free hit counter code Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad - GoBooks - Download Free Book
Ads Banner
Hot Best Seller

Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad

Availability: Ready to download

More than any other scholar, Eric Foner has influenced our understanding of America's history. Now, making brilliant use of extraordinary evidence, the Pulitzer Prize–winning historian once again reconfigures the national saga of American slavery and freedom. A deeply entrenched institution, slavery lived on legally and commercially even in the northern states that had abol More than any other scholar, Eric Foner has influenced our understanding of America's history. Now, making brilliant use of extraordinary evidence, the Pulitzer Prize–winning historian once again reconfigures the national saga of American slavery and freedom. A deeply entrenched institution, slavery lived on legally and commercially even in the northern states that had abolished it after the American Revolution. Slaves could be found in the streets of New York well after abolition, traveling with owners doing business with the city's major banks, merchants, and manufacturers. New York was also home to the North’s largest free black community, making it a magnet for fugitive slaves seeking refuge. Slave catchers and gangs of kidnappers roamed the city, seizing free blacks, often children, and sending them south to slavery. To protect fugitives and fight kidnappings, the city's free blacks worked with white abolitionists to organize the New York Vigilance Committee in 1835. In the 1840s vigilance committees proliferated throughout the North and began collaborating to dispatch fugitive slaves from the upper South, Washington, and Baltimore, through Philadelphia and New York, to Albany, Syracuse, and Canada. These networks of antislavery resistance, centered on New York City, became known as the underground railroad. Forced to operate in secrecy by hostile laws, courts, and politicians, the city’s underground-railroad agents helped more than 3,000 fugitive slaves reach freedom between 1830 and 1860. Until now, their stories have remained largely unknown, their significance little understood. Building on fresh evidence—including a detailed record of slave escapes secretly kept by Sydney Howard Gay, one of the key organizers in New York—Foner elevates the underground railroad from folklore to sweeping history. The story is inspiring—full of memorable characters making their first appearance on the historical stage—and significant—the controversy over fugitive slaves inflamed the sectional crisis of the 1850s. It eventually took a civil war to destroy American slavery, but here at last is the story of the courageous effort to fight slavery by "practical abolition," person by person, family by family.


Compare
Ads Banner

More than any other scholar, Eric Foner has influenced our understanding of America's history. Now, making brilliant use of extraordinary evidence, the Pulitzer Prize–winning historian once again reconfigures the national saga of American slavery and freedom. A deeply entrenched institution, slavery lived on legally and commercially even in the northern states that had abol More than any other scholar, Eric Foner has influenced our understanding of America's history. Now, making brilliant use of extraordinary evidence, the Pulitzer Prize–winning historian once again reconfigures the national saga of American slavery and freedom. A deeply entrenched institution, slavery lived on legally and commercially even in the northern states that had abolished it after the American Revolution. Slaves could be found in the streets of New York well after abolition, traveling with owners doing business with the city's major banks, merchants, and manufacturers. New York was also home to the North’s largest free black community, making it a magnet for fugitive slaves seeking refuge. Slave catchers and gangs of kidnappers roamed the city, seizing free blacks, often children, and sending them south to slavery. To protect fugitives and fight kidnappings, the city's free blacks worked with white abolitionists to organize the New York Vigilance Committee in 1835. In the 1840s vigilance committees proliferated throughout the North and began collaborating to dispatch fugitive slaves from the upper South, Washington, and Baltimore, through Philadelphia and New York, to Albany, Syracuse, and Canada. These networks of antislavery resistance, centered on New York City, became known as the underground railroad. Forced to operate in secrecy by hostile laws, courts, and politicians, the city’s underground-railroad agents helped more than 3,000 fugitive slaves reach freedom between 1830 and 1860. Until now, their stories have remained largely unknown, their significance little understood. Building on fresh evidence—including a detailed record of slave escapes secretly kept by Sydney Howard Gay, one of the key organizers in New York—Foner elevates the underground railroad from folklore to sweeping history. The story is inspiring—full of memorable characters making their first appearance on the historical stage—and significant—the controversy over fugitive slaves inflamed the sectional crisis of the 1850s. It eventually took a civil war to destroy American slavery, but here at last is the story of the courageous effort to fight slavery by "practical abolition," person by person, family by family.

30 review for Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad

  1. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    I have no doubt that extensive research lies behind this book. I do not doubt its accuracy. It is filled with details about the growth of antislavery organizations, but as the book clearly states the Underground Railroad was in reality an "umbrella association" of independent, sometimes competing groups which very much relied on the efforts of single individuals. It was not controlled from the top. The book focuses upon the antislavery proponents that lived in New York. This is partially explain I have no doubt that extensive research lies behind this book. I do not doubt its accuracy. It is filled with details about the growth of antislavery organizations, but as the book clearly states the Underground Railroad was in reality an "umbrella association" of independent, sometimes competing groups which very much relied on the efforts of single individuals. It was not controlled from the top. The book focuses upon the antislavery proponents that lived in New York. This is partially explained by the fact that New York was home to the North's largest free black community, but New York plays such a prominent role that this should be indicated in the title. In addition the Underground Railroad was not hidden; everyone knew of it. The title is misleading, and it implies that you will be given a more exciting story than what is delivered. The book description goes on to say that "...the city s underground-railroad agents helped more than 3,000 fugitive slaves reach freedom between 1830 and 1860. Until now, their stories have remained largely unknown..." The central focus of this book is not the plight of these fugitives. Their stories are primarily collected in one chapter, chapter seven, near the book's end. No, the main focus is instead a plethora of historical details of the growth of the movement, its weak organization, its factional divisions, its agents, funding and slavery’s ties with business. Relevant laws and to what extent they were actually enforced, court proceedings and supportive publications are covered in detail. The book is rather dry. The book lacks structure. It would be easier to remember all the laws, fugitive cases, leaders and controversies if the text had been better organized into a more cohesive structure. The details become a jumble in my head. There are quotes that are of little importance and other superfluous information too. Better editing please. So the Underground Railroad saved about 3 to 4000 fugitives, the numbers being extremely hard to verify, but the slave population was 4 million* in the South. 0.1 % benefited. Of course it was still important, but it was weakly organized and depended to a very large extent on the efforts of private individuals. All of this is good to know. The narration of the audiobook, by J. D. Jackson, was clear and easy to follow, as long as I didn't fall asleep. Now I am going to read Twelve Years a Slave. It will be good to understand the laws and conditions of life in the antebellum era as a background to the more personal tale of the second book. *ETA: Thought I should mention that the 40 million figure is not found in the book by Foner! My source is instead the book Capital in the Twenty-First Century byThomas Piketty. On page 159 one can read the following: "By 1860 the proportion of slaves in the overall population of the United States had fallen to around 15 percent (about 4 million slaves in a total population of 30 million), owing to rapid population growth in the North and West. In the South, however, the proportion remained at 40%: 4 million slaves and 6 million whites for a total population of 10 million."

