This map also introduces a related topic for today’s post. A number of freedom seekers crossing into Pennsylvania and New Jersey took the risk of settling in those states. But others who reached Philadelphia felt safer going farther north, and journeyed on to New York and Boston. The passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and direct federal involvement in reinforcement of that law increased the risk of re-enslavement and many fugitives fled into Canada. Those who arrived in William Still’s office in Philadelphia were sent on to his contacts in New York, most notably Sydney Gay in New York City. I just completed reading two recently published books on the Underground Railroad with emphasis on New York, Secret Lives of the Underground Railroad in New York City: Sydney Gay, Louis Napoleon and the Record of Fugitives by Tom Calarco and Don Papson and Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad by Eric Foner. As indicated by the subtitle, Secret Lives focuses on Sydney Gay and the record he kept of fugitives he assisted when they arrived in New York City, connecting them with agents in upstate New York, who then arranged their escape into Canada, and the work of Louis Napoleon, an African American who facilitated many of these clandestine movements. Napoleon traveled as far as Maryland to help bring people into freedom. Whenever applicable, the book compares the information on individuals and their escapes in Still’s and Gay’s journals. Gateway to Freedom, written by a prominent historian, discusses some of the same individuals, organizations, and activities in New York but within the context of a broader overview of Underground Railroad activity in general.
I will occasionally draw from these references in future posts on Underground Railroad activity, and slave catching and kidnapping incidents, in the Baltimore-Wilmington-Philadelphia corridor. As Foner points out, “nearly half the slaves who appear in Gay’s record originated in Maryland and Delaware, the eastern slave states closest to free soil.” Out of 214 fugitives documented in Gay’s journal in 1855-1856, ninety-four came from Maryland and eleven from Delaware (and ten of those were from New Castle County at the northern end of the state). One of Foner’s chapter titles refers to the Metropolitan Corridor. This blog focuses on Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware region of that corridor, with periodic glimpses into southern New Jersey.