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tv   Timothy Walker Sailing to Freedom  CSPAN  April 15, 2022 6:57am-7:59am EDT

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thank you so much for joining us tonight. my name is amelia holmes, and i am excited to introduce you to our speaker, dr. timothy walker professor of history at the university of massachusetts. dartmouth is a scholar of america a maritime history colonial overseas expansion and trans oceanic slave trading. walker is a guest investigator of the woods hole oceanographic institution a contributing faculty member of the munson institute of maritime studies and director of the national endowment for the humanities landmarks and american history workshop series titled sailing to freedom, new bedford and the underground railroad. his presentation tonight. we followed by a q&a session which will be moderated by obed macy research chair michael harrison, so please submit your questions for them to use during the q&a feature or using the q&a feature, but that i'm going to turn it over now to tim. hi, tim. hello welcome. thank you so much for having me.
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i'm really very grateful to be here and it's exciting to have an opportunity to share this information and material with you. i'm going to share my screen to get us started. so there we go. so this is the cover of the recently published books sailing to freedom maritime dimensions of the underground railroad, and i want to begin just by pointing out that this is not an effort that is only my own work. it's a collaboration of nine other authors. it's an edited volume and together we put together a volume which i hope will begin to challenge and even change people's minds about how to conceptualize and think about the underground railroad. now we think about the underground railroad mainly as a terrestrial event something that happened mainly on land. that's where most of the scholarship about the underground railroad in the last 120 years or so has been focused.
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and this is a map. that's from the national geographic society. it's a it's a it's a map that is indicative of the way the underground railroad is often taught in american schools, but i wanted to point out and kind of challenge some of the things that are happening in this map and point out that what you have here, even though there is a kind of nod to the offshore maritime side of the underground railroad the overwhelming majority of the scholarship focuses on the land-based side, but there's a couple of problems with the way it's represented on this map. first of all, it shows that underground railroad escapes over land began in the very very far south. so you've got people according to the map escaping from, alabama, mississippi, georgia, tennessee, but the problem with that is that the overwhelming majority of escapes on the underground railroad that are documented as successful. the majority of them began just
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a few miles from a border with a free state so they begin enslave states like, missouri or kentucky or virginia or maryland, but they started very close to the border with pennsylvania, ohio, indiana, illinois. it was very very difficult to escape long distances overland through a hostile territory, which was the slave holding south prior to the civil war and if you think about it the logistics of that were really difficult for enslaved people who perhaps didn't know anything about the geography of the area north of where they were they had to organize provisions. they had to organize the logistics of of staying safe and keeping out of sight long distance overland escapes were extremely difficult and they almost never happened. by contrast if you could get on a northbound vessel. a sailboat going north from one of the ports of the south and
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there was always a lot of trade going back and forth between northern and southern and ports you could get on that that northbound route following the coastal currents that would that would head northward the gulf stream and you could be in a northern port in a matter of days even from some places far south as charleston or savannah so underground railroad escapes over water. were a very important component of this underground railroad story and yet they're almost never talked about. almost all of the successful escapes from the far south. happened from the coast and they happened using vessels along the saltwater, underground railroad. so i'm going to advance here's a here's a publication that came out in 1898 in the 19th century when the us was still very much focused on its seaborn economy the importance of the maritime underground railroad was very
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important and and very sorry was very well known to scholars in the 19th century. you're dealing with the underground railroad. so this is william siebert's book one of the very first sort of academic books that comes out about the underground railroad. it's published in 1898 and it shows the underground railroad as being mainly networks that happened in the north but it also shows these these escape routes happening by water from the far south and going into new england. i want to talk a little bit about where this project came from the book grew out of a series of national endowment for the humanities workshops for teachers kindergarten through 12th grade teachers that happened in new bedford during the the years 2011 2013 and 2015 and we're gonna be doing it again this summer we were refunded but this is a workshop that was originally proposed by the president of the new bedford
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historical society lee blake. she approached me and said hey we want we do this project that will focus attention on new bedford's role as a terminal point on the underground railroad a place where people escaped too because there was a lot of information about that. and we were lucky enough to get funding from the national endowment for humanities, but in the the course of doing that. a number of scholars came to new bedford to speak about this subject and it became clear that there were a lot of stories about people escaping from the far south over water that weren't showing up as a focus in the historical literature about this subject. and so we determined that gee this would be a very important subject for a book and having run this national endowment for the humanities workshop for several years. i took it upon myself in about 2015-2016 to start this project of gathering together scholars who worked on the maritime underground railroad to collect this into a volume.