  2. 4 out of 5

    WILLIAM2

    Great stories of heroic black Americans escaping slavery and the noble whites who helped them. Reading the book is heartening. It’s an astonishing tale meticulously pieced together from disparate sources. Author Foner came across the papers of Sidney Howard Gay, Corresponding Secretary at the American Anti-Slavery Society of New York, which detail specifics of the many runaways the Society aided. This view from New York City forms the core of the tale, which is supplemented by heretofore obscure Great stories of heroic black Americans escaping slavery and the noble whites who helped them. Reading the book is heartening. It’s an astonishing tale meticulously pieced together from disparate sources. Author Foner came across the papers of Sidney Howard Gay, Corresponding Secretary at the American Anti-Slavery Society of New York, which detail specifics of the many runaways the Society aided. This view from New York City forms the core of the tale, which is supplemented by heretofore obscure abolitionist newspapers and such. Admittedly, the narrative is thin in places. But then you get to the escape of Henry “Box” Brown, an industrious “slave” who cleverly had himself boxed up in North Carolina and shipped to the Society’s offices in NY in 27 hours. When he was uncrated he emerged singing a hymn of praise, so exhilarated was he with his newfound freedom. There’s discussion, too, of the “slave” Margaret Morgan who, without objection from her “owner,” crossed the Mason-Dixon Line into Pennsylvania where she married and started a family. Five years later, after the owner’s death, his grasping niece sent a team of abductors to Pennsylvania who entered the Morgan home while the husband was away kidnapping Morgan and her six children, all of whom were carried to Maryland and slavery. This case resulted in the notorious SCOTUS decision Prigg v. Pennsylvania that allowed the kidnapping to stand! There are three or four sickening examples here of the Court supporting the peculiar institution of slavery. Oh, the outrages come thick and fast, friends. The Morgan tale had me gasping aloud. There are many other cases here— such as the kidnapping of free blacks into slavery; see Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years A Slave—that tend to leave the reader exhausted and stunned. This truly was, to use Gil-Scott Heron’s words, Winter in America. It is astonishing that the nation prevailed. Thanks, Abe. Background from the New York Times, 2015: The first scholarly study of the Underground Railroad, published by Wilbur Siebert in 1898, named some 3,200 “agents,” virtually all of them white men, who presided over an elaborate network of fixed routes, illustrated with maps that looked much like those of an ordinary railroad. That view largely held among scholars until 1961, when the historian Larry Gara published “The Liberty Line,” a slashing revisionist study that dismissed the Underground Railroad as a myth and argued that most fugitive slaves escaped at their own initiative, with little help from organized abolitionists. Scholarship on the topic all but dried up, as historians more generally emphasized the agency of African-Americans in claiming their own freedom. But over the past 15 years, aided by newly digitized records of obscure abolitionist newspapers and local archives, scholars have constructed a new picture of the Underground Railroad as a collection of loosely interlocking local networks of activists, both black and white, that waxed and waned over time but nevertheless helped a significant number reach freedom.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

    2.5 Stars - Okay book I’m sad to say that this book was a major disappointment. It’s well written and full of facts (with the sources to back them up) that I have zero doubt are historically accurate. However I felt that this book was just that - facts with very little insight and appropriate analysis. Also it’s quite dry. This book is: ”[…] a study of fugitive slaves and the Underground Railroad in New York City.” -p. 7 I definitely did not get that from the title which mentions nothing about NYC. 2.5 Stars - Okay book I’m sad to say that this book was a major disappointment. It’s well written and full of facts (with the sources to back them up) that I have zero doubt are historically accurate. However I felt that this book was just that - facts with very little insight and appropriate analysis. Also it’s quite dry. This book is: ”[…] a study of fugitive slaves and the Underground Railroad in New York City.” -p. 7 I definitely did not get that from the title which mentions nothing about NYC. However you shouldn’t necessarily judge a book solely by its title. Then again, Foner’s point is that the Underground Railroad in NYC is an area that’s often ignored in study so it does make sense is you know what the books about. (You probably should know what a book’s about before you read it. I mean you don’t want to waste your time.) One aspect I do appreciate is that Foner notates the North’s history of slavery and racism (before and during slavery was abolished in the North/NY State). Personally, I think that we paint slavery and racism as a purely Southern thing. They definitely were not (and racism still isn’t). Foner made a point to indicate the pitfalls of the North as well. Do I recommend this one? No, unfortunately probably not. The only way I think I’d recommend it is if you’re doing a serious paper on the Underground Railroad. It is full of facts and has a great bibliography/endnote section, and an index.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    At times, I was frustrated with the weight given to NYC and for a while it almost seems like too much background material. Yet, after finishing this book, I understand more and know more than simply Harriet Tubman. Rich in information.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin

