Monday, June 2, 2014

Book Review: Fugitive Slaves and the Underground Railroad

Fugitive Slaves and the Underground Railroad in the Kentucky Borderland by J. Blain Hudson, McFarland and Company, Jefferson, NC, 2002.
This person really did their homework.  There are so many stories about slave escapes, and those who assisted the slaves that my head is spinning.  There are a couple of chapters that rely mostly on reports in the newspapers.  This includes ads from a slave holder offering reward for the return of a runaway slave.  It also includes some information from court reports or just stories of interest.  There is a chapter and the likely routes, focusing on the places where crossing were made of the Ohio.  It also talks about those that escaped via the river on river boats.  The most interesting chapter is when the author goes into greater detail talking about a few people, fugitives and helpers.
The conclusion of the author:  The slave escape routes often mirrored where there were large populations of free African Americans.  The underground railroad was not always an organized situation, in fact it very much wasn’t until the 1850s, when the Fugitive Slave Act required it to be more organized.  Not all fugitive slaves received assistance.  Those giving assistance were primarily African Americans, with also assistance from some white abolitionists.  Sometimes both fugitives and helpers paid consequences.  Several people were imprisoned for helping slaves.  There was an instance where three fugitive slaves were executed for insurrection as the result of a mass escape.
The courage of those on both sides of this issue must have truly amazing—to stand up against a law, even if you know it is a poor law, is difficult to do.  When standing up against it could result in incarceration, or death, it takes even more courage.  It wasn’t until much later that these people were recognized as heroes. 

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