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one of the early inspirations of course was jeff bolster's book, which had come out in the late 1990s blackjacks african-american -- in the age of sail and he writes about how being a mariner. well first of all almost 20% of the american seaborne workforce american mariners us mariners were people of color. and so jeff bolster's book. points out that important fact, but he also ties it into the underground railroad and said look, this was an opportunity for people to escape from the south but he didn't really follow up on it. his real focus was on on documenting the number and the importance of people of color in maritime trades and professions. one of the things that makes this story understandable if we think about the circumstances and the the various components that sort of come together to make large numbers of escape by
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water possible. we have to focus on the workforce of the far south. and the waterfront workers and many of the watermen who are skilled laborers highly highly practiced at working with with boats. and with sales. they're all enslaved people of color the overwhelming majority of the waterfront workforce and even the seaborne workforce along the coastal waters of the far south prior to the civil war are enslaved waterman and and workers and you see that reflected again and again in the artwork of the period but also just in the in the demographics of of how the enslaved population was distributed in the south and and what kind of work they were doing outside of plantation work. and so what kind of work are they doing on the waterfront? well the waterfront dock and wharf workers longshoreman and steve adores who are loading and
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unloading vessels and and figuring out the trim of vessels so they can be sailed warehouseman. drovers and teamsters who are bringing provisions and supplies and and all kinds of materials to the to the waterfront to be shipped out or to be used on the vessels even very skilled shipyard labor like cockers and riggers most of the people in the south who were employed in this labor are enslaved waterman. sorry are enslaved african americans who are turning their wages over to their owners, but they're gaining all these extraordinary skills working on the vessels skills and knowledge about how the waterfront works about how the rhythms of the sea and the rhythms of the port function which then allows them to parlay that knowledge into opportunities for escape. not only are they working on land on the waterfront, but they are also watermen they're working in boats and vessels on
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the water. they are fishermen and ferryman the operate lighters. these are the boats that load and vessels that are at anchor or on a mooring in the harbors of the south there are even very skilled deckhands and even pilots who understand the natural navigational hazards of the of the waterways of the south and so this essential skilled labor much of it enslaved provides an opportunity. this is these are people who are gaining strategic knowledge which then they can leverage to affect their own escapes to the north and we see that over and over again the folks who are escaping on board vessels are typically highly familiar with the waterfront trades and with with seaborn skills. yeah, so if we look at a map, this is just south carolina, of course, but this is a map from the 1850s that shows the concentration of the enslaved population in the south and of
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course, it's mostly very close to the coast. this is where many of the plantations were in the in the piedmont area and the the tidewater area of the south but the people who are bringing the the plantation produced goods down these coastal tidal waterways bringing them to larger ports so they can be loaded onto large vessels and then sailed out to sea. this is all being done by enslaved waterman working in small vessels along the coast understanding the intricacies of these waterways and and understanding the the culture and the rhythms of the maritime trades along those ports, very important strategic knowledge other way that we know about this of course is because of advertisements that the owner class put in newspapers up and down the coast of the united states to advertise for their runaway property in order to try
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to to get their property back. and so there is something like 200,000 runaway slave ads published in american newspapers between the middle of the 18th century right up until even the middle of the civil war so over well over a hundred years and enormous numbers and a very very high proportion of them mention run away strategies. that included a seaborn escape. so here's an early example from 1772. it's about a young man named phil. he's about 20 years old. and he's a waterman as he has been used to the sea. he will probably endeavor to get on board some ship and make his escape out of the colony all masters. all masters of vessels are therefore forewarned from harboring harboring or carrying him off at their peril. and so because we see this language again and again and
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again in the runaway slave advertisements placed by owners. we know a number of things are happening. first of all, it's this this method of escape is happening a lot. but also they are putting rules and regulations in place to make it a crime to help someone or to carry them off, uh by water in one's own vessel, so masters of vessels. took a risk and and and and wrist a severe penalty by engaging in this kind of escape. here's another one. this is from no less a person than the president of the united states. this is an instant when president washington's enslaved woman oni judge, he worried that she was going to escape while he was in philadelphia and in fact, she did take a ship from philadelphia to new hampshire and an agent of the president put this advertisement newspaper in philadelphia.
