W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt) Du Bois.

Economic co-operation among Negro Americans. Report of a social study made by Atlanta University under the patronage of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C. together with the proceedings of the 12th Conference for the Study of the Negro Problems, held at Atlanta University, on Tuesday, May t online

. (page 4 of 22)
Online LibraryW. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt) Du BoisEconomic co-operation among Negro Americans. Report of a social study made by Atlanta University under the patronage of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C. together with the proceedings of the 12th Conference for the Study of the Negro Problems, held at Atlanta University, on Tuesday, May t → online text (page 4 of 22)
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are intelligent and rich and all of them are deadly enemies of the South ;

Underground Railroad 27

five hundred of them at least annually visit the slave states, passing
from Florida to Harper s Ferry on heroic errands of mercy and deliv
erance. They have carried the Underground Railroad and the Under
ground Telegraph into nearly every Southern state. Here obviously is
a power of great importance for a war of liberation." Siebert says that
in the South much secret aid was rendered the fugitives by persons of
their own race, and he gives instances in numbers of border states
where colored persons were in charge of the runaways. Frederick
Douglass connection with the Underground Railroad began long before
he himself left the South. In the North people of the African race
would be found in most communities, and in many cases they became
energetic workers.

It was natural that Negro settlements in the free states should be resorted
to by fugitive slaves. The colored people of Greenwich, New Jersey, the
Stewart, settlement of Jackson county, Ohio, the Upper and Lower Camps,
Brown county, Ohio, and the colored settlement, Hamilton county, Indiana,
were active. The list of towns and cities in which the Negroes became co-
workers with white persons in harboring and concealing runaways is a long
one. Oberlin, Portsmouth and Cincinnati, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Phila
delphia, Pennsylvania, and Boston, Massachusetts, will suffice as examples.
Negro settlements in the interior of the free states, as well as along their
southern frontier, soon carne to form important links in the chain of stations
leading from the Southern states to Canada.*

In the list of Underground Railway operators given by Siebert there
are 128 names of Negroes, and Negroes were on the vigilant commit
tees of most of the larger towns, including Boston, Syracuse, Spring
field and Philadelphia.

The largest number of abduction cases occurred through the activities of
those well disposed towards fugitives by the attachments of race. There were
many Negroes, enslaved and free, along the southern boundaries of New Jer
sey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa, whose opportunities were
numerous for conveying fugitives to free soil with slight risk to themselves.
These persons sometimes did scarcely more than ferry runaways across
streams or direct them to the home of friends residing near the line of free
states. In the vicinity of Martin s Ferry, Ohio, there lived a colored man who
frequented the Virginia shore for the purpose of persuading slaves to run
away. He was in the habit of imparting the necessary information and then
displaying himself in an intoxicated condition, feigned or real, to avoid sus
picion. At last he was found out, but escaped by betaking himself to Canada.
In the neighborhood of Portsmouth, Ohio, slaves were conveyed across the
river by one Poindexter, a barber of the town of Jackson. In Baltimore,
Maryland, two colored women who engaged in selling vegetables, were effi
cient in starting fugitives on the way to Philadelphia. At Louisville, Ken
tucky, Wash Spradley,a shrewd Negro, was instrumental in helping many of
his enslaved brethren out of bondage. These few instances will suffice to il
lustrate the secret enterprises conducted by colored persons on both sides of
the sectional line once dividing the North from the South.

Another class of colored persons that undertook the work of delivering some
of their race from cruel uncertainties of slavery may be found among the

* Siebert, 82, 91.

28 Economic Co-operation Among Negro Americans

refugees of Canada. Describing the early development of the movement of
slaves to Canada, Dr. Samuel G. Howe says of these persons : " Some, not con
tent with personal freedom and happiness, went secretly back to their old
homes and brought away their wives and children at much peril and cost."
It has been said that the number of these persons visiting the South annually
was about five hundred. Mr. D. B. Hodge, of Lloydsville, Ohio, gives the case
of a Negro that went to Canada by way of New Athens, and in the course of a-
year returned over the same route, went to Kentucky, and brought away his
wife and two children, making his pilgrimage northward again after the
lapse of about two months. Another case, reported by Mr. N. C. Buswell of
Nefouset, Illinois, is as follows : "A slave, Charlie, belonging to a Missouri
planter living near Quincy, Illinois, escaped to Canada by way of one of the
underground routes. Ere long he decided to return and get his wife, but
found that she had been sold South. When making his second journey east
ward he brought with him a family of slaves who preferred freedom to remain
ing as the chattels of his old master. This was the first of a number of such
trips made by the fugitive, Charlie. Mr. Seth Lin ton, who w r as familiar with
the work on a line of this road running through Clinton county, Ohio, reports
that a fugitive that had passed along the route returned after some months,
saying he had come back to rescue his wife. His absence in the slave state
continued so long that it was feared he had been captured, but after some
weeks he reappeared, bringing his wife and her father with him. He told of
having seen many slaves in the country and said they would be along as soon
as they could escape."*

