Mission Statement:

"To advance through research, education and symposia, an increased public awareness of the Cape Fear region's unique history."


Wilmington, Abolition and the Underground Railroad

Fact, Fiction or Melodrama?

Cape Fear Historical Institute Papers



Uncertain Future


Most Americans are familiar with the term “underground railroad” and understand it to be the extensive network of planned escape routes with secret stations and coded messages along the way that assisted black slaves in the American South in escaping to freedom and a better life in the North and in Canada. The same is believed about North Carolina regarding slaves longing to escape

northward, and awaiting a signal that might help them

to find liberty in the “Free States.”

But how true is this romantic image of high drama, and how

much is legend? While there is no question that some antebellum slaves might have left their plantation homes due to arguments with their owners, dusputes with other slaves or myriad other

possibilities, there is no weigth of evidence that proves an

“underground railroad” of any sort in existence in the Cape Fear region either before or during the War Between the States.

For many years Wilbur Seibert’s 1898 “The Underground Railroad

From Slavery to Freedom” was a staple for researchers, though it

was written many years after the War and depended greatly on the memoirs of white abolitionists who put themselves at the center of

slave escapes northward. Another book about this legend is William

Still’s “The Underground Railroad” (1872) which was written by

an African-American in Philadelphia, though he relied upon stories

and what is best termed hearsay to illuminate his book. His approach differed from Seibert’s as he made the slaves the initiators of the quest

for freedom and minimized the white abolitionists claims of great accomplishment.

An “Underground Railroad” In Wilmington?
A port city like Wilmington might seem to offer an easier way for a

slave to find passage elsewhere -- as slaves who lived along the coast

were given much freedom to move freely and pilot boats on the rivers

and sounds. It was very possible that slaves could have been attracted

to a passing ship and thoughts of a better life, but this was also

dangerous since the runaway slave could be easily impressed into

slavery as a deck hand, or sold and re-enslaved in Cuba or the

West Indies by the crew eager for profit.

More often than not slaves would leave a plantation and live among

others in the many swamp communities of Negroes and Maroons

along the coast and in impenetrable forests. This had been common

since the 1760’s and many times white militia was sent to destroy

these refuges that harbored runaways.

A Connecticut visitor to the South wrote in 1818 that traveling without a pistol was dangerous given “the great number of runaway Negroes” that would hide in the camps by day and plunder neighboring plantations by night. One of these camps holding about 80 runaway slaves was said to be located in northern Onslow County, about 50 miles above Wilmington in the early 1820’s.

With regard to the maroon communities that might have harbored runaways, Graham Hodges in "Slave and Soldier, Studies in African American History and Culture" (pp. 344-347), mentions "many instances where free blacks held other blacks as slaves. Nor was

it unusual for maroon communities...to have their own black slaves among them, just as some blacks had Indian slaves and some

Indians had black slaves, and some Indians had Indian slaves. Maroons, (author Eugene) Genovese reminds us, "often enslaved captives," including black slaves of whites. The maroons were often not popular with free blacks or slaves, who resented their bandit activities on the roads where their main victims were traveling blacks, and also their "making free with slaves provisions, stock and women folk." (T)he theories of race, class and African solidarity were little recognized." Much like an tenuous "escape" on a passing ship,

a runaway slave could find himself enslaved again.

It should be remembered that the plantation was not a walled prison and slaves could easily walk away, though unsure of a better life awaiting them elsewhere. If they ventured northward, they could easily find a living environment less hospitable than the one they left as Northerners were commonly unfriendly toward free blacks and ostracized them. In the case of William Riley who came to Niagara (Canada) in 1802, his daughter related that “My father…was a slave. No he did not run away. He came with his master all the way from Fredericksburg, Virginia, driving the carriage with six horses” and staying at Niagara Falls. Riley met a gentleman from Niagara and simply walked across the Niagara Gorge to what he envisioned as freedom, but what might actually be poverty and a bleak future. More on the reality of Canada below.