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as she may attempt to escape by water all masters of vessels and others are cautioned against receiving her on board. and of course her escape only judges escape was successful washington tried again and again to get her back and and was never able to do so, but this is just another example of a runaway slave advertisement. here's another one from the mid-19th century and this is a case where the the advertisement mentions the fact that the people who had absconded had a long relationship with with watermen, and it was suspected that they were using that relationship for help to escape both of them. sorry. both of them had had a long time relations with the -- fishermen at the bayou and so we see this again and again where owners are publishing what they suspect happened and how they think they're enslaved property might have run away.
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so this is another advertisement also a legal advertisement, but it's not placed by a slave owner in instead. it's placed by the master of a vessel from new england. this is william tabor. who was the master of a sloop called the union and he is placing a notice a legal public notice in a newspaper in new bedford in 1797. this follows the runaway slave legislation of 1793 an act which required captains who were involved in an escape to post a notice so that owners in the south or owners anywhere could could had a chance to get their property back, but this is a very interesting advertisement because you kind of need to read between the lines. so you understand what's going on here and and we try to suss out whether or not captain tabor of the sloop union actually knew
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or not that that he was involved in this escape attempt. it's kind of hard to find out but here's the here's the key passage. um, no, ye that i william tabor commander of the sloop union sailed from york river in virginia on about the 28th of march last bound to this port new bedford that on the day of after sailing i discovered a -- on board said sloop who had concealed himself unbeknownst to me. it appearing so unbeknownst to me. i had nothing to do with it. i was not involved. he just sort of turned up on my boat when we were already. well outside port. it appearing inconsistent to me to return the wind being ahead. i proceeded on my voyage and landed him in this port new bedford. so what he's saying is the weather did not allow him to turn around and return the property to his rightful owner instead. he had to he was forced by the the sailing conditions that prevailed at the time to bring
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the the runaway person to the port of new bedford. he calls himself james. is that really his name? we really don't know. he's about 27 years old and says he belongs to mr. shackleford a planter in kings and queens county, virginia. is that true or is it a sort of facade? we really don't know, but if he if he did in fact belong to mr. shackleford. we also need to know that this was a weekly publication. and even though that newspaper would probably circulate up and down the coast the advertisement would be reprinted or rather. the public notice would be reprinted in other newspapers. but by the time mr. shackleford found out about the whereabouts of his runaway property. um james could be anywhere. and so this was not a terribly effective method, but it did give the captain legal coverage to say that he had nothing to do
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with this escape and therefore he was not criminally liable for doing so. um criminal liability was a big deal because if he was found to have helped a enslaved person to escape. and deprive the owner of his property he could be banned from trading in certain ports in the south. he could be fined. he could lose his vessel. there were all kinds of potential penalties. and so it was important to establish that he was not legally liable for this escape. we see these advertisements repeated in various newspapers in the north and they tell us in fact, this was happening quite a lot. well, they're also a number of stories that we should look at and i'll go through some of them quickly. there are examples of of slave narratives that are published from the middle of the 19th century until after the civil war and often when these slave narratives are published written
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or co-written by telling the life of a fugitive enslaved person. they often reveal that escapes were made by water in fact of the entire corpus of runaway slave narratives that have been examined and and and and studied by my colleague jonathan schroeder who's at the university of warwick and england. he says that 70% of the of the slave narratives published in the second half of the 19th century. tell stories of escape by by water and so that's a very high percentage and and it's extraordinary that this subject is not getting not received much much scholarly attention in the 20th century. so this is thomas jones very well known story. he's fleeing in 1849 aboard the brigged bell when he arrives in new york. he's concerned that the captain of the bell is going to re-enslave him. and so he escapes on a raft he's being pursued by the first maid
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and members of the crew, but two passing abolition-minded mariners help him out and he makes his escape and ends up in new bedford and then boston where his where his narrative is published in 1862, once the civil warheads begun. this is the story of a young woman elizabeth blakely who was a teenager when she escaped from wilmington, north carolina goes to boston. her story is not published until the 1920s, but she spent almost two weeks on a vessel escaping from north carolina to boston and under very difficult conditions. it was cold and but she survived and and lived the rest of her life and freedom. thought of this very daring escape we also have stories of abolitionists in the north who recount tales of how they secreted away people arriving on vessels to northern ports. so here's an example of austin
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beers who wrote a memoir about fugitive slave law days in boston. this is published in 1880 and in the in the 1850s, he operated a yacht called the moby -- they would go out to the harbor and talk to newly arrived ships from the south that were northern ships, but had been in southern harbors and they would ask discreetly if they had any contraband on board runaway enslaved persons and if they did those persons would quietly be taken off in the middle of the night and then entered into the networks of the underground railroad in the north so that they could be taking to places where they could not be in danger of re-enclavement from from bounty hunters and people who were seeking to bring enslaved persons back to their lawful owners. another way that we know about the underground railroad happening by water.
