Battle Creek was the home of abolitionist Erastus Hussey and, later, of Sojourner Truth. Many religious migrants from New England and New York settled in and around Battle Creek following the Second Great Awakening. Baptist and Methodist preachers were the first to make settlements there in the 1830s. Quakers also settled in the region and were very involved in the Underground Railroad. Much of Battle Creek’s connection to the Underground Railroad comes from Erastus Hussey and the legacy of abolitionist Sojourner Truth.
The bloodiest single day in American history, the Battle of Antietam was fought near Sharpsburg, Maryland on September 17, 1862. Though the fighting ended in a draw, the Confederate retreat was seized upon as a Union victory, enabling Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. The Confederacy’s failure to invade the North also issued a severe political cost. Lacking confidence in General Robert E. Lee’s troops, Great Britain postponed its recognition of the Confederate Government, which severely hampered the Rebels’ war effort.
On November 7, 1861, the Union attacked the strategically important South Carolina Sea Islands, and captured Port Royal Sound. Once the conflict ended, residents fled the islands for Charleston, leaving their property—and the enslaved—behind. In order to make use of the human “contrabands of war,” and to prepare the enslaved for postwar citizenship, Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase instituted the Port Royal Experiment, in which black men and women would be paid for their labor, educated, and given a chance to acquire land of their own for agricultural production.
After Thornton and Ruthie Blackburn escaped from Kentucky, their former owner tried to have them recaptured in 1833. The court ruled in favor of their owners and the Blackburns were jailed in preparation to be sent back to Kentucky. Detroit’s black community devised a plan to liberate them from jail and smuggle them to Canada. The plan was successful but whites retaliated attacking black men and women and burning homes. When the jail was set on fire, Mayor Chaplin requested the aid of federal troops to restore peace to the city. He also ordered all black residents to pay a $500 bond or leave the city, causing many black Detroiters to move to Canada.
“Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938,” a project of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, contains more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of formerly enslaved African Americans. These narratives were collected in the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and assembled and microfilmed in 1941 as the seventeen-volume “Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves”. This online collection includes more than 200 photographs from the Prints and Photographs Division that are now made available to the public for the first time. It is an excellent resource for those seeking first-hand accounts of nineteenth century African American history.
The Boston Committee of Vigilance was founded in 1846 following the capture of a fugitive from New Orleans. The committee raised money to provide shelter, medical care and food for runaways. Outrage over the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 breathed new life into the organization, making it one of the most active abolitionist groups in the country. The committee was involved in several high profile rescue attempts, including the rescues of Shadrach Minkins and Anthony Burns.
The Boston (MA) Public Library has made accessible an extensive collection of digitized manuscripts that reflect the diverse lives of the nation's abolitionist leaders. The collection includes over 180 digitized correspondences that belonged to Frederick Douglass. Other major abolitionists whose correspondences are featured include William Lloyd Garrison and many others.
Buffalo’s location on the shores of the Niagara River made it an inevitable place for anti-slavery activity. Beginning in the 1830s Buffalo abolitionists helped many freedom seekers across the river to freedom in Canada. The city also hosted several anti-slavery events including the National Negro Convention and the Liberty Party Convention. William Wells Brown was perhaps the city’s most prominent abolitionist.
Archy Lanton was one of the only fugitives returned by Canada to U.S. officials after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. Lanton was returned because he stole two horses when he fled from Michigan to Sandwich, Canada. Canadian magistrates, Adolpus Woodbridge and Wilkinson granted slave catchers a warrant for Lanton’s arrest and return to the United States.
Cass County, Michigan has an extremely rich history of Underground Railroad activity. By the middle of the nineteenth century, Cass County’s black population rivaled Detroit’s. Cass County abolitionists harbored thousands of freedom-seeking men and women, and thousands of blacks both fugitive and free settled in the area as early as 1836. Three prominent centers of Underground Railroad activity in the county were Calvin Township, Vandalia and Ramptown.