The first explanation appears to give the complete answer for the pattern. Sassafras Neck between the Sassafras and Bohemia rivers had the highest concentration of enslaved in the county, and the area from the Bohemia River and Elkton also contained a sizable population in bondage. On the other hand, the northern election districts in the county had a small, dwindling slave population. But this answer does not preclude additional reasons for the pattern. Neighboring New Castle County upends the distribution pattern based on the slave population. New Castle County had the smallest percentage of enslaved in Delaware, and Sussex County at the southernmost part of the state had the highest. And yet, according to Eric Foner in Gateway to Freedom, of eleven freedom seekers identified from (specific counties in) Delaware, all but one came from New Castle County. So this suggests that population percentage alone does not give a full explanation for the pattern, and additional factors should be considered as well.
The high number of escapes from between Elkton and the Sassafras River, and the Delaware escapes coming almost exclusively from neighboring New Castle County may have a shared reason. The number of escapes in this combined area may be a testament to the effectiveness of the Wilmington segment of the Underground Railroad, and to Thomas Garrett and the agents that coordinated with him. Many of the freedom seekers from the eastern side of Cecil County likely connected with the Underground Railroad operating out of Delaware and then were assisted on their journey to Philadelphia. Reviewing many of the maps in the previous posts would show a sizable number of Cecil County freedom seekers fled from locations near the Delaware border.
Even with a small population of enslaved in the northern part of Cecil County, why is it that only Henry Fields arrived at Still’s office from that part of the county? The fact that Fields lived less than a mile from a Quaker meetinghouse and ended up in the underground network may be more than coincidence. But what about others in the northern election districts?
As Larry Gara points out in Liberty Line, not every freedom seeker entered the Underground Railroad network, but managed their own escape into the north, and then may have received help or continued on their own. Fleeing into the free state of Pennsylvania was a matter of a few miles for those enslaved in the northern election districts of Cecil County. A difference in the agricultural economy and the fact that a slave could easily disappear into Pennsylvania accounts for why many farmers in this part of the county preferred to rely on hiring free blacks rather using an enslaved work force. The settlement of Maryland fugitives in Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, is well documented Settling on the north side of the Mason-Dixon line was expedient, and kept the fugitive close to his or her family. But it was also risky, and the closer one settled near the line, the riskier the decision. Slave catchers and kidnappers like Thomas McCreary continuously scoured the area, and informers, white and black, betrayed neighbors. Others located further from the line, in the areas of Columbia in Lancaster County, the urban areas of Philadelphia, and cities across the Delaware River in New Jersey. But the danger of recapture remained, and increased after the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
The Susquehanna River, Cecil County’s western boundary, offered an attractive route to freedom. As noted, some settled in the area of Columbia, Pennsylvania. But the waterway flowed from further north, from the state of New York, and another branch from the rural areas of central Pennsylvania. Freedom seekers could enter into the Underground Railroad at various locations along the along the river and western New York, and they would not have been recorded by William Still or Sydney Gay. In the 1850s, with the new fugitive slave act in effect, the only save haven for freedom seekers was outside the boundaries of the United States. For many who arrived in western New York, Canada was the logical next stop to secure their newly won freedom.
To answer the question about the distribution pattern of Cecil County freedom seekers recorded by Still and Gay, all these factors should be considered: the distribution of the enslaved population, the effectiveness of the Underground Railroad in Delaware, a free state at the northern border, and an alternative escape route that extends into western New York, and offers the chance to enter Canada from there.