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is that southern ports municipalities and even entire states of the south past laws and and ordinances that that provided for ships that were leaving southern ports headed north to be searched or fumigated or otherwise controlled so that people couldn't escape aboard them and this turns up in the literature. this is an illustration from the book by william still who was the underground railroad operative par excellence in philadelphia. he writes this book the underground railroad a record of facts and authentic letters. he recounts more than 650 incidents of people that he helped to escape from from enslavement and many many of those are people who arrive in philadelphia by boat in this case the schooner city of richmond, which was by albert fontaine. this was a packet ship that made frequent trips up and down between north and south and
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fontaine was systematically carrying out people from enslavement and bringing them to bringing them to ports in the north where they could find their way into the underground railroad and and to safety in this particular case. his vessel was searched there were more than 20 enslaved people hidden away on board. none of them were found and he was able to leave the harbor in norfolk virginia and sail to the north and those people to freedom. this is a illustration also from william still's book that shows an incident where a fairly large number of people were brought a board of schooner and an offloaded in the middle of the night at league island in philadelphia in july of 1856 and you know all of the components of the underground railroad are here we have sort of veiled carriages that the fugitives would be loaded into we have
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young. this was an opportunity for women and children to escape a board a large vessel, which is very difficult do over land. we have african-american operatives of the underground railroad helping to secret their in some cases family members who had been brought from the far south and and so this is this is a really fine illustration of how this all worked and it comes together in this this one key illustration published in 1872 1872 in philadelphia william stills memoir i want to sort of wrap up with some conversation about new bedford because new bedford was known as the fugitives gibraltar a place. that was a harbor of safety a terminal point on the underground railroad where people escaping from the south, especially from the waterfronts of the south would find a place
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where they could work and and live without being in danger of re-enclavement and people came there over time in very large numbers new bedford had the highest african-american population per capita of any city in the north. it didn't mean it had more people than boston or philadelphia, but as a percentage of the entire population, it was the highest per capita population in the north um and and many of those people prior to the fugitive slave act of 1850 gave new bedford, uh census takers their birthplace as being in the so they were admitting that they were people of african descent born in the south but now living in the north very very strong likelihood that those people had been born into slavery, but then made their way to freedom in the north and newspaper ads then reflect this because we see that in some cases people are
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suspected of going to new bedford. the probability is she has gone towards new bedford as she has a father living there and so new bedford becomes this place, excuse me, where where it was a destination for people escaping on the maritime, underground railroad. the fugitive is gibraltar is a term that was current in the 19th century, but it also is the title of a very fine book by my colleague catherine grover who is a contributor to the volume that i've recently published, but she did an entire book about new bedford called the fugitives gibraltar escaping slaves and abolitionism in new bedford, massachusetts. so this was another inspiration for the book that i subsequently did. um this wonderful picture shows the nathan and paulie johnson house on the left. that's the white home and the yellow building is an 18th century. acre meeting house. so one of the reasons why new
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bedford becomes this seat this hotbed of abolitionism is because new bedford being the whaling capital of the world as it was by the 1820s and 30s with many of the quaker population having left nantucket to come to new bedford by the 19th century. the the quakers were very strongly typically abolitionist. and they they were in a position because of the dynamic boom of the whaling industry. they were in a position to always be in need of labor. and so these two factors sort of converge where new bedford becomes this place where people are against slavery and they they have a need for skilled laborers both on the waterfront and on ships and so african-americans escaping who have those skills know that they can can come to new bedford and find a means to make a living the nathan and polly johnson house in fact is the first home
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of frederick douglass when he escapes using a siemens protection paper in order to travel safely to the north mostly by rail and over land, but also using some waterborne means as well. he comes to new bedford in 1838 and he tries to find work using a skill that he was trained in which was as a cocker. he wasn't able to do that because the the cockers of new bedford were not open to the idea of working with a man of color but within a few years after his arrival the color line blurred and conquers were able to find work in new bedford by the by the 1840s. so this is a siemens protection paper for israel white in he was born he gives his birthplace as little creek delaware born sometime in 1799, but in 1836 he
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receives a a siemens protection paper at the time he would was born in delaware delaware was of course slave holding state and there's a very strong possibility that that he was in fact born into born into slavery. so i'll wrap up pretty much there. just reminding us that many of the skills that escaping african-americans would have had working on the waterfronts and in the vessels of the far south could be immediately put to work in new bedford in the 19th century at the height of the whaling trade and and so this provided a tremendous opportunity for for this sort of labor and we see this just as a final parting thought we see the fact that there were large numbers of african americans engaged in this labor if we look at the art of the whaling industry lewis temple who quite likely was an escaped
