I have to admit that I don’t know nearly as much as I should about the struggle of slaves in America and their flight to freedom and emancipation, despite the fact that there’s a slavery underground house just a few blocks from my home. Certainly I’ve read about it in history classes, but it was always just a concept that we read about, to me.
What this collection did was make it much more personal, because the essays included are told by the slaves who have escaped to freedom. Here, the horrors of slavery become real (“I think slavery is the next thing to hell. If a person would send another into bondage, he would, it appears to me, be bad enough to send him into hell, if he could” says Harriet Tubman). To endure what these people did; to be hunted; to hide at day and move at night in unfamiliar territory; to leave behind family (if they weren’t already sold and sent away) … the conditions for these people had to be absolutely horrific.
I think this came clearest for me in the very simple “Letter from His Old Mistress and His Reply” by Reverend J. W. Loguen. A woman (clearly down on her luck after her husband has passed away) writes a letter to her runaway, former slave, trying to convince him to buy his freedom for $1000 and appeals to his Christian charity. His response is tremendous.
All of the essays and recollections here are really great (in an educational way for those of us who can never imagine this sort of life). I was also moved by “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” by Harriet Jacobs and “Born on a Slave Ship” by Margaret. But truly, everything here is powerful and reminds the reader how strong these people had to be to do what they did … and of course these are only some of the stories from those who successfully made the escape to freedom.
This book contains the following essays:
“Arrived by Adams’ Express” (Henry Box Brown) by William Sill
“Narrative of William Wells Brown, a Fugitive Slave (excerpt)” by William Wells Brown
“Ex-President Tyler’s Household Loses an Aristocratic “Article”” (James Hambleton Christian) by William Still
“Arrival from Delaware, 1858: A Desperate, Bloody Struggle – Gun, Knife and Fire Shovel, Used by an Infuriated Master” (Theophilus Collins) by William Still
“An Abolitionist in the Underground” (Seth Concklin) by William Still
“Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas” by Frederick Douglas
“Blood Flowed Freely: Two Passengers Secreted in a Vessel Loaded with Spirits of Turpentine p Shrouds Prepared t Prevent Being Smoked to Death” (Abram Galloway and Richard Eden) by William Still
“The Slave Mother Who Killed Her Child Rather Than See It Taken Back to Slavery” (Margaret Garner) by Levi Coffin
“Fleeing from Davis, a Negro Trader, Secreted Under a Hotel, Up a Tree, Under a Floor, in a Thicket, on a Steamer” (Charles Gilbert) by William Still
“How Their Grandpa Brought Emancipation to Loads of Slaves” (Arnold Gragston) by Federal Writers’ Project American Guide, Pearl Randolph
“Ten Years in the Penitentiary for Having a Copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (Samuel Green, alias Wesley Kinnard) by William Still
“Slave-Holder in Maryland with Three Colored Wives” (Jamie Griffin, alias Thomas Brown) by William Still
“Arrival from North Carolina, 1857—Feet Slit for Running Away, Flogged, Stabbed, Stayed in the Hollow of a Big Poplar Tree, Visited by a Snake, Abode in a Cave” (Harry Grimes) by William Still
“The Slave-Hunting Tragedy in Lancaster County, in September 1851: Treason at Christiana” (James Hamlet and Others) by William Still
“The Slave Woman Who Crossed the Ohio River on the Drifting Ice with Her Child in Her Arms” (Eliza Harris) by Levi Coffin
“The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself (1849)” by Josiah Henson
“Five Years and One Month Secreted” (John Henry Hill) by William Still
“Arrival from Maryland, 1859” (Ann Maria Jackson and Her Seven Children) by William Still
“Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)” by Harriet Jacobs
“Trial of the Emancipators of Col. J. H. Wheeler’s Slaves, Jane Johnson and Her Two Little Boys” (Jane Johnson) by William Still
“Arrival from the Old Dominion: Nine Very Fine ‘Articles'” (Lew Jones, Oscar Payne, Mose Wood, Dave Diggs, Jack, Hen, and Bill Dade, and Joe Ball) by William Still
“Letter from His Old Mistress and His Reply [The Liberator]” by Reverend J.W. Loguen
“Arrivals from Different Places: Captured and Carried Back” (Matilda Mahoney and Dr. J. W. Pennington’s Brother and Sons) by William Still
“Born on a Slave Ship” (Margaret) by Eber M. Pettit
“Arrival from Virginia, 1858” (Mary Frances Melvin, Eliza Henderson, and Nancy Grantham) by William Still
“Seeing a Ray of Hope She Availed Herself of the Opportunity to Secure Her Freedom” (Aunt Hannah Moore) by William Still
“Arrival from Virginia, 1858” (Alfred S. Thornton) by William Still
“Narrative of Sojourner Truth” by Sojourner Truth
“Harriet Tubman: The Moses of her People)” and “‘Moses’ Arrives with Six Passengers” (Harriet Tubman) by William Still
“Escape from Alabama Is Almost Impossible” (Philip Younger) by Benjamin Drew
Appendix: The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850: “An Act Respecting Fugitives from Justice, and Persons Escaping from the Service of Their Masters” [United States Congress]
This is an important book and it really should be read by all high school and college students.
Looking for a good book? Editors Christine Rudisel and Bob Blaisdell have put together a fantastic collection of stories of slaves who have managed to make it to freedom with this book, Slave Narratives of the Underground Railroad.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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Slave Narratives of the Underground Railroad
editors: Christine Rudisel and Bob Blaisdell
publisher: Dover Publications
paperback, 224 pages