslavement. Abolitionists Thomas Garrett and John Hunn hired Isaac S. Flint to pose as a slave trader and purchase him. Flint’s efforts were successful and Burris avoided enslavement.
Samuel Ringgold Ward dedicated his life to antislavery causes. He was born in 1817, three years before his parents fled slavery for freedom in New Jersey. The family soon moved to New York City where Ward attended the African Free School and worked as a clerk for David Ruggles. After teaching in New Jersey, Ward returned to New York to teach at the Colored Lancasterian School and became a licensed Congregational minister. He started several abolitionist papers including the Provincial Freeman with Mary Ann Shadd Cary. After his involvement in the famous 1851 “Jerry Rescue,” Ward moved to Canada and later lectured in England. After publishing his narrative he started a mission in Kingston, Jamaica.
Sarah and Angelina Grimké were two of the most visible, outspoken women of the abolitionist movement. Born in 1795 and 1805 respectively, the Grimké sisters grew up in a slave–owning family in Charleston, South Carolina. After relocating to Philadelphia they became Quakers and active abolitionists. In 1836 Angelina published her Appeal to the Christian Women of the South, garnering national attention for the sisters. They soon relocated to New York where they began careers as lecturers for the American Anti-Slavery Society. Their speeches inspired abolitionists and enraged slavery supporters, making the sisters the center of abolition and women’s rights controversies.