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african-american revolutionizes the wailing business by creating a new type of harpoon. that was much more effective in hunting whales but the art and painting of the of the yankee whaling industry shows us again and again images of african americans engaged in in this labor well into the 19th century and and indeed dominating it by towards the end of the 19th century. so with that i will wrap up and look forward to a good conversation and questions. i certainly haven't covered every aspect of this, but i know that we'll we'll have some good questions and i can try to respond to them. thank you so much for your attention. well, thank you. thank you dr. walker. that's really interesting and really amazing. i was very very excited when this book was was finally published last year having followed some of what's been
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going on with our colleagues in new bedford around the teacher training and some of this new research and i'd be interested first off for questions people in the audience by all means click the little button for q&a and type out any questions that you have, but i'm wondering at catherine grover wrote the section of the book that that does deal with nantucket and other ports in this region separate from new bedford. and i'm just wondering if she had if she found any particular insights regarding nantucket specifically with with the maritime, underground railroad. so catherine grover's work is meticulously research. she's really extraordinary scholar and and it's been my pleasure to work with her and to read or work. she does find a number of sort of unique aspects to the nantucket community. and in many ways there are there
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are parallels and mirror aspects that that go along with what was happening in new bedford similarly because of the the wailing activity there and the in the first half of the 19th century people could escape and put their skills to use in the in the in the in the harbor and on the ships that we're leaving nantucket one of the problems though with nantucket was that because it was such a relatively small community and an island if one of one of the perceived dangers, i think of the place was that if bounty hunters, or someone an official who had been deputized to try to take someone back into slavery. it was harder to escape and harder to to be to be secreted away if you were in the relatively closed and isolated community of nantucket, so it was easier to make one's escape
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secretly with the means available to underground railroad operatives who were black and white free blacks in the north and and white abolitionists, and it was easier to escape from a land-bound port that had a broad inter land like new bedford and so most of the focus shifted to new bedford with the first of the 19th century. you know, that's that's really interesting. i mean one of the most famous escaped slave narratives from nantucket as arthur cooper and his family, excuse me from the 1820s, you know, but he came through new bedford. so there is that connection there and then the famous part of his story, of course, is that first the black community and then the white quaker community here all acted together to shield him and his family, you know, and basically held their crowned until the slave hunters went away. so yeah really interesting, but, you know black participation in
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target whaling is definitely something that we at the at the wailing museum on and talk it had been trying to do more to shine light on, you know, and and to really, you know talk more about that story about the opportunities that wailing presented here on island similar to to the opportunities presented in new bedford. so that's really great. i'd be curious to hear about you know, so you showed that great map from the 1890s of underground railroad networks sort of starting at the mason-dixon line more or less and going north. what happened in the historiography and in people's perceptions to sort of make the maritime side of this seem to be forgotten if it's not too strong a way to put it. yeah. no, it's a wonderful question and and we've we've thought and talked a lot about that myself and the other collaborate collaborating authors as we were putting the book together, and i think there are a number of
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reasons for why the story of the maritime underground railroad sort of falls out of the historiography. um for one you have a population of of americans that once there is an established, you know, interstate highway system and once the the the movement of goods sort of shifts at least across land shifts to the highway system historians and and just people in general have kind of turned their back on the sea they forgot about how important it is as a as a means to to carry cargo and and i often remind my students this today that still 90% of the trade that the united states does arrives in our harbors by by ship and maybe you know, the the supply line problems that we've been having over the last six months or so has has sort of forced us to reconsider the fact that gosh the merchant marine
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and and the maritime side of of commerce is really very important, but i think it also comes down to the way historians were trained in the 20th century after world war two maritime studies sort of fell out of fashion. there's always been a hardcore of people who are really very interested in it and you know the months and institute is is testament to the ongoing interest in maritime studies, but on a much broader scale the great majority of historians who are maybe social historians and people who would turn their attention to the underground railroad don't have the founding or the sort of professional historical sensitivities to the importance and and the the significance of maritime documentation. and so they just they didn't focus their attention on that. they possibly wouldn't have used