    A time of ultimate polarization over the ultimate wedge issue. I am a bit partisan in my politics and my world view can often have good guys and bad guys weighing heavily in it. The Issue of Slavery which is not debatable today was a sectional hot button issue once. There were two contending sides and history now judges (rightly) one side on the side of angels and other with a more sulfurous tinge to it. Abolitionists who were filled with justified anger form an underground railroad a network w A time of ultimate polarization over the ultimate wedge issue. I am a bit partisan in my politics and my world view can often have good guys and bad guys weighing heavily in it. The Issue of Slavery which is not debatable today was a sectional hot button issue once. There were two contending sides and history now judges (rightly) one side on the side of angels and other with a more sulfurous tinge to it. Abolitionists who were filled with justified anger form an underground railroad a network with a huge amount of organization from free African Americans , philanthropists, Journalists, religious leaders, radicals formed to bring slaves up a north and later to Canada and focus a spotlight on Slavery and make it a national issue. The more I read about this movement that was very controversial at the time I think about the Ferguson protests and various movements that are noisy uncomfortable and divisive. No one knows if say occupy or the teaparty will be judged the angel or demon in the future but in todays climate of polarization people are taking sides. Is the polarization needless right now? I don't know. Was it needless then? resoundingly no. This issue had to be faced and polarization was the price of a conscience working its will in history. This book is one of those chin scratchers of a history book. Not for their time but for ours.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Interesting but not quite what I thought. I thought this would be about the composition of the Underground Railroad, how it was set up and then the use of the UGRR to free Blacks from the South. However the book spent a great amount of time on the laws which established the rights of Slave Holders to recovery their property and the impact on individuals who were trying to free/protect fugitive or slaves already free. The book also spent a great deal of time explaining the difference between the Interesting but not quite what I thought. I thought this would be about the composition of the Underground Railroad, how it was set up and then the use of the UGRR to free Blacks from the South. However the book spent a great amount of time on the laws which established the rights of Slave Holders to recovery their property and the impact on individuals who were trying to free/protect fugitive or slaves already free. The book also spent a great deal of time explaining the difference between the abolitionists and those seeking the emancipation of the slaves (I thought they were one and the same but they were not)!!! Also well covered where the differences between these two schools of thought and the resultant turmoil in the ability to help blacks move from the south to northern states or Canada. For what this book actually depicted - the laws impacting fugitive or free slaves, the research was well done, the notes were informative and backed up the text and it was a very good history of the laws which truly resulted in the Civil War. So if a reader is interested in that particular aspect of history, I would give this book a 4.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Marla

    I found this a very interesting story. I learned a lot. Great as an audiobook.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    Once again the eminent historian Eric Foner has written a fascinating and important history that helps set the record straight about the period in America before, during, and after the Civil War. While this book focuses on the escape of runaway slaves and especially the support and/or obstacles they encountered in New York City, he places his study within the wider context of American politics at the time. New York was an important and active center of underground railroad activity. When William Once again the eminent historian Eric Foner has written a fascinating and important history that helps set the record straight about the period in America before, during, and after the Civil War. While this book focuses on the escape of runaway slaves and especially the support and/or obstacles they encountered in New York City, he places his study within the wider context of American politics at the time. New York was an important and active center of underground railroad activity. When William Seward was governor, the state enacted several “personal liberty” measures that, inter alia, decreed that any slave entering the state except a fugitive automatically became free. In addition, New York was the home of the largest free black community at that time, making it attractive for fugitives who would need help if they got as far as that state. It also had a sizable liberal white community of abolitionists. But there were undeniably many New Yorkers who made fortunes from the slave trade, either directly or indirectly through the cotton industry, and who therefore objected to any acts to alienate the southern states. New York’s “Journal of Commerce” (still in print today), called for repeal of the personal liberty laws of New York and for abandonment of the clearly (to them) absurd idea “that to rob our neighbor of his slave … is a Christian duty.” These businessmen even wanted to allow slavery to spread to the West, all to appease the planters who made them so wealthy. Foner’s account of the efforts of slaves to get north to freedom emphasizes that, although there were many heroic whites who helped, even their efforts would hardly have been possible “without the courage and resourcefulness, in a hostile environment, of blacks,” ranging from those northern free blacks who served on abolition committees to “the ordinary men and women” who watched for fugitives and did what they could to house them, feed them, and direct them to safety. Because there was a great deal of prejudice against blacks even among abolitionists, black men and women were restricted to jobs at the bottom of the economic ladder, working as maids, waiters, cooks, mariners, and dock workers. Ironically, those same jobs put them in a great position to learn about new fugitives and to help them. This leads to Foner’s point that unlike the impression many Americans have, the phrase “underground railroad” was a metaphor to refer to “an interlocking series of local networks” using a variety of methods - both legal and illegal, to assist fugitives, helping them in many cases to make their way to Canada, where they would not be subject to detection and re-enslavement. Trains had little to do with the process, and moreover, many of the activities of underground railroad were not strictly “underground” at all, but widely publicized. [The South had a different definition of “Underground Railroad” - one North Carolina newspaper called it “An Association of abolitionists whose first business is to steal, or cause to be stolen, educed or inveigled . . . slaves from southern plantations; . . . to steal him from an indulgent and provident master; to carry him to a cold, strange, and uncongenial country, and there leave him . . . to starve, freeze, and die, in glorious freedom.”] Foner documents that most fugitives came from the Upper South, since it obviously presented a shorter distance for them to make their way successfully to the North. Nevertheless, and ironically, it was the Upper South that remained in the Union, and the Lower South that decried the “fanatical warfare [of the North] on the constitutional rights of property.” Foner also wants to make the point that the resolution of the slavery issue in America should not be seen only as a matter of the whites freeing the slaves; the slaves themselves played a large role in impacting the political dialogue about "liberty" and "freedom" and in taking advantage of any opportunities that presented themselves to take up their rightful role as "people" instead of "property." The Lower South hated the fugitive situation not only for the obvious one of losing the monetary value of this “property.” A runaway slave gave lie to the notion, much promulgated by Southerners, that life was not difficult under slavery or that slaves were not “contented.” But in fact, many of their own advertisements for runaway slaves gave them away, for the notices included identifying marks of the slaves that were clear indications of abusive treatment, such as visible scars and mutilated body parts. In another interesting twist, the fugitive slave situation made white Southerners vigorous proponents of federal action to override local laws in order to ensure the return of slaves to their “owners.” For all that Southerners claimed in later years that the Civil War was about “state’s rights,” they were vigorously in favor of federal hegemony in the interest of perpetuating slavery. Thus the actions of runaway slaves powerfully affected the national debate over slavery and union, especially because the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 ratcheted up the tension between North and South and became a key point of contention in the succession crisis that followed. Much of the book tells the stories both of individual slaves who made the perilous journey north, and of those who helped them, and how they did so. But Foner's constant intermixing of these stories with a meta-level analysis ensures that we never lose sight of what each and every brave and perilous action meant for the future of the country. Discussion: There are so many interesting aspects of Foner’s book that should be a part of every student’s history lessons (as should his analyses in other books of the Reconstruction period, even more mired in myth than “the Underground Railroad”). You will even discover that the practice of holding gift bazarres around holiday time to encourage gift exchanges originated as a money-raising idea of abolitionists. For while some runaways needed just enough funds to get them to Canada, others needed to be purchased from their owners when that was the only way to save them from being taken back to the South. (The fate of these recaptured slaves is also very noteworthy. Their owners spent a great deal of time and money to get them back, but then of course they didn’t want them anymore, so they would sell them further South. This allowed owners to recoup their money, punish the slave, and buy someone more docile the next time around.) Tragically, as Foner conveys, some of the best “characters” in this story have so little written about them. I would love to know more, for example, about Louis Napoleon, a black porter who seemed to have been everywhere helping fugitives; when he died, he was credited with having helped over 3,000 escape! The viciousness and inhumanity of Southern slave owners really doesn’t get enough attention in history books. While Foner doesn’t specifically attack them, by showing the human costs to slaves so clearly and compassionately, he gives both groups their “due.” Evaluation: Nothing that can make a lover of excellent history more happy than a new book by Eric Foner. His findings are meticulously researched, and yet he invests his work with so much passion and imbues his words with such a strong sense of justice denied, that one never feels a moment of not being totally invested in learning what he has to share. Rating: 4.5/5