The Quakers of mid-State (Guilford County) were known for their

anti-slavery stance; leader Levi Coffin is claimed to be a head of the "underground railroad." Like Harriet Tubman, Coffin is credited with bringing 100 slaves northward to freedom annually for many years, but thsesw numbers are dwarfed by the antebellum manumission efforts of Virgininians and North Carolinians alone. Despite the claims of postwar abolitionists regarding their prewar efforts, the 1850 Census showed

North Carolina registered only 64 slaves as fugitives, ten years later

this number dropped to 61.

While slaves running away from their owners is not known to be widespread in the Cape Fear region preceding the War Between the States, one of the few mentioned is Abraham Galloway from Brunswick County. Galloway is claimed to have left his owner in 1857 and traveled

to Philadelphia, then to Canada and finally settling in Ohio and becoming

an abolitionist, (Strength Through Struggle, Bill Reaves). At that time,

Ohio was a dangerous place to proclaim oneself an abolitionist after

Elijah Lovejoy was murdered there in 1837 for simply printing

abolitionist literature. Galloway did not linger long in Philadelphia, a

city described by Frederick Douglas as “a city in which prejudice

against color is . . . rampant.” If an underground railroad indeed existed

and slaves were made aware of the conditions of their race in that

section, why would they leave the security of plantation life for the hard, segregated life of blacks in the North or Canada?

The problem of slaves leaving their owners was not limited to white slaveholders, as John Carruthers Stanly of Craven County, North

Carolina was the largest black slaveholder in the South. He owned

a total of 163 slaves and was known as a harsh, profit-minded

taskmaster who dealt daily with problems of field hands leaving

his plantations.

Stanly countered this problem through his two white overseers and

a spy network that included a few trusted slaves. Brister, his slave

barber in New Bern, was responsible for relaying to his owner

rumors or details of planned slave escapes. Stanly's rough treatment

of his slaves dispels any notions of black slaveholders being more

kind to their slaves, nor did he demonstrate any pangs of conscience

about selling children away from their parents or holding

free blacks in bondage.

In 1830, South Carolina legislator Robert Y. Hayne of South

Carolina spoke of free blacks in the North and said: “visit

the dark and narrow lanes, and obscure recesses, which have

been assigned by common consent as the abodes of those outcasts

of the world---free people of color. Sir, there does not exist,

on the face of the whole earth, a population so poor, so wretched,

so vile, so loathsome, so utterly destitute of all the comforts, conveniences and comforts of life as the unfortunate blacks of Philadelphia, and New York and Boston. Sir, I have had some opportunities of making comparisons between the condition of the free Negroes of the North and the slaves of the South . . . Sir,

I have seen in the neighborhood of one of the most moral, religious and refined cities of the North, a family of free blacks, driven to

the caves of the rock, and there obtaining a precarious

subsistence from charity and plunder."

It is notable that during the War Between the States, recruiting blacks

in Philadelphia for Northern military service had to be done

clandestinely and gathering places held in secret so as not to alarm

white citizens, and those black soldiers could not be armed until

they left the city.

There is no hard evidence of an organized network of slave escape routes in North Carolina despite Quaker anti-slavery activity in central North Carolina, and the publications of editors like

William Swaim of Greensboro who advocated the abolition of

slavery in the late 1820’s.

The form of abolition advocated then was not violent as the

Northern abolitionists promoted, it was emancipation and

repatriation to the African homeland in order to right the wrongs

of British and New England slave-traders who brought them as

slaves to these shores.  To this end Judge William Gaston, in his address to the Literary Societies in 1832, made his famous plea to

the young men of North Carolina to “realize their duty of taking

up that great problem and removing the burden of slavery which

was depressing the influence, the development, and the best

interests of the State.”

Moreover, the abolition of slavery “was being freely discussed in the

State and was favored by many of our best and wisest men.” Unfortunately, this welcome anti-slavery sentiment was brought to

an end by extreme northern abolitionists who encouraged slave

uprisings which led to the 1831 Nat Turner brutal murder of

more than 60 white men, women and children in Southampton

County, Virginia. This act, perceived by Southerners as the work of

fanatic abolitionists, ended manumission efforts across the South.

