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Between the independence of Texas from Mexico and its constitution as a thriving slaveholding republic and the outbreak of the US Civil War , slaves absconded in growing numbers across the national border to what they saw as a promised land of freedom 1. Support could be material, through food, water, clothes, and shelter. Assistance also took the form of immaterial benefits such as geographical information, intelligence regarding local patrols, as well as purely psychological input such as entertainment. Relatives, in particular, were frequent accomplices of runaways, as in the case of the Gordon brothers Albert, Isaac and Henry who absconded together during the s.
Once in Mexico, the man joined the mascogos the denomination Mexican authorities gave to the Black Seminoles who settled in Coahuila in in their free settlement. Apparently pleased with his new life across the border, the refugee decided two years later to return to Texas to entice Isaac and Henry away. Albert was arrested again, but managed to abscond once more, and the three brothers succeeded in escaping again to Coahuila some months later 5.
This article therefore focuses on support provided by non-black people to escaped slaves during their flight from the US Southwest to the Mexican border between and Figure 1: Approximate routes of escape for slave refugees in the Texas-Mexico borderlands and through the Gulf of Mexico, c. Influential slaveowners and editors increasingly complained about the actions of real or imaginary abolitionists. By the end of the s, the initial scare of abolitionists had turned into a real witch-hunt.
In , a resident of San Antonio abducted a slave close to the border, who had absconded from Anderson County to Chihuahua. Once in El Paso, the runaway allegedly became a station keeper for the company in exchange for twenty dollars a month 9. Similarly, a young white man named Granwell was jailed in with two slaves near Dallas. It turned out that just before this incident, another man had unsuccessfully offered the same slaves to flee with him to Santa Fe New Mexico Grounded and ungrounded accusations in the press against abolitionists became increasingly frequent by the eve of the US Civil War.
They translated how anxious slaveowners came to feel about runaways and any sign of opposition to institutionalized slavery at all, especially given that Mexican authorities repeatedly refused to conclude any agreement with US governments on the extradition of fugitive slaves Support networks for flight in the US Southwest were especially precarious, when compared to relatively more stable northern routes for escape. As underlined by Randolph Campbell, an overwhelming consensus reigned over slavery among slaveholders and non-slaveholders in the US Southwest.
Moreover, presumed abolitionists and transgressors of the code of loyalty to southern identity which included respect for slavery were harshly punished both by the law, as well as by vigilantism and mob violence. Finally, the community of free blacks in Texas after never counted more than a few hundred people.
By contrast with other regions of the US South where temporary and permanent concealment within groups of urban free African Americans was fairly available for slave refugees, fugitive slaves in the Texas-Mexico borderlands could not rely on such an option, and no abolitionist committee existed on the other side of the border to receive them.
All these factors meant that networks of support for slave refugees were weak, contingent and constantly evolving These observations prompt the question of whether the metaphor of underground railroad traditionally used by the historiography on fugitive slaves in 19 th -century North America is relevant in this particular case. In the specific context of the Texas-Mexico borderlands, assistance came as much from mobile people in frequent contact with slave refugees, or interested financially in such action, as from ideologically committed individuals striking against institutionalized slavery.
To an even greater extent than for the UGRR, social proximity and opportunity were conducive to support in the borderlands, apart from anti-slavery ideals. Soon after his arrival in Texas during the spring of , journalist Charles W.
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Legally free, peons nonetheless shared with African American slaves a similar socioeconomic condition as marginalized manual workers, which prompted mutual sympathy. Such physical and socio-economic proximity proved to be a decisive motive for empathy and assistance. In the cotton, sugarcane and tobacco plantations of the US Southwest, both groups laboured alongside, developing personal ties.
Peons from Mexico were especially useful in transmitting social, geographical and linguistic skills and knowledge, while tales of runaway peons crossing borders inspired would-be escapees.
Mexicans also acted as intermediaries to get provisions and information, and as guides along the way In a few instances, runaways passed themselves off as Mexicans while others were reported as looking like Mexicans, which, in the eyes of slaveowners, only strengthened the incriminatory link between the two groups Pro-slavery journalist John S. Violence against Mexicans spread, including extrajudicial punishments. Journalist and antislavery advocate Frederick L. Slaveowners arguably exaggerated the extent to which escaped slaves received assistance and frequently accused without evidence perceived defaulters from the pro-slavery consensus.
The chronic scapegoating of Mexicans and Germans as alleged accomplices actually reflected rising concerns among the Anglo-American community about the loyalty of new immigrants to white supremacy, patriarchal honour, southern identity, of which pro-slavery was the main expression. On similar grounds, religious communities and evangelical movements especially Methodists and Mormons spreading into Texas in the wake of the Second Great Awakening were occasionally accused of anti-slavery subversion and assistance to fugitives Sean M.