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Regan

    Impeccably academic, slightly dry, but pleasantly readable, Gateway's scope is smaller than the title suggests. Foner's focus is on New York City's anti-slavery movement, and touches on Pennsylvania, upstate New York and New England only to the extent that they interact with the NYC movements. And, since he sticks to documentary evidence, much of which was destroyed after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made aiding fugitives even riskier, the book is short on experiences of actual "passengers". B Impeccably academic, slightly dry, but pleasantly readable, Gateway's scope is smaller than the title suggests. Foner's focus is on New York City's anti-slavery movement, and touches on Pennsylvania, upstate New York and New England only to the extent that they interact with the NYC movements. And, since he sticks to documentary evidence, much of which was destroyed after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made aiding fugitives even riskier, the book is short on experiences of actual "passengers". But the politics of anti-slavery are well addressed and eye-opening for me. There were bitter arguments over whether relocation of former slaves to Africa should be promoted, and even over whether money should be spent on aiding individual fugitives.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Emilie Burack

    Couldn't put it down. A refreshing new look at NYC's role in the underground railroad, and the brave, selfless people who risked everything to help thousands escape to freedom. Also a great reminder of how the Fugitive Slave Law and other pro-slavery legislation terrorized both free and fugitive African Americans of the time. Foner's use of Sydney Howard Gay's meticulous records of fugitives gives readers a very cool look at human light shining through the darkest of hours...

  11. 4 out of 5

    Donna Davis

    Interesting material. Maps and other documents are challenging to read due to fuzziness and small sizes; I also would have liked a more even hand rather than zeroing in on New York to such an extent. However, Foner is a luminary in this field, and one never need question his documentation, which is meticulous. I learned a fair amount from this slender little book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rossdavidh