From that point on, Southerners lived in constant fear as abolitionists intensified their attacks on the slaveholding South and advanced no practical solution to slavery other than racial warfare. An irony exists

here with the New Englanders who might have been sympathetic to the plight of the black slaves, being descended from the slave traders of Massachusetts and Rhode Island who grew wealthy selling slaves for

labor on plantations.

To underscore this irony, in his “Myths of American Slavery, author

Walter D. Kennedy states: “during the life of the underground railroad (approximately forty years), it is estimated that about 75,000 slaves escaped…In just one year alone, the (New England) slave traders

brought about 74,000 slaves from Africa to the Americas.” The question needs to be asked:  Would the slaves actually better their lives by

fleeing to the descendants of those who enslaved them?

The War Between the States Period:

During the War, two area slaves reportedly stole a boat and headed toward the enemy blockading fleet on June 14, 1862. Both Peter Smith and Jack Rutledge of Smithville (now Southport) were taken aboard

and put to work as deck hands on the USS Victoria.

Their motivation might have been the lure of money; in return for

revealing troop strength and movements ashore, as well as leading

enemy raiding parties against North Carolinans. Many see this act of

the departing slaves as treason against North Carolina since the

gave aid and comfort to the enemy.

In an October, 1861 letter from local Camp Wyatt, Colin Shaw

writes his wife that "Several Negroes attempted to go out the Blockade

last Sunday, were captured and lodged in jail...Sunday before three Negroes escaped from Smithville & it is believed reached one of

Old Abe's vessels lying off Fort Caswell. This was not just black

slaves leaving for the blocaders as Shaw continues..."Two white

men from Wilmington attempted last week to hop the Fort at night

in a fishing smack to communicate with the enemy, were captured

and lodged in jail. Their attempt at desertion and treason might

have seen them marched before a firing squad, or hanged.

In another case, a slave named William Gould left a dock at Wilmington

in September, 1862 with 7 others and made their way to the blockader USS Cambridge. Gould then enlisted in the enemy navy and served on that ship -- another case of treason, not fleeing to freedom.

This treason of one man can be compared to 12-year-old black youngster Benjamin Gray who enlisted in his country's naval service as a powder boy at Wilmington in 1863 and saw combat service on the ironclad CSS Albemarle.

This service of black boys and men serving in the Confederate Navy was not unusual as Dr. Edward Smith, Dean of American Studies at American University, estimated that by February 1865, 1,150 blacks had served in the Confederate States Navy which amounts to about 20% of total

naval personnel. 

Nonetheless, the wartime treason of those like Gould and the infamous Robert Smalls at Charleston should not to be confused with the

underground railroad legend as they were lured away by

the Northern military to fight against their neighbors, as was done

by the British in the late 1770's. The British then, and the Northerners

later, used slave defections to either provoke a race war in the South,

or disrupt agricultural production that sustained the Southern

war effort. Those doing the luring would paint an attractive picture of the good life the defector would live, though the truth would be found later.

Emancipation Societies in the South:
The earliest American journals advocating emancipation and abolition

were published, one by a Southern man and one on Tennessee soil.

By 1824, the Tennessee Manumission Society had twenty branches

and 700 members, and in 1825, William Swaim was publishing the

Patriot in Greensborough, North Carolina, which contained much

anti-slavery matter. By 1827, there were 130 Abolition Societies in

the United States, of which 106 were in the then slave-holding States. Virginia had 8 of these societies, Tennessee had 25 with a

membership of 1000, and North Carolina had 50 with a membership

of 3000.

North Carolina’s Early Efforts to End Slavery:
The voluntary emancipation of slaves was well in underway in

antebellum North Carolina as the State counted 30,000 free blacks

out of a total black population of 361,000 in 1860, and this was

the result of manumission (emancipation) by slaveholders through

deed and will, as well as slaves who purchased freedom from their

owners. The Federal census of 1850 showed 434,495 free blacks

in the U.S., and growing to 484,070 by the 1860 census and

the vast majority living in the South.