The stations at Mechanicsburg were among the most widely known in
central and southern Ohio. They received fugitives from at least three regu
lar routes, and doubtless had "switch connections" with other lines. Passen
gers were taken northward over one of the three, perhaps, four roads, and as
one or two of these lay through pro-slavery neighborhoods a brave and expe
rienced agent was almost indispensable. George W. S. Lucas, a colored man
of Salem, Columbiana county, Ohio, made frequent trips with the closed car
riage of Philip Evans between Barnesville, New Philadelphia and Cadiz, and
two stations, Ash tabula and Painesville, on the shore of Lake Erie. Occa
sionally Mr. Lucas conducted parties to Cleveland and Sandusky and Toledo,
but in such cases he went on foot or by stage. His trips were sometimes a
hundred miles and more in length. George L. Burroughes, a colored man at
Cairo, Illinois, became an agent for the Underground Road in 1857 while act
ing as porter of a sleeping car running on the Illinois Central Railroad between
Cairo and Chicago. At Albany, New York, Stephen Myers, a Negro, was an
agent of the Underground Road for a wide extent of territory. At Detroit
there were several agents, among them George DeBaptiste and George Dolar-

The most celebrated of these abductors were Harriet Tub-man and
.Josiah Henson, who are said to have been the means of releasing many
hundreds of slaves from slavery.

Outside of this general co-operation there was, however, evidence of
real organization among the Negroes. Hinton says that John Brown
knew of this secret organization and sought to take advantage of it.
Gill also testifies to the same organization ; extracts from their writing
will show their knowledge of this more secret co-operation :

Siebert, 151. t Siebert, 70.

Underground Railroad 29

On leaving Boston, March 8th, he [i. e., John Brown] carried with him $500 in
gold and assurance of other support. He passed through New York on the
2d, preferring to go around rather than take the risk of being recognized in
western Massachusetts. On the 10th of March Frederick Douglass, Henry
Highland Garnett of New York, Stephen Smith and William Still of Phila
delphia, [all colored] with John Brown, Jr., met the captain in conference at
the dwelling of either Smith or Still. Of course the object of these was to find
out the Underground Railroad routes and stations, to ascertain the persons
who were actually to be relied upon, places to stop at, means of conveyance,
and especially to learn of the colored men who could be trusted. The Phila
delphia conference must have gone over this ground with the two Browns,
and the experience of those who were the most active of Underground Rail
road directors in that section, could not but have been useful John

