There were abolitionists, Black and White, long before the Act Against Slavery. They could help fugitive slaves by offering “stations,” (safe houses), but fleeing to one of the fourteen free states to the North was dangerous. Slave-hunters could catch escapees and were encouraged to do so. Bounties were very attractive. Moreover, the Anti-Fugitive Act of 1850 directed everyone to participate in preventing Black slaves from leaving plantations where they grew rice, tobacco, cotton and indigo to the point of exhaustion. In the eyes of slave-hunters, Black slaves were flesh, mere chattel, and returning them to their plantation was lucrative.
Harriet Tubman (née Ross), 1820 -10 March 1913, was born and raised in Maryland, a slave state. In about 1844, she married a free slave. She was motivated to flee in 1849, when she heard that she could be sold. She and two of her brothers fled the plantation. She may have stopped at Preston, a community where Quakers were abolitionists. She met people. She traveled from Preston to Philadelphia on foot during the night. She was guided by the North star.
In 1850, she returned to Maryland to help free her familyand made 19 trips rescuing 70 slaves. She followed the North star and “never lost a passenger.” She went back to Maryland to free her family. In 1859, she bought a house at Auburn, New York, where her parents lived.
During the Civil War, Harriet Tubman was an armed scout and spy and the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war. She guided “the raid at Combahee Ferry, which liberated more than 700 enslaved people.” (See Harriet Tubman, wiki2.org.)
She divorced Mr Tubman in 1850 and married a man whose name I can no longer locate. He was the love of her life, but he died years before she passed away.
At the age of 15, she suffered a head injury. It was a heavy blow to the head. She never recovered:
Early in life, she suffered a traumatic head wound when an irate overseer threw a heavy metal weight intending to hit another enslaved person, but hit her instead. The injury caused dizziness, pain, and spells of hypersomnia, which occurred throughout her life.
over the next decade, she conducted upward of 300 fugitive slaves along the Underground Railroad to Canada. By her extraordinary courage, ingenuity, persistence, and iron discipline, which she enforced upon her charges, Tubman became the railroad’s most famous conductor and was known as the “Moses of her people.”
Harriet Tubman was a Methodist and “deeply” religious. “Rewards offered by slaveholders for Tubman’s capture eventually totaled $40,000.”
This is the image I set at the top of my post on the Underground Railroad. It has not been possible for me to publish the entire post. The Block Editor caused severe difficulties.
The abolition of slavery in British Colonies would not be enacted until 1833, but for some forty to sixty years Black slaves were freed the moment they arrived in Canada because of the Act Against Slavery. William Grisely had told John Graves Simcoe, the lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, that he had seen Adam Vrooman force Chloe Cooley into a boat that would cross the Niagara River to the United States and sell her. Chloe so resisted Vrooman that he had to call for help to tie her to the ship. John Graves Simcoe also received a petition. On 9 July 1793, Colonel Simcoe’s legislative assembly passed the Act Against Slavery. The abolition of slavery in the British empire took place in 1833, and Abraham Lincoln did not sign the Emancipation Proclamation until 22 September 1862, but after passage of the Act Against Slavery, the Blacks were free the moment they stepped on Canadian soil, Upper Canada.
The War of 1812
This story is manifold. It tells how much Richard Pierpoint contributed to the War of 1812 and how little he was given in compensation. The Act Against Slavery did not abolish racism. Richard Pierpoint created the Coloured Corps. However, White veterans got twice the land he received. Pierpoint had asked to be allowed to return to Africa. They wouldn’t help. This post also tells about the Amerindians’ contribution. They were free until Canadian Confederation, which is a very long time: from 1534 to 1867.
Amerindians & the Blacks
As you have noticed, in North America slaves were the Indigenous people and the Blacks brought to the North American continent during the Atlantic Slave Trade. Next we meet Harriet Tubman and other abolitionists.
Both Harriet Beecher Stowe and Joel Chandler Harris were criticized for creating or perpetuating stereotypes concerning the Black in America. Yet, Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, made the evils of slavery known to millions of readers. As for Joel Chandler Harris‘ Uncle Remus stories, they were trickster stories that fascinate folklorists in that they were told by Uncle Remus but do not originate in African tales. Africans brought Anansi to the United States. These stories are spider tales and may be ancestors to Spider-man.
Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s (14 June 1811 – 1 July 1896) is the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly. When President Abraham Lincoln (12 February 1809 – 15 April 1865) met Mrs Stowe, he exclaimed: “so you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” (See Harriet Beecher Stowe, Wikipedia.) This was an exaggeration, but not by much.[i]According to the Oxford Companion to American Literature (sixth edition, 1995), Harriet Beecher Stowe was not an abolitionist, but it would be my opinion that Mrs Stowe played too significant a role in the abolition of slavery not to have been or become an abolitionist at heart.
In 1832, Harriet Beecher, Lyman Beecher‘s daughter, left Litchfield, Connecticut, where she was born and raised. She followed her family to CincinnatiOhio and started to work as a teacher. While living in Cincinnati, Harriet Beecher took refuge in Washington, Kentucky because Cincinnati was afflicted with a serious choleraepidemic. There were slaves in Kentucky, chattel slaves mainly. During that visit to Kentucky, Harriet Beecher was taken to see a slave auction. This was her first exposure to slavery. However, in 1836, she married Calvin Eliss Stowe (6 April 1802 – 22 August 1886), an American Biblical scholar who taught at Harriet’s father’s theological seminary, Lane, and was an ardent and active opponent of slavery. Mrs Stowe died in Hartford, Connecticut, her home for 23 years.
