King’s Survey: Runaway Policy (II)

In which we see that one man’s crime wave is another woman’s path to freedom. (Note: this is the second of two posts on the subject, which can be read independently or as a pair.)

The_Underground_Railroad_by_Charles_T._Webber,_1893
Charles T. Webber, “The Underground Railroad” (1893)

O.K. kids. So we’ve been looking at the issue of runaway slaves, and whether on not we need a stronger fugitive slave law, from the point of view of slave owners. Now let’s shift our gaze to those who aren’t. Chris, we’ll start with you. Your name is Joshua Freeman, and you live in Toronto. Actually that’s your name now. Previously you were known as Cicero. You lived on Robert Baron’s plantation in Mississippi. How does it feel, Chris, to be living in freedom.

—Pretty good. Cold, though. This place is freezing.

—Yeah, well, Mississippi was hotter than hell, wasn’t it, Chris? I mean Cicero. I mean…

Joshua Freeman. By the way, what to you make of that name?

—Duh. “Freeman.” Real subtle, Mr. K.

Fair enough, Emily. But what about “Joshua”? Anybody know where that comes from?

—The Bible?

Well, yes. But where in the Bible? Does anybody know?

Nobody? Ouch. Here’s a hint. Think Book of Exodus.

—Oh, well, now it’s obvious! Book of Exodus! Of course!

You have no idea.

Correct.

Ugh. You’ve heard of Moses, yes?

—Yeah. Promised Land.

Right. But here’s the thing: Moses never actually made it to the Promised Land. God wouldn’t let him go. That job was given to Moses’s successor, whose name was….

—Joshua.

Brilliant.

—Heavy on the symbolism there, Mr. K.

Hey, it isn’t me. Joshua Freeman himself chose the name. He’s a devout member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Cicero here has been reborn a free man. Seems only natural to give himself a new name. Right, Mr. Freeman?

—Whatever you say, Mr. K.

Well, I admit, I have been saying a lot. Let’s get some other voices in here. Brianna, you’re Robert Baron. How do you feel knowing that your former slave has escaped to Canada?

—Hey. Fine with me. Truth is, I was never comfortable with the slave owner thing you assigned me.

I understand. But we all have roles to play, Mr. Baron. And we don’t always get to choose what they are.

—Yeah, well, I want to write my own play.

A good idea. Go right ahead. Let me turn my attention here to Emily, who is actually Charity Wright of Cincinnati, a member of the American Tract Society, which as we all know publishes religious tracts by the millions (Cincinnati, by the way is an important publishing center in the United States). Miss Wright, we all know you to be a shy, retiring soul. So we’re glad you’re willing to talk with us.

—That’s me. Ms. Shy.

Well no, that’s Miss Wright. How long have you been a member of the ATS?

—Oh, I reckon twenty years now.

I had no idea it was that long.

—Well, you wouldn’t now, would you. I look very young and beautiful, I know.

Indeed. However there is something about you I do know, Miss Wright, that I’m now going to reveal to the class: you are a conductor for the Underground Railroad!

Go ahead kids, you can gasp.

—Oh!

—I’m horrified!

—I’m impressed!

—What’s a conductor for the Underground Railroad?

Good question. If you walk into the main parlor of Miss Wright’s Cincinnati home, you’ll see a rug in the middle of the floor. Lift that rug, and you’ll see a panel you can pull up. It leads to a small cellar with a bed, shelves, and a chamber pot.

—What’s a chamber pot?

—A place to pee.

—Or poop.

None other than our friend Joshua Freeman made a stop at Charity Wright’s home on his way from Mississippi to Toronto. Anything you want to say to Miss Wright, Mr. Freedman?

—Thanks.

That’s it? This woman risked her life for you.

—Thanks a lot.

—That’s all right, Mr. K. I’ll send him a bill.

Well, Mr. Freeman’s wife is pregnant. Maybe she’ll have a daughter and name her “Charity.” In any case, you’re among friends here, Miss Wright. We won’t reveal your identity as a conductor, as we know you want to continue freeing slaves.

Keeping a low profile is not a goal for our friend Jonquil, who we will now know as Fred Burns. Mr. Burns is a Garrisonian abolitionist, which is to say that he’s a follower of William Lloyd Garrison, a militant opponent of slavery. Back in 1844, a mere four years ago, Mr. Garrison stood on the steps of Faneuil Hall in Boston and burned a copy of the Constitution, saying Massachusetts should not belong to a Union of slaveholders. You were there, weren’t you, Mr. Burns?

—Yeah, I was.

And you endorse these radical views? You would secede from this Union?

—Yes, I would. Slavery is evil.

Hmmm. Miss Wright, I wonder what you make of Mr. Burns. Do you endorse his radical views?

—As we all know, I’m sby and retiring. But yes, I agree with Mr. Burns.

—Damn straight. I’m down with Burns.

No shock there, Mr. Freeman. Ah, I see Mr. Evinrude has something to say. As you will recall, kids, Sadie is this small farmer from Missouri.

—I am sickened by this extremism. No respect for authority. They keep this up and there will be a Civil War.

—Calm down, honey. No need to get excited.

Glad to see Mrs. Evinrude try to calm you, sir.

—Shut up, woman!

—Hank! I am your wife! Treat me with respect!

—Sorry, sweetheart. It’s just that these abolitionists get me so mad sometimes.

—I understand. They are perfectly awful. Miss Wright, you should be ashamed of yourself. Breaking the law by helping the slaves escape. It’s wrong, gosh darn it!

—Gosh darn it? I think marrying this guy has messed up your brain, Kylie—I mean Mrs. Evinrude.

All right, all right no more name calling. We have one other person to hear from. And that’s Adam, also known as Alphonius Green. Mr. Green runs a New York insurance brokerage with a large Southern clientele.

—Alphonius? What kind of name is Alphonius?

It rhymes with “felonious.”

—What does “felonious” mean?

It means “criminal.” But never mind that. Mr. Green, you issue insurance policies to slaveholders that pays them back if their slaves run away. I wonder if you would be in favor of a stronger fugitive slave law.

—Of course.

And why would that be?

—It’s obvious. Runaway slaves cost me money.

Would it be fair to say, Mr. Green, that you are a New Yorker with Southern views?

—I’m a New Yorker with money views.

Understood. It has been estimated that forty cents of every cotton dollar comes through New York City. New York banks lend slaveholders money. New York newspapers take advertising for lost slaves. New York shipping houses arrange for the transportation of cotton across the ocean to Great Britain. And of course New York brokerages like yours insure slaves. Under such circumstances, Mr. Green, do you think slavery will ever end?

—Not if I have anything to say about it.

There you have it kids. But one more voice. Yin here is Mary Deed, a free black woman from Philadelphia. Hello, Mary.

—Hello.

Mary, I understand your family has lived in Philadelphia for for many generations.

—That’s right.

And what do you do for a living, Mary?

—I’m a teacher. I teach Negro children.

Wonderful. We’ll give you the last word, Mary. What should we do about a stronger fugitive slave law?

—Nothing.

Next: Compromising situation

 

 

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