Brown s purpose in calling and holding the convention at Chatham, Canada
West, was in harmony with the conception and plans he had evolved. There
was a large number of colored residents under the British flag. They were
mainly fugitive slaves, among whom were many bold, even daring men. In
the section of which Chatham was one of the centers, considerable direction
had been given to the settlement of these people. There were among them
(and still are) a good many farmers, mechanics, storekeepers, as well as labor
ers. It would not be correct to say that no prejudice existed against them,
but it was not strong enough, as in the land from which they fled, to prevent
industry and sobriety from having a fair chance, while intelligence, well di
rected, made its way to civic and business recognition. There were probably
not less than 75,000 fugitive residents in Canada West at the time of the
Chatham gathering. Their presence, well-ordered lives and fair degree of
prosperity, had brought also to live with them as doctors, clergymen, teachers,
lawyers, printers, surveyors, etc., educated freemen of their own race. Martin
Delany, a physician, editor, ethnologist and naturalist, was one of them. Mr.
Holden, a well-trained surveyor and civil engineer, at whose residence in
Chatham John Brown stayed, the Rev. William Charles Munroe, Osborne
Perry Anderson and others, were among these helpers. But it was not simply
the presence of these forces which took John Brown to Chatham. As one may
naturally understand, looking at conditions then existing, there existed some
thing of an organization to assist fugitives and for resistance to their masters.
It was found all along the borders from Syracuse, New York, to Detroit, Michi
gan. As none but colored men were admitted into direct and active member
ship with this "League of Freedom," it is quite difficult to trace its workings
or know how far its ramifications extended. One of the most interesting
phases of slave life, so far as the whites were enabled to see or impinge upon
it, was the extent and rapidity of communicatkm among them. Four geo
graphical lines seem to have been chiefly followed. One was that of the coast
south of the Potomac, whose almost continuous line of swamps from the vi
cinity of Norfolk, Ya., to the northern border of Florida afforded a refuge for
many who could not escape and became " marooned " in their depths, while
giving facility to the more enduring to work their way out to the North Star
Land. The great Appalachian range and its abutting mountains were long a
rugged, lonely, but comparatively safe route to freedom. It was used, too, for
many years. Doubtless a knowledge of that fact, for John Brown was always
an active Underground Railroad man, had very much to do, apart from its
immediate use strategically considered, with the captain s decision to begin
operations therein. Harriet Tubman, whom John Brown met for the first time
at St. Catherine s in March or April, 1858, was a constant user of the Appalach-

30 Economic Co-operation Among Negro Americans

ian route in her efforts to aid escaping slaves. " Moses," as Mrs. Tubman was
called by her own people, was a most remarkable black woman, unlettered
and very negrine, but with a great degree of intelligence and perceptive in
sight, amazing courage and a simple steadfastness of devotion which lifts her
career into the ranks of heroism. Herself a fugitive slave, she devoted her
life after her own freedom was won, to the work of aiding others to escape.
First and last Harriet brought out several thousand slaves. John Brown
always called her "General," and once introduced her to Wendell Phillips by
saying, "I bring you one of the best and bravest persons on this continent
General Tubman, as we call her." William Lambert, who died in Detroit a
few years since, being very nearly one hundred years old, was another of those
of the race who devoted themselves to the work for which John Brown hoped
to strike a culminating blow. Between 1829 and 1862 thirty-three years Wil
liam is reported to have aided in the escape of 30,000 slaves. He lived in De
troit, and was one of the foremost representatives of his people in both Michi
gan and Ontario. Underground Railroad operations culminating chiefly at
(Cleveland, Sandusky and Detroit, led by broad and denned routes through
Ohio to the border of Kentucky. Through that state in the heart of the Cum
berland mountains, northern Georgia, east Tennessee and northern Alabama,
the limestone caves of the region served a useful purpose. And it is a fact that
the colored people living in Ohio were often bolder and more determined than
was the rule elsewhere. The Ohio-Kentucky routes probably served more
fugitives than others in the North. The valley of the Mississippi was the most
westerly channel until Kansas opened a bolder way of escape from the South
west slave section. John Brown knew whatever was to be known of all this
unrest, and he also must have known of the secret organization which George
B. Gill mentions in his interesting paper. This organization served a purpose
of some value to the government in the earlier parts of the Civil War, a fact
that lies within my own knowledge, and then fell into disuse as the hours
moved swifter to the one in which the gate-way of the Union swung aside,
and the pathway of the law opened, to allow the colored American to reach
emancipation and citizenship.

Dr. Alexander Milton Ross, in a letter January 21st, 1893, says: *
Now in reference to the "Liberty League," I was one of their members at
large; Gerrit Smith and Lewis Tappan were the others. As to the actual
members I had very little acquaintance. I knew of George J. Reynolds of
Hamilton (Sandusky, also), George W. Brown and Glover Harrison of this
city (Toronto). The branch of the League in Upper Canada had no connection
with the armed and drilled men along the United States border, whose duty
it was to help the slaves to escape to Canada. Of course I knew many of them
Liberators, as they were called, from Erie to Sandusky and Cleveland.

The list of the men who met John Brown in the celebrated Chatham
convention also shows the large number of co-workers, whom he tried
to get to help him at Harper s Ferry. The names of the members of
the Chatham convention were: William Charles Monroe, G. J. Rey
nolds, J. C. Grant, A. J. Smith, James Monroe Jones, George B. Gill,
M. F. Bailey, William Lambert, S. Hunton, John J. Jackson, Osborne
P. Anderson, Alfred Whipper, C. W. Moffett, James M. Bell, W. H.
Lehman, Alfred M. Ellsworth, John E. Cook, Steward Taylor, James

Hlnton: John Brown and His Men.