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maritime archives in the way that we were able to use and and so i think it has to do a lot with historic the training of historians and and how you know as with anything there are fashions and there are fashions in historical studies and and the maritime dimension of things has has really not been a major focus over the last 40 or 50 years, but i think we can change that and i i really want one of the accomplishments of this book. i hope is that we will begin to change the way people think about how the underground railroad operated where it's important centers were and really focus people's attention on this maritime coastwise escape channel. that was really so important, especially if you're in the deep south yeah, and it's interesting because it relates so much to our own perceptions of how trade worked in the past as well, you know that that at this period
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you're not generally sending your good super long distances over land. you're most of this trade is happening on water. it's one of the reasons then tuck. it is able to be economically successful, right? it's on the highway right when the highways the water. it's on the highway. it's a real crossroad. it's going around the cape. and yeah, it's it's very important for for coastwise traffic. so, yeah, absolutely, you know prior to the civil war there were relatively few bridged river crossings along the east coast and there were relatively few direct roads that connected the major port cities so far and away the easiest way to move not only heavy bulk cargo, but also simply people moving up and down the coast they often went by water because it was the most efficient and fastest way to do it following the gulf stream from savannah or charleston, south carolina. you could be if you had
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favorable wind and and followed the the could be in new york in a matter of just a few days and boston as well and you know ships travel all night long. there's no need to stop. there's no risk of of being discovered once you're offshore. another point that i think is important to mention here. is that the united states and most nations in the 19th century only recognized a three mile limit of their national waters and so a ship traveling offshore was relatively quickly outside the the reach of of the law for anyone who would interfere with the escape of a of a runaway slave that danger happened when they went back into court and this is why for example, you know people who are escaping by ship worried that their captains might sell them back into slavery in new york or or turn
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them over to authorities in boston or philadelphia, but if they were with a captain that was sympathetic and was an abolitionist then they could count on being kept hidden below deck and and chances are they wouldn't be discovered until they and they would have an opportunity then to with the underground railroad operatives in the north once they got into a safe harbor. that's amazing. wow, so we have a few questions here from some of the people who've been attending. um, we have one person who's asking if any of the research that that is highlighted in the book came across any routes that ended or involved cape cod specifically and the person asks in particular whether rh port any the person mentions that there is a local antique store in town that is said to be part of the underground railroad. he's wondering if you have any insights on cape cod and that so in the in the same chapter written by catherine grover she does discuss in general terms
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the cape and what she points out is that mainly because of the lack so the cape could be a pass through point where where people might find a way to get then further up to boston or so on so if they were landed on the cape, but because it didn't typically offer a lot of opportunities for work. you didn't get a population of african-americans settling there, although it could have been a place where people passed through and actually this gives me an opportunity to say something else about the underground railroad in general terms. we're talking about activities that were illegal and clandestine. even in the north prior to the civil war it was risky and and a crime to assist in a bet someone escaping enslavement. and so there aren't a lot of records that are left behind. um to answer your question about
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the cape there may have been more activity than we're aware of but it's simply wasn't documented because it was illegal and carried the the weight of a fine but to the extent that there is information available catherine grover discusses this in the in the chapters, so i would i would i would say that it would behoove you to to read that part of the book to get more about the the cape. that's great. so here we have someone who asks i would think it would be much easier for men to escape by sea than women. although it was great to see the illustration of the woman on the schooner. are there slave narratives about women escaping and is is there any sense from the research of of a gender balance or imbalance in this? no, that's that's a great question. and again, we would love to have more concrete data about that's quantitative about this. there are examples elizabeth blakely the young teenage woman who escapes to boston there are
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others we have the example of of the schooner city of richmond that regularly brought people of of color who were both men and women and children but the overwhelming majority in fact are men at least the documented cases that we have come up with and when you do have women and children escaping, it's typically in family groups and so relatively fewer numbers, but i think one thing to point out of about this is that again, many of the scapes escapes are completely undocumented and so we don't really know. hard numbers but what we can say, is that a lot of the documented escapes that we know about that were successful. we're escapes that were done sort of ad hoc. they were they were done opportunistically when when
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typically a man who had maritime skills, maybe befriended a member of a crew of a northbound vessel or a captain and the crew member often suggested that maybe they would leave a space between bales of goods or bales of cotton where that person could secret themselves away. and so as a kind of spur the moment relatively unplanned to escape many of the escapes happened that way and they leave absolutely no trace of evidence. we only find out about them if they're unsuccessful if someone is arrested then that might show up in the documentation. or if they write a memoir about it later or someone notes it once they are safely in the north or in canada or wherever they end up. but i think there were a lot of escapes that happened sort of spontaneously where someone leveraged their maritime skills and their knowledge and figured out a way to get on a ship and