Interestingly, though Harriet Tubman is credited with guiding

70 (documented) runaway slaves into Canada, her humanitarian

efforts are dwarfed by the voluntary manumission and emancipation

of slaves in the antebellum South which created a steadily increasing

free-black population of over 250,000 below Mason and Dixon’s

line by 1860. Harriet Tubman may be lionized as the “Black Moses,”

but it was the slaveholders of the South, like Robert E. Lee who

freed his 170 inherited slaves, who greatly increased the free black population of the South.

To illustrate the problems surrounding the claims of underground

railroads in many community's is the 2009 dust-up in Niagara Falls,

New York where two Niagara University historians unequivocally

wrote that a bridge in nearby Lewiston did not exist in 1856-57

when Tubman allegedly crossed into Canada. Later research by

amateur historians found the Lewiston bridge was indeed intact at

that time, and it appeared the City of Niagara Falls wanted to

polish their underground railroad "credentials" and paid professional historians to revise history.

This problem is multiplied by the annual increase in old homes in the Northeast whose owners claim were underground railroad stops and charge admission to enter -- yet no one seems to ask for hard evidence

that such a use of the home ever existed.

The anti-slavery efforts of North Carolinians began in earnest in the

1760’s at the height of British importation of African slaves here.

North Carolinians gave evidence of displeasure concerning the British

(and New England) slave trade in August 1774, when colonial representatives resolved in convention “that we will not import any

slave or purchase any slaves or slaves after the first day of November next”, which was modeled upon Virginia’s anti-slave importation

resolution of May 1769. In both cases, the Royal Governors'

refused to consider the ban on importing slaves and simply followed

the dictates of the Crown.

The Revolution interrupted the slave trade into North Carolina,

but in an effort to defeat the American independence movement Virginia’s Royal Governor Lord Dunmore’s proclaimed that on November 7, 1775, that “all indentured servants, Negroes, or others…are free, that all able and willing to bear arms, they

joining His Majesties Troops, as soon as may be, for the more

speedily reducing the Colony to a proper sense of their duty

to His Majesty’s Crown and dignity.”

Almost immediately some three hundred blacks joined Dunmore’s

forces and other bondsmen rushed toward Norfolk to fight for the

British. With nearly two thousand men under his command, of

whom half were black, Lord Dunmore posed a serious threat to

the revolutionary movements in Virginia and North Carolina, and

this was the origin of Jefferson’s phrase in the Declaration of

Independence regarding King George fomenting slave insurrection

in the colonies. While not all blacks fought for the British, it is

known that free blacks were more likely to join with the patriots,

and freed slaves would fight against American independence.

Abraham Lincoln later imitated Dunmore’s proclamation to

both attract slaves to his army and incite slave revolt and race

war in the South, using the same claim of military necessity.

The end of the Revolution witnessed very strong anti-slavery sentiment

and emancipation societies were becoming frequent in the South by

1800, with one-half the delegates to the American Abolition Conventions coming from the South between 1794 and 1809, after that date none

came from beyond Tennessee and North Carolina.

It was in 1819, that Reverend William Meade organized a branch of

the American Colonization Society in Raleigh, with Governor John

Branch as President. By 1829, eleven branches of this Society existed

in North Carolina, and they conveyed freed blacks to Liberia, Haiti, Indiana, Ohio and Philadelphia. The Quakers of North Carolina were involved in this project as well, thinking repatriation of black people

as the best solution to the problem of slavery here. We know too that Eastern North Carolina sent many freed slaves to Liberia -- in 1825,

the former slaves of David Patterson of Orange County set sail,

and Thomas Lassiter’s freed slaves from Halifax sailed in 1845.

In 1827, the brig “Nautilus” left Norfolk with 164 free born blacks

aboard from Wayne, Pasquotank and Perquimans Counties,

with the Carolina Observer newspaper remarking that the

“good wishes of this State attend them.”

The Underground Railroad: Legend, or Fact?
There are two well-researched books on the subject of the underground railroad legend and slavery in the North, which

were published in 1961, both and serve as objective and scholarly investigations into the subjects.

Leon Litwack’s “North of Slavery,” uncovers the extreme

antagonism toward the black man very common in the antebellum north;and in “The Liberty Line, The Legend of the Underground Railroad,” Larry Gara found little evidence of any well-organized

or widespread underground railroad in the North. Both books

ably demonstrate that the facts do not support the legend or

a widespread escape network we have come to believe existed.