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Albeit underlining their general empathy towards fugitives, Frederick L. Nonetheless, slaveholders often interpreted signs of disagreement with institutionalized slavery or simply an origin as evidence of assistance. Pragmatic considerations and monetary interests also prompted assistance, as illustrated by the escape of Miguel Arcienega and his slaves across the border in To avoid an impending foreclosure, Arcienaga apparently encouraged the slaves to escape from their new master to join him across the Mexican border, and then sued Riddle.
His intention certainly was not grounded in philanthropy, yet once in Mexico the three men became in theory free by law Short became notorious in his locality despite being a veteran of the Texas Revolution for apparently personally abetting slaves escaping to Mexico. The scheme was believed to be as follows.
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Short sold slaves who subsequently fled from their new owners and joined him again. The trick would later be repeated further south until reaching Mexico, where the slaves would be free. In the meantime, Short secured substantial benefits, which seemed to be his prime motivation, until he was eventually hanged in February for cattle theft and counterfeiting In the fall of , similar accusations were made in Navarro County against two transient workers named Wells and Morgan, suspected of performing the very same trick to earn some money while conducting slaves down to Mexico.
As with abolitionists, the veracity of accusations against suspected slave smugglers like Short, Wells and Morgan, remains hard to establish, and some of these claims were entirely fabricated. According to him, for a two-hundred-dollar sale to hacendados large landowners in Mexico, fugitives were to be converted into indebted workers across the border until they could pay the sum back to their new owner Smuggling slaves across the border seem to have been a widespread practice in the US Southwest.
Among these lies the smugglers actually planned to sell the family near New Orleans , the two men had promised freedom in Mexican Texas to the fugitives in exchange for a year of their work once settled across the Sabine River As underscored by James D. Stories of ruthless bandits were counter-narratives to freedom, intended to deter would-be fugitives from attempting to escape For instance, about ten slaves near Brazoria were accused in May of having engaged two men Jesse Blades and Robert Redding to escort them to Mexico, with each of them offering one hundred dollars to their guides Similarly, in the town of San Antonio, a Mexican was accused in of having accepted a bribe from a fugitive slave to provide information about the route leading to Mexico As the latter case illustrates, material and monetary incentives could turn otherwise neutral actors into good Samaritans.
Yet, these very same incentives could also swell the ranks of arresters and mercenaries eager to receive a reward for capturing fugitive slaves Near the Pecos River, the runaway joined a group of gold-hunters, pretending that his provisions had run out.accounts.mulso.co.uk/37.php
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Near the town of Cora, as he was conducted back by the gold-hunters to his master, Jack Thompson escaped again to the border and disappeared from the historical record The coalescence of such varied individuals into precarious and loose networks of assistance depended on an alignment of their diverse interests, which in turn rendered the boundaries between assistance and exploitation uncertain and permeable.
The literature on the UGRR to the northern states and Canada has increasingly depicted the latter as a fairly informal structure, yet arguably assistance along escape routes to Mexico was even more informal: almost no networks of assistance existed, or at best ad hoc ones that were established as slaves were fleeing. Consequently, these sporadic instances of assistance hardly qualify as an UGRR to the south. The multifaceted and fluid nature of assistance to fugitive slaves in the Texas-Mexico borderlands even more than for the UGRR partly accounts for the need felt by some southern slaveholders to search for scapegoats amongst the usual suspects of anti-slavery sympathies: Mexicans and Germans among other minorities.
Despite the consolidation of pro-slavery social, legal and political power in the US Southwest in general, and specifically Texas, the numbers of slaves seeking freedom in Mexico rose significantly between Civilian and Gazette. Weekly Galveston , 21 December Charleston Mercury Charleston, S. Dallas Herald Dallas , 9 November , 31 July Out of the roughly 20 million who were taken from their homes and sold into slavery, half didn't complete the journey to the African coast, most of those dying along the way.
And the worst was yet to come. The captives were about to embark on the infamous Middle Passage, so called because it was the middle leg of a three-part voyage -- a voyage that began and ended in Europe. The first leg of the voyage carried a cargo that often included iron, cloth, brandy, firearms, and gunpowder. Upon landing on Africa's "slave coast," the cargo was exchanged for Africans. Fully loaded with its human cargo, the ship set sail for the Americas, where the slaves were exchanged for sugar, tobacco, or some other product.
The final leg brought the ship back to Europe.
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The African slave boarding the ship had no idea what lay ahead. Africans who had made the Middle Passage to the plantations of the New World did not return to their homeland to tell what happened to those people who suddenly disappeared. Sometimes the captured Africans were told by the white men on the ships that they were to work in the fields. But this was difficult to believe, since, from the African's experience, tending crops took so little time and didn't require many hands.
So what were they to believe? More than a few thought that the Europeans were cannibals. Olaudah Equiano, an African captured as a boy who later wrote an autobiography, recalled. When I looked round the ship too and saw a large furnace of copper boiling, and a mulititude of black people of every description chained together, every one of their countenances expressing dejection and sorrow, I no longer doubted of my fate and quite overpowered with horrow and anguish, I fell motionless on the deck and fainted.
I asked if we were not to be eaten by those white men with horrible looks, red faces and long hair?