Underground Railroad 31

W. Purnell, George Akin, Stephen Dettin, Thomas Hickerson, John
Cannel, Robinson A lexander, Richard Realf, Thomas F. Gary, Richard
Richardson. Luke F. Parsons, Thos. M. Kennard, Jeremiah Anderson,
J. H. Delaney, Robert Van Vauken, Thos. M. Stringer, Charles P. Tidd,
John A. Thomas, C. Whipple, Alias Aaron D. Stevens, J. D. Shadd,
Robert Newman, Owen Brown, John Brown, J. H. Harris, Charles
Smith, Simon Fislin, Isaac Holden, James Smith, John H. Kagi; the
secretary, Dr. M. R. Delaney, was a corresponding member. The mem
bers whose names are in italics were colored men.

In addition to the educational facilities the colored folk of Chatham
had churches of their own, a newspaper conducted in their interest by
Mr. I. D. Shadd, an accomplished colored man, and societies for social
intercourse and improvement, in which their affairs were discussed,
mutual wants made known and help provided. But there were also
here and elsewhere, at each center of colored population, meetings and
discussions of a more earnest character: Conductors of the tk Under-
ground Railroad, 1 an organization whose influence in aid of the fleeing
slaves was felt from the lakes and St. Lawrence river to the center of
the slave populations, were often seen here.

The League of Gileadites formed by John Brown in Springfield,
Mass., just after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law also became
undoubtedly an effective organization, and was carried on largely by
the colored people themselves. The co-operation in rescuing fugitive
slaves just before the war was due in considerable degree to this organ
ization and others like it in different places. Siebert says:

Soon after the Fugitive Slave Law was passed John Brown visited Spring
field, Massachusetts, where he had formerly lived. The Valley of Connecticut
had long been a line of underground travel and citizens of Springfield, colored
and white, had become identified with operations on this line. Brown at once
decided that the new law made organization necessary, and he formed, there
fore, the League of Gileadites to resist systematically the enforcement of the
law. The name of this order was significant in that it contained a warning to
those of its members that should show themselves cowards: "Whosoever is
fearful or afraid let him return and depart from Mount Gilead." In the
"Agreement and Rules" that John Brown drafted from the order, adopted
January 15, 1851, the following directions for action were laid down: "Should
one of your number be arrested, you must collect together as quickly as possi
ble so as to outnumber your adversaries Let no able bodied man

appear on the ground unequipped or with his weapons exposed to view.
Your plans must be known only to yourselves and with the under
standing that all traitors must die wherever caught and proven guilty.

Let the first blow be the signal for all to engage Make

clean work with your enemies, and be sure you meddle not with any others.

After effecting a rescue, if you are assailed, go into the houses of

your most prominent and influential white friends with your wives, and that
will effectually fasten upon them the suspicion of being connected with you,

and will compel them to make a common cause with you You

may make a tumult in the court-room \vhere the trial is going on by burning
gunpowder freely in paper packages But in such case the pris
oner will need to take the hint at once and bestir himself; and so should his

32 Economic Co-operation Among Negro Americans

friends improve the opportunity for a general rush Stand by one

another and by your friends while a drop of blood remains ; and be hanged, if
you must, but tell no tales out of school. Make no confessions." By adopting
the Agreement and Rules, forty-four colored persons constituted themselves I
"A branch of the United States League of Gileadites," and "agreed to have no
officers except a treasurer and secretary pro tern, until after some trial of
courage," when they could choose officers on the basis of "courage efficiency
and general good conduct." Doubtless the Gileadites of Springfield did effi
cient service, for it appears that the importance of the town as a way station
on the Underground Road increased after the passage of the Fugitive Slave
Bill. *

That slaves should run away from slavery is, of course, perfectly nat
ural, but there is also a further development of this idea in the desire
of free Negroes to move either to different parts of the country or out of
the country for the sake of having better chances for development.
These movements were in some cases encouraged by the American Col
onization Society, but in most cases the Negroes were suspiciousof that
organization, and the first efforts in the line of migration began among
themselves. These efforts commenced as early as 1815, and lasted down
to 1880. In the midst of them came the war and emancipation. Let us,
therefore, first take up the economic co-operation consequent on eman
cipation and then the efforts toward migration.