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then just disappeared and usually it's men who were able to do that because they're the majority of people working on the waterfront for our family to escape or for a woman and child to escape someone who was a stranger on the water front who would have been noticed and suspicious would be someone of suspicion for being on the waterfront. it was it took much greater planning to get them out of enslavement. um the one big case where a where there was unsuccessful where i'm talking about the incident of the schooner pearl with captain daniel drayton who tried to take almost 80 enslaved people from washington dc and was trying to escape down the potomac and was unlucky with wind and weather and was captured. he suffered terribly. he was imprisoned many of the people who had tried to escape or people who had worked for
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very prominent and often political families in washington many of them were sold into much worse circumstances in the far south as a result of their their attempt to escape, but but this is a case where a very large number of the people on board the pearl were were female and young and we're trying to get to the north and it unfortunately that effort was not successful. yeah. no, that's a very tragic and you know the documentation for that one else happens to be quite rich. yeah. so we have somebody asking if enslavedock workers in the south were supervised by an overseer in a system that might be analogous to plantation work and what the influence of that might have been on on the ability to escape, right? that's a great question. um what surprising i think for a lot of people who who don't spend a lot of time thinking about the system of enslavement in the south. it's just how much autonomy
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enslaved people often had they were given quite a lot frequently of responsibility people working in warehouses even commanding their own not their own vessel, but but a vessel owned by someone else and so often they were working outside the immediate supervision of of someone from the owner class not always the case and usually along the wharves and waterfronts there were berlin authority who were who were hired by the the white owner class and the the mercantile class to oversee things but even so those numbers were very small and and the the opportunities for enslaved workers to work out of sight of someone who would who would be watching them and and being vigilant over them were many and so i think that there were there were a great many opportunities
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enslaved waterfront workers. to make the kinds of connections that would serve them in an escape making connection with the northern sailor with the cruise aboard ships. they were often employed with with loading vessels and and shifting cargo aboard vessels. and so when you're down in the hold and you're working side by side with some of the northern mariners who are also on this job, you know, there's there's very little opportunity for for someone from the south to oversee workers in those closed conditions. and that implies as well those those sort of close working conditions all that implies to them in another person here is asking about you know, how did potential fugitives learn about possible escape route? all right. i know this was possible. yeah, so so and this is something that's a great question too that this is something that the southern owner class worried about
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constantly. they tried to restrict the movements of northern sailors particularly free blacks who were coming to the south aboard northern ships. they really worried that northern free african americans were were spreading information and encouraging enslaved black people to run away and so some of the ordinances and the laws that we see past in the far south during the first half of the 19th century and right up the civil war or to restrict the movements of of northern mariners particularly free black mariners, and so sometimes african-american sailors were restricted to their own vessel on a mooring out in the harbor where they couldn't circulate in the towns sometimes in extreme cases. they were even incarcerated. in in a southern port for the duration of the time that their ship was in in port and so that's one way that that
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southerners worried being witnessed to what was happening. they worried that this was going on but also secret messages that were that were carried by northern sailors and past hand-to-hand or more likely by word of mouth trying to get a message to a family member if someone had successfully escaped to the north. they might send a message back with a southern southbound sailor that they knew was sympathetic to them to to let them know that they had arrived in in freedom. and so that's where you get circumstances like the runaway slave advertisement that i showed where a woman in the south who was enslaved knew that her father was living in new bedford because and that gave the the owner cause to suspect that she had tried to join in when she ran away. mmm so one person wants to know. do we know how much risk there was to an escaping person that
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the ship they would board the captain would take them back for a bounty. and and how did this transaction work were there ways that they could minimize the risk to themselves of being turned in. yeah, so an unscrupulous ship captain could profit in a couple of ways there were captains who accepted fees or bribes from enslaved people to get them to the north, but the risk was of course that that same captain could then turn around and collect money from a from a bounty hunter or an official in the north where there were financial incentives to turn over enslaved people and and return them to their their masters. they could even turn them over and hope to get the reward that was in the the published runaway slave advertisement so that certainly could happen and and one would have to to suspect that no one was ever fully comfortable until they were in the hands of someone that they