The legend of the underground railroad “is a melodrama,” claims

author Larry Gara in The Liberty Line. “The villains are the slave

catchers and their vicious bloodhounds; occasionally the master

himself is depicted as the slave-hunter. The abolitionists…are idealists

of fortitude and courage…possessing the traits of character which

ennobled and dignified human nature.” Gara continues, “The villain

too is a stereotype.

He is a mean Southerner, a term synonymous in the popular legend

with the slaveholder or defender of the slave system. He too, is something

other than human, in this case something less. The whole antebellum

South was a dismal swamp of slavery---a cesspool of vice -- and the inhabitants lacked ethical principles or the rudiments of human decency…God-fearing and righteous New Englanders on the one

side and the wicked Southerners on the other.”

Where Did The Legend Originate?

Gara’s conclusion is that “the underground railroad was primarily

the creation of postwar abolitionists” embellishing their anti-slavery credentials, possibly to obtain well-paying posts in the radical

Republican administrations, or for sheer vanity. The author points

out that after examining the traditional sources, it seemed obvious

that “the legend was a mixture of fact and fiction” as it was

grounded in the memoirs and reminiscences of descendants

and friends of white abolitionists.

To underscore this reasoning, Gara states that in 1991 an archeology graduate student at the University of Akron conducted an archeological search of 17 historic Ohio houses said to have been connected with the underground railroad. The student’s conclusion was that none of the

homes he examined had tunnels or secret places of concealment.

“If such constructions existed at all,” he wrote, “they must be

extremely rare.” As Gara points out, “Most legends have many

versions and the story of the underground railroad is not exception.

Few people can provide details when asked about the institution

[and] specific information is usually crowded out by vague

generalizations. The underground railroad is accepted on faith

as part of America’s heritage.”

Free Blacks in the North --

What Freedom Awaited Runaway Slaves?

By 1800, some 36,505 northern blacks still remained in bondage,

most of them in New York and New Jersey. By 1830, conditional emancipation had virtually eliminated slavery in former slave-trading

States by legislative action, or selling slaves for labor in the South as Northerner Eli Whitney’s invention made cotton production more profitable. Interestingly, the New England slave trade was still

flourishing by 1861 with the ship “Nightingale” of Boston commanded

by Francis Bowen, being captured “off the African coast with 961

Negroes on board and expecting more.” Ironically, Captain

John Newland Maffitt, a famous Confederate

blockade runner was actively intercepting New England

slave ships in the late 1850’s as a US Navy captain.

Antebellum free-blacks in New York could not vote without

minimum property ownership, and black New York minister

Samuel E. Cornish saw New York City as tainted with

“an ever-present, ever-crushing Negro hate.”

Frederick Douglas saw Philadelphia in much the same way.

As an example of free-blacks prospering in the South, in 1850

Buffalo free-blacks held $57,610 in property, while in New Orleans free-blacks held $2,354, 640.

It is important to note that freedom did not necessarily confer citizenship

on free blacks in the North until the post-civil war era, and most

Northern whites would maintain a careful distinction between granting blacks legal protection (which slaves also enjoyed in the South) and political and social equality.

Despite the absence of slavery in the North, one observer remarked, “chains of a stronger kind still manacled their limbs from which no

legislative act could free them; a mental and moral subordination and inferiority, to which tyrant custom has here subjected all the sons and daughters of Africa.” If a slave running away from a North Carolina plantation thought his life would be better in the North, he would find

that not much would change except he or she had no one

to care for them.

The State of Massachusetts wanted no blacks, free or otherwise

within their borders after the elimination of bondage. The legislature

voted “to expel all Negroes who were not citizens of one of the States.” Boston authorities sought to implement this measure by ordering the immediate deportation of 240 Negroes in the State, most of them

natives of Rhode Island, New York, Philadelphia, and the West

Indies. This was the State which formed the famous 54th

Massachusetts Regiment, though the reason was to allow white

citizens to avoid service while counting black soldiers against

the general State quota of troops.