    So, like most Americans of my approximate age, I heard of the "Underground Railroad" during school, and not much since. What I learned was mostly, "some people helped slaves smuggle their way to freedom, usually in Canada, and Harriet Tubman was the most badass one involved in this". Which is all true, but lacking in detail. So, I picked up this book. One thing the author admits early on, is that something like the Underground Railroad is inherently hard to document, because while it's happening So, like most Americans of my approximate age, I heard of the "Underground Railroad" during school, and not much since. What I learned was mostly, "some people helped slaves smuggle their way to freedom, usually in Canada, and Harriet Tubman was the most badass one involved in this". Which is all true, but lacking in detail. So, I picked up this book. One thing the author admits early on, is that something like the Underground Railroad is inherently hard to document, because while it's happening most people don't want to admit they're involved in it (in part for fear of being arrested, in part because if they do they won't be as able to do it), and afterwards most people will be tempted to exaggerate how much they were involved in it. However, there is some amount that is reasonably well documented, and we are able to say something about who took part, how many they helped, and how. Part of this is because there were some fairly high profile disputes about funding, and how the money was being spent, and as a result the people most involved had to start keeping records about how they spent the money that had been raised. It turns out that a good part of the "underground" railroad was actually railroad of the more ordinary sort, either by escaped slaves posing as free blacks or slaves sent on an errand while in the south, or as a means of getting escaped slaves who made it to the north up to Canada as quickly as possible. Railroads were the high-tech of their day, and they appear to have changed society in many ways; one of them was that it increased the ability of an escaped slave to move rapidly away from where they could be recognized. The hub of the Underground Railroad was New York City, which is not as much of a compliment to NYC as it sounds like; part of the reason is that it was (for the north) so pro-slavery as to seem safe to bring your slaves to, if you were a slave-owner. Also, as a major port, there was simply a lot of traffic in and out. I found this book well written, but I can't say I found it to be an easy read. I had to take it only a few pages at a time, and monitor my own anger level, and stop for the day once I was in danger of frothing at the mouth. There were some really nasty people involved in maintaining slavery, and you get to read about them in this book, because an intrinsically important part of the story of the Underground Railroad is who they were running from. You think our current time's politics are nasty, you should read about the 1850's. It was also interesting to read about the many internal schisms within the abolitionist movement. Is it okay to break the law to oppose slavery? Is it okay to run for office in a government so corrupt as to support slavery? Is it okay to allow women to hold prominent positions in the abolitionist movement, even though that may jeopardize the abolitionist cause's standing with the general public? More generally, how do you handle the trade-off between being "pure", and ineffective, vs. being "practical", and thus accomplishing something but perhaps starting the downward moral slide into becoming part of the system that needs to be replaced. The abolitionists, it should be admitted, did not really find an answer to this question, and believe it or not their arguments continued well after 1865. One thing that reading about the 1850's made clear for me is that, contrary to the standard story that the pro-slavery forces were supporters of "states rights", they were in fact trying to federalize the issue at every turn, and the abolitionist forces were using the doctrine of states rights to try to defend their ability to resist. It also is clear that, in the absence of federal efforts to support it, slavery was about to collapse in Delaware and Maryland, because they were so close to free states that it had become difficult to keep slaves. This would have been a tipping point in the U.S. Senate, and probably presidentially as well from its impact on the electoral college. In fact, it was probably the threat of this that pushed the slave states to secede. The real answer to the question of "pure" vs. "practical", is that you need some people who are one, and some people who are the other. Abraham Lincoln was not involved in the Underground Railroad, and neither were most of the prominent early abolitionists who achieved elected office. On the other hand, Harriet Tubman was kick-ass, and the efforts of she and others to effect immediate abolition, one slave (or a few) at a time, kept up the pressure on the system, which helped to eventually collapse it. The devil is in the details, though, and Eric Foner does a good job of guiding us through the story of a generation of radicals who are arguing among themselves, making mistakes, suffering defeats and learning from them, and ultimately figuring out a way to achieve their goals after a prolonged struggle which they had no clear guidebook for how to pursue. It's a story worth remembering.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Karen A. Wyle

    This is the second of Foner's books I've read, and once again his subject is more interesting than his treatment of it. His initial focus is as much on the internecine squabbles among different New York abolitionist groups as on how any of them, or various individuals, assisted fugitive slaves. Foner does eventually make his way to the latter topic. Overall, I learned quite a bit about how the citizens of various states approached the question of whether to help the slaves trying to escape, or t This is the second of Foner's books I've read, and once again his subject is more interesting than his treatment of it. His initial focus is as much on the internecine squabbles among different New York abolitionist groups as on how any of them, or various individuals, assisted fugitive slaves. Foner does eventually make his way to the latter topic. Overall, I learned quite a bit about how the citizens of various states approached the question of whether to help the slaves trying to escape, or the owners trying to recapture them. There is also a good deal of detail about the Fugitive Slave Act, its precursors, and where and how it was and was not successfully enforced.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    Eric Foner’s ‘Gateway to Freedom’ tells gripping tales of the Underground Railroad BY WENDY SMITHLOS ANGELES TIMES 01/16/2015 6:00 AM 01/17/2015 8:46 PM Eric Foner’s vivid new book, about the semiorganized system to aid runaway slaves popularly known as the Underground Railroad, makes an excellent companion to “Reconstruction,” his magisterial 1988 account of the post-Civil War effort to bring racial justice to the American South. In both histories, Foner appreciates the crucial role of white radica Eric Foner’s ‘Gateway to Freedom’ tells gripping tales of the Underground Railroad BY WENDY SMITHLOS ANGELES TIMES 01/16/2015 6:00 AM 01/17/2015 8:46 PM Eric Foner’s vivid new book, about the semiorganized system to aid runaway slaves popularly known as the Underground Railroad, makes an excellent companion to “Reconstruction,” his magisterial 1988 account of the post-Civil War effort to bring racial justice to the American South. In both histories, Foner appreciates the crucial role of white radicals while emphasizing that black people were active combatants in the struggles to end slavery and to establish meaningful freedom for African-Americans. Like its predecessor, “Gateway to Freedom” makes palpable the nuances and complexities of the past. “The ‘underground railroad,’” Foner writes, “should be understood not as a single entity but as an umbrella term for local groups that employed numerous methods.” The New York Vigilance Committee, founded in 1835, was typical: a small, interracial band of abolitionists who took open, legal actions to protect free African-Americans from being kidnapped and sold into slavery, while also covertly helping runaway slaves reach safety in upstate New York, New England and Canada. Related Eric Foner’s detailing of the Underground Railroad pairs nicely with his 1988 book, “Reconstruction.” David Ruggles, a free black man who was the committee’s driving force for its first five years, gets a lively thumbnail sketch. His conviction that combating slavery required direct action — not necessarily nonviolent — would come to be shared by more abolitionists. During the 1840s, many Northern states passed laws prohibiting their public officials from participating in the recapture of slaves. Under the “freedom principle,” slaves brought by their owners to a state where slavery was illegal should automatically become free. During that decade, infuriated Southerners tended to overestimate the scope and power of the ad hoc “railroad” network that helped perhaps 10,000 to 50,000 runaway slaves — a pitiful percentage of the 4 million enslaved. But they accurately perceived that legal maneuvers and covert action combined to undermine what they saw as their sacred property rights. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 changed all that. It overrode Northern personal liberty laws and enabled the federal government to force local authorities and citizens to assist in the recapture of escaped slaves. (Foner notes the irony inherent in this huge expansion of federal power to appease the nation’s loudest advocates of states’ rights.) If slaveholders thought it would cow abolitionists, they were mistaken. “The Fugitive Slave Law reinvigorated and radicalized the underground railroad,” Foner writes. Foner gets his detailed information about the workings of the Underground Railroad during this fraught period from two invaluable contemporary documents. The first is a “Record of Fugitives” compiled in 1855-56 by Sydney Howard Gay, white editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard, who recounted the journeys of more than 200 runaways who passed through his Manhattan offices. The second is the journal of William Still, son of a fugitive slave and leader of the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee, which played a vital role because of southern Pennsylvania’s proximity to Delaware, Virginia and Maryland, sources of most fugitive slaves. Foner puts names and faces to activists less famous than Harriet Tubman (who makes a brief appearance) but more important to the functioning of the underground railroad. While Tubman rescued some 70 slaves, Jermain W. Loguen of Syracuse was credited with assisting 1,500 fugitives; Thomas Garrett, one of the many Quakers active in the Underground Railroad, helped more than 2,200 people cross the Delaware border to freedom. Perhaps most indispensable of all was Louis Napoleon, Gay’s right-hand man, who reportedly aided 3,000 escaping from bondage. Although illiterate, Napoleon was involved in several legal proceedings, including one challenging slaveholders’ right to transport their slaves through free states. When the attorney for Virginia sarcastically asked if the Louis Napoleon who launched that case was emperor of France, a lawyer on the other side replied, “A much better man.” Foner’s able, evocative portraits of men like Napoleon — or Henry Brown, who arrived in Philadelphia after a 24-hour trip by rail and steamboat hidden in a crate “even too small for a coffin” — add human drama to his cogent scholarly study. Intellectually probing and emotionally resonant, “Gateway to Freedom” reminds us that history can be as stirring as the most gripping fiction. Smith is a contributing editor of the American Scholar and author of “Real Life Drama: The Group Theatre and America, 1931-1940.” Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad, by Eric Foner (320 pages; W.W. Norton; $26.95) Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/entertainme...

