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.
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.
On March 6, 1863 some of Detroit’s white residents began violently attacking black residents, looting and burning down black-owned or occupied property. Unrest grew out of news that a black man, Thomas Faulkner, had raped a young white girl, Mary Brown. While city authorities turned a blind eye, the angry mob torched thirty-five buildings, murdered one man, and severely injured many others. The bloody riot resulted in the establishment of a permanent police force in Detroit.
Detroit was one of the most active and important cities on the Underground Railroad and was a frequent destination for many of the nation’s leading abolitionists. Detroit, and Michigan as a whole, had a history of slavery under both French and English rule. It was officially abolished in 1837 when Michigan entered the Union, but Black Detroiters had long been fighting for freedom. In 1833 they saved Thornton and Ruthie Blackburn from being re-enslaved in Kentucky, efforts that led to the city’s first race riot. Second Baptist Church formed in 1836 and birthed many of the city’s abolitionist organizations.
The Detroit Historical Museum, located in Detroit, Michigan, is home to the ‘Doorway to Freedom and the Underground Railroad’ exhibition. The exhibition's website offers information fulfilling its mission to educate the public about the significant role Detroit played in the Underground Railroad. This website has engaging visual material and informational resources about nineteenth century Detroit.
The Dr. Nathan Thomas House in Schoolcraft, Michigan is a National Historic Landmark. Built in 1835, it was the home of one of Michigan's most active Underground Railroad participants, Dr. Nathan Thomas, a founding member of the state's Republican Party and Kalamazoo County's first physician. Operated by the Schoolcraft Historical Society, this website provides detailed information about Dr. Thomas and his wife Pamela Brown-Thomas, who in her memoirs wrote about their involvement in the UGRR. The website also provides educational tour information.
Scott v. Sandford, also known as the Dred Scott Decision, is one of the most important, controversial, devastating and revealing court cases in American history. Dred Scott began suing for his freedom from Irene Sanford in St. Louis in 1846, but a series of appeals brought the case to the United States Supreme Court in 1856. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the Court’s 7-2 decision in favor of Sanford, denying Scott his freedom. The ruling stated that African Americans were not citizens and that the federal government could not regulate slavery in states or territories.
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.
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.
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.