The black man was not welcome in Ohio as an aroused populace

forcibly thwarted an attempt to settle the 518 emancipated slaves

of Virginia’s John Randolph. Defending that action, an Ohio

congressman warned “the banks of the Ohio (River) would be lined

with men with muskets on their shoulders to keep off the emancipated slaves.”

Ohio also provided a classic example of how anti-immigration legislation could be invoked to harass Negro residents. After 1829, when

“the rapid increase of the Negro population alarmed Cincinnati . . .

white mobs roamed through Cincinnati’s Negro quarters, spreading

terror and destruction.” Subsequently, the Negro residents sent a delegation to Canada to explore emigration and returned with a cordial invitation from the governor of Upper Canada. An estimated 1100 to

2200 Negroes then departed from the city to settle in Canada.

While it is true that Canada accepted black immigrants, they were as

a rule settled in segregated townships.

Three States -- Illinois, Indiana and Oregon -- incorporated anti-black immigration provisions into their constitutions. “The tendency,

strong and irresistible, of the American mind,” an Indianan declared,

“is finally to accomplish a separation of the two races.” In 1856, the Indiana State Supreme Court ruled “the policy of the State is . . .

is to exclude any further ingress of Negroes, and to remove those

already among us as speedily as possible.” By 1840, some 93% of

the Northern free-black population lived in States, which completely

or practically excluded them from the right to vote. Only in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine (where most Negroes were deported) could blacks vote on an equal basis with whites.

The frst "Jim Crow" laws can be found in the northeast as New

Yorkers sought to control the black swing vote. English traveler

Carl D. Arfwedson wrote in his  book The United States and

Canada, 1832, 1833 and 1834, (London, 1834) assessed the Negro's position in New York society and concluded:

“To be worth $250 (the requirement of financial worth for blacks

to vote) is not a trifle for a man doomed to toil in he lowest stations; few Negroes are in consequence competent to vote. They are in

fact little better than slaves, although called free.”

Canada: Slaves and Free Blacks:
The legend of the underground railroad tells us that the terminus was

in Canada where freedom could be realized for the escaped slave.

This was the case since the Northern States, especially New York

was not a hospitable environment for the black man, and the threat

of capture and return to slavery would always hover over him.

Also, life for the free black in Canada was little different than the

free black in the North or South, and freed-black Nelson Moss

said that he had suffered more from prejudice during three years in

Pennsylvania than as a free-black in Virginia. The Canadians were

not eager to allow unlimited numbers of ex-slaves in their country

and an 1851 Toronto newspaper editorial wanted the government

to impose “restrictive immigration measures to check the influx

of Negroes” from the United States.

What was Canada’s own experience with African slavery?
The history of slavery in Canada began in 1682 when British sea

captain David Kirke brought to New France a native of Madagascar, selling him quickly as Canada’s first slave (Slavery and Freedom

in Niagara, Power & Butler, 1993). By 1760, it is estimated that 1100 black slaves lived in New France, mostly around Montreal and working

as house servants or farm labor. In the treaties between France

and England that ended warfare in 1760 and 1763, the victorious

English guaranteed that African servitude would be protected

in British North America.

By 1784 there were over 4000 blacks in Canada with at least

1800 of them held in bondage. Additionally, many slaves were

Indians, and many Indians held black slaves.

The British carried on an unofficial slave trade during the American Revolution as they captured black slaves from New England and New York, and sold them on the Montreal slave market. Some Canadian military officers captured slaves in New York and continued to hold

them in bondage on their own estates. The irony of this is demonstrated with the British policy of offering freedom to black slaves who would

rise up against their owners in the American South in 1775 and flee

to British lines.

The Slave Bill of 1793 in Canada did not free one slave, though it

forbade the importation of slaves into the province. The children of

slaves born after the date of the act would be free on their twenty-

fifth birthday, and the children of these children would be born free.

This was somewhat humanitarian, but the act made it difficult

if not impossible to voluntarily free slaves. 