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really trusted to be have their interests in mind and trying to get them to escape. but yeah, there were there was danger. there was always risk involved unless you were with a crew of people who were who you were convinced were in fact abolitionists someone who's who's trying to encourage you to escape? i would say it was would be an unlikely thing that they were trying to do that in order to trick you and to profit from your from your misfortune. i guess it could have happened. but but then other captains and some vessels were actually known quietly very very quietly to to have been reliable persons who who could be counted on to deliver you safely to the north this captain fontaine seems to have been one of them and operated successfully for several years moving numbers of people from the south to the north. so it the your point is very
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well taken that there was risk involved of re enslavement and there's probably more risk for someone who's a genuine stowaway who gets a board of vessel without the knowledge of the crew or the captain then that could be a problem daniel drayton wrote in his memoir that any northern ship that was anchored in the waters of the south would very quickly be approached almost you know daily by people who wanted to get a board and leave and that was always a constant concern of captain's who were northern captains who were trading trading in the south because they risked losing their boats. they risk being fined or in jail for helping to help it helping people to escape and so the penalties were were high and apparently they were all so effective from any captains because that the numbers of trading vessels heading between the north and south were enormous, you know, we're
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talking about thousands annually of vessels going back and forth carrying all kinds of goods the southern plantation goods many of them were shipped north cotton going to cotton mills in the north sugar and molasses and other things and manufactured goods from the north going to the south would from the coastal south that had been cut by enslaved labor and then loaded onto special. vessels for carrying that wood to the north for shipbuilding or for for building homes other things this commerce was constant and and that gave all kinds of opportunities. but it also meant that the southern port cities and and regions where there were where this trade was going on were enacting all kinds of measures to stop this sort of sieve of escapees of leaving it it represented an enormous loss in terms not only of capital
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because every enslaved person was tremendously valuable, but it also was a brain drain because some of the very best and and brightest and most skilled of the waterfront workers and mariners were exactly the ones who were finding ways to escape on northern vessels. wow, it's amazing. so i think we've got time for two more and we've had a question about the wampanoag community on the cape and in southeastern massachusetts one, here's of runaway enslaved people finding refuge with the mashpee wampanoags and is there is there much evidence that surfaced about those connections, you know between enslaved people escaping and then either being aided or sheltered or intermarrying with wampanoa communities. yeah, so, you know the best example of something like that is there's a community in westport mass, massachusetts that grows up around captain coffee who was himself the the
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son of a of a couple that was lompanog and and african and and so in the early 19th century you have this sort of multi-ethnic community that grows up their coffee starts to school for someone of for children of any any race that could go and and so yeah, there there is this there is this sort of extraordinary link between and the elizabeth islands and and the capen islands that that seems to have consciously and systematically promoted the the possibility of helping escaped people coffee and his sons captain vessels that were remarkable for having crews that were entirely people of color and many of them were people who
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had escaped from the far south now how by the by the 18 teens and 20s how how present that wampanoag component in that group was i i can't say, um, it's not a subject on which i myself have done research, but i have to believe that that there was that there was a community of wampanoags that were that continue to be sympathetic to this cause and to the abolitionist cause on the islands well into the 19th century. hmm it's very interesting something we can be looking more into and speaking of which what about your current projects and ongoing research that stems out of out of this project. yeah, so the whole time that i was doing this book i had a kind of parallel project which was related but not exactly the same and and that project brought me to nantucket frequently. well as frequently as i could manage it i'm working with a colleague at woods hole
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oceanographic institute to extract weather data going back to or 300 years using data that's recorded in the log books of the whalers and so we're going through we're coming through these log books and some of the oldest ones are out at the nantucket historical association in there archive and we're drawing the the daily latitude launch tune and weather conditions that we're recorded systematically in these log books, and then i'm feeding that information to my colleagues at woods hole who are oceanographers and paleo. colleges and they're using that data to model weather going back to the well currently to the mid 18th century, but we also hope to expand the summer. we're going to be using archives in portugal to expand it even later into the into the 17th century. so it's a very exciting project and i'm i couldn't do it if it weren't for repositories like the nantucket historical association which which keep all
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these these great records available and and open to researchers like myself. so i'm very grateful to what they've allowed me to do in there in their archive there. great. well, thank you. we're i mean, we've been really excited to get anybody in the audience doesn't know we've made a grand push to digitize all of the logbooks in our collection and make them publicly available through our both our catalog and the internet archive. and we've also been transcribing them so that the the data in them is more accessible in many ways, but nothing nothing gets around actually reading the original so really excited to hear about that project. and i think that brings us to the end. we appreciate everybody's questions. sorry, we weren't able to get to quite everybody on the list, but we really appreciate this. and what a
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