The Treatment of Slaves: the facts
“The treatment of slaves in the United States varied widely depending on conditions, times and places. Treatment was generally characterized by brutality, degradation, and inhumanity. Whippings, executions, and rapes were commonplace. According to Adalberto Aguirre,[ii] there were 1,161 slaves executed in the U.S. between the 1790s and 1850s. Exceptions existed to virtually every generalization; for instance, there were slaves who employed white workers, slave doctors who treated upper-class white patients, and slaves who rented out their labor. After 1820 [in the US, the slave trade was abolished in 1807], in response to the inability to import new slaves from Africa, some slaveholders improved the living conditions of their slaves, to influence them not to attempt escape.” (See Slavery, Wikipedia.)
Calvin Eliss Stowe, Harriet’s husband, was associated with The Underground Railroad, a movement founded by William Still (7 October 1821 – 14 July 1902), “The Father of the Underground Railroad” and a writer. Still’s Underground Railroad is a Project Gutenberg publication [EBook #15263].[iii] Members of this movement provided safe houses and protected slaves fleeing north from slave-hunters, a form of witch-hunting.[iv] For instance, individuals dressed as policemen, were catching slaves travelling to Canada. Members of the Underground Railroad asked Bostonians to protect the beleaguered Black population. (See the image at the foot of this post, c 1851.)
As for Stowe, the novelist, after reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, many among her world-wide “audience,” became abolitionists or were endeared to the cause of abolition. Literature and the arts in general, not to mention a good education, are powerful instruments of change. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was an instrument of abolition. It was a “story” with characters one could relate to and start loving. It spoke to the heart and was both a moment of grace and an instance of defiance.
It’s a simple story. Uncle Tom is a slave who “belongs” to the Shelby family, who are ‘good’ slave owners. Due to financial difficulties, the Shelbys are about to sell their slaves. Uncle Tom helps the mulatto girl Eliza and her child cross the frozen Ohio River. But he stays behind out of loyalty to his owners. He is sold to a slave trader and separated from his family. But young George Shelby vows to redeem him.
Going down the Mississippi, Tom saves young Eva’s life and her family, the St Clares, are most grateful to Tom. They buy him and he becomes their servant in New Orleans. For two years, Tom is happy with Eva and her rather naughty Black friend Topsy.
However, happiness is short-lived. Eva is frail and dies. Then her father is killed accidentally. So Uncle Tom is auctioned off to the Legree family, ‘bad’ slave owners. Simon Legree is a brutal man who drinks to excess. However, he has found in Uncle Tom a forgiving slave and becomes more lenient, which makes him fear his slaves. Two of them make believe they have run away. Uncle Tom will not reveal Cassie’s and Emmaline’s whereabouts. In a fit of rage, Simon Legree has Uncle Tom flogged to death.
Uncle Tom still has a friend in George Shelby, but George arrives as Tom is dying. Unable to save Uncle Tom, George swears to devote his life to the abolition of slavery. He is true to the promise he made to redeem Uncle Tom.
Eva and Topsy[v]
Topsy (left) and Little Eva, characters from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1851–52); lithograph by Louisa Corbaux, 1852. Louisa Corbaux/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (LC-USZC4-2974)
(Photo credit: The Encyclopædia Britannica)
This picture is available on the internet. Please refrain from associating it to my blog.
A Successful Plot
There may be ‘bad’ slave owners, but there are ‘good’ ones. The readers need only identify with the Shelbys and, particularly, with George who keeps his promise to redeem Uncle Tom. The readers may also identify with little Eva whose friend Topsy is a Black child. Although Eva is the daughter of a slave trader, she loves uncle Tom and plays with Topsy. There is, therefore, inherent goodness in Uncle Tom. He is a human being, endowed with moral superiority. He is loyal to the Shelbys and he tries to help Simon Legree. Moreover, although George Shelby arrives too late, George Shelby, who is good, knows that Tom is a fine man. Had Uncle Tom not been dying, he would have been redeemed by his former owners. But the timing is wrong and one cannot fault timing. Bad timing is an accident and creates suspense, a favourite device in fiction. Uncle Tom dies, but it is one person’s fault, Legree, not a community nor the readers, except that slavery has made this horrifying death possible.
So there is an indictment of slavery in Uncle Tom’s Cabin; an unambiguous indictment. In this respect, Mrs Stowe does not waver. Uncle Tom is consistently at the mercy of “owners.” If a slave is purchased by a ‘bad’ slave owner, his or her fate can be an unjust and painful death. However, we can count on George to be victorious. He is a saviour figure. Mrs Stowe’s account of the plight of slaves is therefore nuancé. In fact, fateis portrayed as unkind, whatever the colour of one’s skin. The Shelbys are impoverished and little Eva’s health is so fragile that she dies.
In other words, Uncle Tom’s story is very sad and there is one very ‘bad’ man whose skin is white.[vi] So, despite gradations and many happy moments, Uncle Tom’s Cabin is about the wrongs of slavery. Uncle Tom is sold and he is killed as though his life meant nothing, which was precisely the case. In the days of slavery, the life of a slave meant nothing, which was and remains an infamy.
I will therefore close by repeating Abraham Lincoln’s words: “so you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” (See Harriet Beecher Stowe, Wikipedia.)