An unforeseen result

of the 1793 act occurred in 1805 after the Michigan Territory was incorporated into the United States. After 1805, local laws against

slavery were strictly enforced in Michigan and the territory immediately became a haven for enslaved Canadian blacks escaping across the

border. So many slaves fled Canadian slave owners that they

demanded Lt. Governor Francis Gore intervene to stop the exodus.

The 1793 Act’s ban on importing slaves made American blacks

free upon reaching Canadian territory, and this news traveled

quickly after 1812. Faced with a swelling black population of runaway slaves in the Northern States, which threatened the

white electorate, State legislatures began passing laws

restricting the franchise of free blacks.

The life of free blacks and slaves in Canada was not comfortable,

and in most cases the white social elite saw them as “pilferers, liars

and thieves.” After the War of 1812, most Canadian slave-owners preferred to free their slaves rather than provide for them, especially

in infirmity and old age.

With the very small number of free blacks in white-dominated Canadian communities, the electorate was not threatened as the blacks seemed to avoid voting in blocs and thus Northern US free-blacks who would

bloc-vote and swing elections. Canadian schools were rigidly segregated with the Common School Act of 1850 setting this into law, and like churches in the American South, Canadian congregations had blacks among them, but in 1839 according to Mary Ann Guillian, black

Baptists took over the chapel and created a segregated congregation.

The New York Herald devoted an eight-column article on January 5,

1860 to the issue of runaway slaves and “described the settlements

of escaped “servants” in Ontario, Canada, a terminus of the

underground railroad. Its conclusion was that “the fugitive slaves

go into Canada as beggars and the mass of them commit larceny

and lay in jail until they become lowered and debased, and ready

for worse crimes”(Weisberger). There was occasion when runaway

slaves were returned to the US, which was the case if they were

wanted for criminal prosecution.

The low esteem black British soldiers were held in was demonstrated

by the “Colored Corps” veterans who served in the military and

received only half the land promised to white veterans. Blacks in

Canada performed menial labor and many joined the Colored Corps simply for a regular income. Most of the black men in the Corps in

1839 were illiterate with 40 out of 48 men making marks for their signatures. At the census of 1871, nearly 30% of Canada’s black population was illiterate.

The legend of the underground railroad has become an American

institution and believed despite facts to the contrary. As has been

stated, black slaves left their plantations for many reasons that include

a desire to be free, whatever that meant to them, though the North

offered little better than the life they led as slaves. Being a free black

in the North seemed better than an enslaved black in the South --

but to understand the legend that might have connected the two,

it was necessary to review the context of the early 19th century as

it related to the black man in both sections.

The question remains; if antebellum emancipation was an ongoing occurrence in the South, as it had been in the North, why was a fraternal war fought to end the institution?  Was there not a better and peaceful

way to finally end African slavery in the United States?

The solution to African slavery in the United States could have been

found in a peaceful and continuing emancipation process, and the

steadily increasing number of free blacks in the South were a testament

to this preferable process. Had the extreme abolitionists of the North

not agitated and politicized what remained of this unfortunate institution

in the South, one million American lives lost in war could have been

saved. As was clearly demonstrated later in Brazil as that country accelerated the emancipation of slaves, the growing numbers of

free blacks would eventually speed the demise

of slavery in their midst.



Myths & Realities of American Slavery, Perry, Burd Street, 2002
Liberty Line, Legend of the UGRR, Gara, U. of Kentucky, 1961
Myths of American Slavery, W.D. Kennedy, Pelican Publishing, 2003
Reporters for the Union, Weisberger, Little, Brown & Co, 1953
Southport and Environs, Volume I, 1520-1887, W.M. Reaves, 1973.
Strength Through Struggle, William M. Reaves, NHC Library, 1998.
Slavery and Freedom in Niagara, Power & Butler, Niagara HS, 1993.
North of Slavery, Leon Litwack, U of Chicago Press, 1961

Webster-Hayne Debate: Speech of Robert Y. Hayne, Jan. 25, 1830

North Carolina History, H. Lefler, UNC Press, 1934

Wilmington During the War, McEachern-Williams, UNC Wilmington

Slave and Soldier, G. Hodges, Garland Publishing, 1993

Runaway Slaves: Franklin and Schweninger