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jillaire

    I listened to this as an audio book. I wouldn't call it exciting by any means, but it was really interesting and informative as a really in-depth look at the Underground Railroad. I have a background in the study of slavery, so my interest in the subject matter and familiarity with the larger context were probably higher than the average reader. Foner's main focus was on the URR in New York, although I may have missed why that was so. Just because? Better sources? Sorry. This is one of the effect I listened to this as an audio book. I wouldn't call it exciting by any means, but it was really interesting and informative as a really in-depth look at the Underground Railroad. I have a background in the study of slavery, so my interest in the subject matter and familiarity with the larger context were probably higher than the average reader. Foner's main focus was on the URR in New York, although I may have missed why that was so. Just because? Better sources? Sorry. This is one of the effects of audio books. Sometimes you miss something and it's hard to go back and check the facts. That also meant that I missed some of the names and details that I would have better retained had I been reading it and able to flip back and forth to reference certain things. (I usually prefer to do fiction or memoirs as audio books rather than heavier non-fiction for this very reason.) A few points of note: 1. Free blacks (or escaped slaves living in the North) were so much more involved in the operations of the Underground Railroad than the popular history has given them credit for. They led organizations, edited newspapers, acted as messengers, and many who worked on docks or near train depots just kept an eye out for refugee slaves or for those carried into New York by their masters (illegal after a certain year) and passed on important information, such as where they could go for help. 2. I was, at times, struck by the similarities of the unfair legal proceedings in matters of runaway slaves and today's illegal immigrants. Their lack of representation and jury trials and the speed and secrecy of trials reminded me of some current news stories about deportations. 3. There were disagreements among abolitionists on how to spend their energy and the funds they raised. Many were concerned that helping the runaways on to Canada was not enough; they needed to be fighting for slavery's eradication in their own country. There were those who wanted to bring down the whole institution and others who recognized the virtue in saving just one person from its horrors. These disagreements could be quite acrimonious. 4. Harriet Tubman really deserves all the accolades she has received as one of the most famous figures of the Underground Railroad, but there were many more who did just as much. One free black man, Napoleon, is believed to have help over 3,000 slaves make it to freedom. He was illiterate but worked tirelessly on the streets of New York as a messenger and guide. 5. It wasn't so secret as we thought.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Edgar Raines

    The title of this book is misleading. It is not a history of the underground railroad nation-wide. Rather, it is a study of New York City's role in the "corridor of freedom" that stretched from the Upper South to Canada along the East Coast. New York City up until Eric Foner's book was the "black hole" of underground railroad studies. There was considerable opposition to abolitionists in the city and the conductors of the underground railroad tried to be discrete about their activities. The key The title of this book is misleading. It is not a history of the underground railroad nation-wide. Rather, it is a study of New York City's role in the "corridor of freedom" that stretched from the Upper South to Canada along the East Coast. New York City up until Eric Foner's book was the "black hole" of underground railroad studies. There was considerable opposition to abolitionists in the city and the conductors of the underground railroad tried to be discrete about their activities. The key operatives were Daniel Ruggles in the 1830s and early 1840s and Sydney Howard Gay in the late 1840s to the late 1850s. Gay in particular kept meticulous records which allows Foner to describe in detail how the underground railroad operated and the story of how some of the passengers made their escape to freedom. The orginal histories of the underground railroad, written by white abolitionists, emphasized their own roles and those of men like them. Beginning in the 1960s historians emphasized the self-emancipation by slaves and treated white participants in the network spiriting these people to freedom as bit players. Foner, following current historical trends, views the underground railroad as a cooperative venture in which blacks and whites were indispensable. Ruggles, for example, was black; Gay, in contrast, was white. In the process, Foner provides ample justification for his perspective. Foner is perhaps best know for his synthetic histories, such as _Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877_ and _The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery_ , subjects on which a vast and complex historiography existed well before Foner sat down to write. His mastery of historiography is in full view in _Gateway to Freedom_, but so is his skill as a researcher in obscure records and his ability to piece together a continuous narrative from scattered and incomplete evidence. This is an important book by one of the leading students of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bruce Greene

    Another well researched piece of scholarship from one of the finest historians working today. This period of history and topic continue to fascinate and baffle students of the American experience. Foner helps clarify the picture and has made a major contribution about the people on all ends of the Underground Railroad. Loaded with case histories that could spawn a thousand other books.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    Excellent book. Describes in detail about Black people 'cutting sticks' (escaping) from slavery during the Fugitive slave act of the 19th century. Amazing and brave souls risked their lives.