Section 7. Emancipation

The first thing that vexed the Northern armies on Southern soil was
the question of the disposition of the fugitive slaves. Butler confiscated
them, Fremont freed them and Halleck caught and returned them,
but their numbers swelled to such proportions that the mere economic
problem of their presence overshadowed everything else, especially
after the Emancipation proclamation. Lincoln was glad to have them
come after once he realized their strength to the Confederacy. In 1864,

The President s heart yearned for peace; his mind sought out every means
of stopping the bloodshed. He referred to the really astonishing extent to
which the colored people were informed in regard to the progress of the war,
and remarked that he wished the "grapevine telegraph " could be utilized to
call upon the Negroes of the interior peacefully to leave the plantations and
seek protection of our armies. This as a war-time measure he considered le
gitimate. Apart from the numbers it would add to our military forces, he
explained the effect such an exodus would have upon the industry of the
South. The Confederate soldiers were sustained by provisions raised by Ne
gro labor; withdraw that labor, and the young men in the Southern army
would soon be obliged to go home to " raise hog and hominy," and thus pro
mote the collapse of the Confederacy, t

Meantime, as Howard writes, the economic problem of these massed
freedmen was intricate:

In North Carolina, Chaplain Horace James of the Twenty-fifth Massachu
setts Volunteers became Superintendent of Negro Affairs for North Carolina,
and other officers were detailed to assist him. These covered the territory

Siebert, pp. 78-75. f Eaton, p. 173.

Emancipation 33

gradually opened by the advance of our armies in both Virginia and North
Carolina. Becoming a quartermaster with the rank of captain in 1864, he, for
upward of two years, superintended the poor, both white and black, in that
region. He grouped the refugees in small villages, and diligently attended to
their industries and to their schools. Enlisted men were his first teachers;
then followed the best of lady teachers from the North, and success crowned
his efforts.

In February, 1864, there were about two thousand freed people in the villager

outside of the New Berne, North Carolina, intrenchments L*>ts were

now assigned and about eight hundred houses erected, which at one time
sheltered some three thousand escaped slaves.*

June 28, 1862, Brigadier General Rufus Saxton, with headquarters at Beau
fort, South Carolina, assumed the government and control of all places and
persons in the Department of the South which were not embraced in the op
erations of General Quincy A. Gilmore, commanding the department. General
Saxton, as military governor, appointed three division superintendents, each
having charge of several of the Sea Islands. Market houses were established
at Hilton Head and Beaufort for the sale of the produce from the plantations,
and Negroes put to work, the larger settlement being Port Royal Island and
near the town of Beaufort.

Colored men in that vicinity were soon enlisted as soldiers and an effort was
made to cause the laborers left on each plantation, under plantation superin
tendents appointed for the purpose, to raise sufficient cotton and corn for their
own support, rations being given from the Com missionary Department only
when necessary to prevent absolute starvation. These conditions were, with
hardly an interruption, continued until the spring of 1865.

Grant s army in the West occupied Grand Junction, Miss., by November,
1862. The usual irregular host of slaves then swarmed in from the surround
ing country. They begged for protection against recapture, and they, of
course, needed food, clothing and shelter. They could not now be re-enslaved
through army aid, yet no provision had been made by anybody for their sus
tenance. A few were employed as teamsters, servants, cooks and pioneers,
yet it seemed as though the vast majority must be left to freeze and starve;
for when the storms came with the winter months the weather was of great

General Grant, with his usual gentleness toward the needy and his fertility
in expedients, introduced at once a plan of relief. He selected a fitting super
intendent, John Eaton, chaplain of the Twenty-seventh Ohio Volunteers, who
was soon promoted to the colonelcy of a colored regiment, and later for many
years was a Commissioner of the United States Bureau of Education. He was
then constituted Chief of the Negro Affairs for the entire district under
Grant s jurisdiction. The plan which Grant conceived, the new superintend
ent ably carried out. They were all around Grand Junction, when our opera
tions opened, large crops of cotton and corn ungathered. It was determined

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Online LibraryW. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt) Du BoisEconomic co-operation among Negro Americans. Report of a social study made by Atlanta University under the patronage of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C. together with the proceedings of the 12th Conference for the Study of the Negro Problems, held at Atlanta University, on Tuesday, May t → online text (page 4 of 22)