  19. 5 out of 5

    William West

    Given the degree of Foner's acclaim, I found this book shockingly disappointing. It's poorly structured and, given the dramatic subject matter, extremely unengaging. While clearly and competently written, which is the very least one would expect from a Pulitzer Prize winner with tenure at Columbia, Foner's prose seems almost determined not to provide any narrative suspense. Nor does the book provide a comprehensive illustration of the way the Underground Railroad functioned. Instead, the book se Given the degree of Foner's acclaim, I found this book shockingly disappointing. It's poorly structured and, given the dramatic subject matter, extremely unengaging. While clearly and competently written, which is the very least one would expect from a Pulitzer Prize winner with tenure at Columbia, Foner's prose seems almost determined not to provide any narrative suspense. Nor does the book provide a comprehensive illustration of the way the Underground Railroad functioned. Instead, the book seems a randomly patched together series of stories and anecdotes. The key historical players never emerge as personalities but just remain reiterated names. For all that, Gateway to Freedom isn't a total waste of time. It does illustrate just what an empty phrase the "free north" was. Free Blacks and escaped slaves lived in constant fear of being kidnapped and smuggled into slavery. Solomon Northup's experience seems to have been all too common for African-Americans of the period. Foner does demonstrate how many northeastern business and political forces benefitted from southern slavery and worked with kidnappers. He also convinces the reader that the most active and forceful fighters in the abolitionist cause were overwhelmingly African-Americans, many of them former slaves. The initial histories of the Abolition struggle were written by self-serving white activists who exaggerated their own roles. Black activists were for a long time unable to counter these narratives because many of the most militant Railroad activists were escaped slaves who had never learned to read and write. Most white activists are described as having devoted most of their energy to in-fighting amongst themselves for self-righteous glory. The white abolitionist "scene" sounds depressingly like the socialist movement in the contemporary United States. Without the work of Black activists, one wonders if the abolition movement in the US would ever have accomplished much. While one does learn a bit about the Railroad and the abolition struggle, this is an extremely short, haphazardly composed piece of history writing. One senses both author and publisher were thinking, "easy money."

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sherry Fyman

    This is a superb description of the rise of the informal network that helped thousands of slaves reach freedom. Prof. Foner locates the rise of the underground railroad in the context of the national politics of Washington and the local politics of the Abolition movement. He discusses the bravery, ingenuity and grim determination shown by many previously unsung heroes of the railroad. Many members of the black community, both free and slave, risked their lives to help others escape. It moved me This is a superb description of the rise of the informal network that helped thousands of slaves reach freedom. Prof. Foner locates the rise of the underground railroad in the context of the national politics of Washington and the local politics of the Abolition movement. He discusses the bravery, ingenuity and grim determination shown by many previously unsung heroes of the railroad. Many members of the black community, both free and slave, risked their lives to help others escape. It moved me greatly reading of their courage. I live in New York City and am engaged in the supporting immigrants facing and fighting deportation. In reading Gateway to Freedom, I'm struck by the feeling of deja vu all over again. Slavecatchers swept suspected runaway slaves off the street and sent south, fugitive slaves had to made agonizing choices between staying with their families in slavery or trying to escape alone. Families where shattered, a minority of voices created a steady drumbeat against the inhumanity of slavery that eventually lead to the Civil War. This is an excellent book by a very fine historian and I would strongly recommend it to anyone with either an interest in the Civil War or an interest in how the same dynamic is playing out today in the United States.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    Eric Foner has written a dry historical book. Nonetheless, I found interesting tidbits. New York City was the place slaves were sent before moving on to Canada. There was also a dispute among abolitionists whether to put funding into helping individuals or fight to abolish slavery by enactment of law.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    Though this book focuses narrowly on the efforts of the Underground Railroad in New York City, it frames it against the larger story of the national conflict over slavery.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

    A detailed, if slow at times, history of the many individuals and organizations that helped make the Underground Railroad.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Todd Stockslager

    Review Title: This train carried saints and sinners to the land of hope and dreams The Underground Railroad was credited by contemporaries with successfully directing thousands of fugitive slaves to freedom in the North (abolitionists) or illegally subverting federal and state laws to destroy a specific region and culture (southern slave owners). Both views were partially true but incomplete. Foner attempts to complete the views and counteract the legends that have grown up around this vital pie Review Title: This train carried saints and sinners to the land of hope and dreams The Underground Railroad was credited by contemporaries with successfully directing thousands of fugitive slaves to freedom in the North (abolitionists) or illegally subverting federal and state laws to destroy a specific region and culture (southern slave owners). Both views were partially true but incomplete. Foner attempts to complete the views and counteract the legends that have grown up around this vital piece of American history. By first offering a definition of the term, Foner goes a long way towards providing the most important corrective. [The Underground Railroad was] an interlocking series of local networks, each of whose fortunes rose and fell over time, but which together helped a substantial number of fugitives reach safety in the free states and Canada.. . . The "underground railroad" should be understood not as a single entity but as an umbrella term for local groups that employed numerous methods to assist fugitives, some public and entirely legal, some flagrant violations of the law. Memoirs by participants and early histories tended to overstate both the unity and the organization of this path from and through slave territory towards safety in the free states and for many ultimately Canada. By detailed research into the available primary materials from all sources--northern and southern, black and white, political and financial, active participants and outside observers, organization leaders and daily "practical abolitionists"--Foner is able to demonstrate how tenuous yet tenacious the effort to aid the fugitive slaves would be over the 50 years leading up the rupture of the Union. Foner provides another corrective by focusing on the Underground Railroad leadership and actions in New York City and the stations to its south (primarily Philadelphia) and north (Boston, Albany, Syracuse, and Canada). The story of the effort in the Metropolitan corridor that lead to and through New York has been little told in histories up to this point, claims Foner, and given the city's close ties to the South because of its role as the business and banking center of the country, the efforts of those involved in the railroad were both important and difficult. In stripping away the myths and legends and relying strictly on the primary sources available, Foner is able to base his history on fact but is left with a problem in writing his history: given the sometimes illegal nature of the work, the small number of people engaged in it, their focus on action and not documentation, and the scattered local efforts that made up the whole, it is hard drive a single compelling and flowing narrative from the sources. The narrative becomes for much of the book a series of isolated anecdotes stitched together with statements from Foner hedged with qualifiers and counter statements. The result is corrective and historically accurate but not always compelling reading. The final corrective Foner provides in this history issue to show the relationships between the various abolitionist groups and the Underground Railroad movement. The relationships were not always smooth and close ones due to differences in political goals, preferred methods, funding and management approaches, and religious and moral motives. But for the most part, Foner shows, these differences were overcome or overlooked to support "practical abolition", a term favored by those involved in the daily operations of the Underground Railroad. In the end I found this history important but not compelling reading. While written in a narrative popular history style, and well documented like an academic history, it feels almost textbook-like in its execution. Textbooks are more often studied than enjoyed.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ted Hunt

    The origins of this book is a story that is especially appealing to a teacher. In 2007, one of Eric Foner's Columbia U. undergrad students was doing research on a history paper in the Columbia Rare Books Room and came upon the journal of a man who had been essential in New York City's Underground Railroad. She told her teacher about it, he eventually investigated it, and found it so fascinating that he used it as the centerpiece of his latest book (for which he thanks her profusely in the "Ackno The origins of this book is a story that is especially appealing to a teacher. In 2007, one of Eric Foner's Columbia U. undergrad students was doing research on a history paper in the Columbia Rare Books Room and came upon the journal of a man who had been essential in New York City's Underground Railroad. She told her teacher about it, he eventually investigated it, and found it so fascinating that he used it as the centerpiece of his latest book (for which he thanks her profusely in the "Acknowledgements" section). And it is a very interesting book about the Underground Railroad and the role that New York City (a city that was definitely ambivalent about slavery) played in it. My only complaint about the book is its subtitle: "The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad," because the book is based entirely on the recorded evidence that was at Foner's disposal, which means that the it is largely not about the Underground Railroad, but rather about New York City's anti-slavery institutions (and the author, one of the nation's great historians, does not write about anything where the historical evidence is "hidden"). The author acknowledges at the beginning of the book that much of the history of the Underground Railroad is, indeed, difficult to track down because its participants were violating the law (and thus did not keep meticulous records of their activities) and the runaways were often illiterate. Thus much of the book is not about the Underground Railroad per se, but about the various anti-slavery institutions in NYC that often competed with each other, and criticized each other, in a paradigm that the author places in Sigmund Freud's idea of "the narcissism of small differences." There were different organizations, different publications, different philosophies (violent or non-violent), even, perhaps, some racial issues at the center of these controversies. The main figure of the book, Sydney Howard Gay, for instance, had a big falling out with Frederick Douglass over a variety of issues. My big take-aways from the book are: 1. The Underground Railroad (at least on the East Coast) was not the lone runaway slave moving along dirt roads at night. It involved groups, often families, traveling together, often on ships up the coast and on railroads. 2. My home town of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, does not (or did not back in the 1970's when I lived there) make a big enough deal about their central place on the Underground Railroad. 3. The reaction of both North and South to the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, with both sections going to extremes to recapture, or prevent the recapture of slaves, made it seem that only disunion (and thus war) could have resolved the issue. Thus as much as I do in my classes to address the Fugitive Slave Act, I might need to do more, as the northern reaction to it was a very big reason that many southern states seceded (and these were the states in the deep South that lost the fewest number of runaway slaves). In short, this is another expertly researched and well written book by Eric Foner, whose only drawback is perhaps the title (or subtitle).

  26. 4 out of 5

    Maughn Gregory

    Superb - and what an important time to read books like this. I especially appreciated Foner's attention to the factionalism among ideologically divergent abolition groups, the tension between abolitionists and vigilance groups, and how the changing federal and state legal landscape regarding fugitive slaves shaped the work of both. That context is just as important as the stories of individual fugitives and UGRR agents. Some things I didn't know: 1. During the Revolutionary War the British promise Superb - and what an important time to read books like this. I especially appreciated Foner's attention to the factionalism among ideologically divergent abolition groups, the tension between abolitionists and vigilance groups, and how the changing federal and state legal landscape regarding fugitive slaves shaped the work of both. That context is just as important as the stories of individual fugitives and UGRR agents. Some things I didn't know: 1. During the Revolutionary War the British promised to free any fugitive slaves who would fight on their side, and when they lost the war they refused to return those fugitives to slavery - at the request of George Washington - but took 3000 of them back to England as free human beings – including some former slaves of General Washington himself. 2. Early abolitionist groups - mostly whites - did nothing to help fugitive slaves who found their way to free states, considering that to be a distraction from the "real" work of emancipation, so "vigilance committees" - mostly blacks - formed to do that. The first and strongest was formed in New York City and it became the model for vigilance committees throughout New England which, as they became more skilled and more inter-connected, became known collectively as the Underground Railroad. 3. Before the Supreme Court upheld the 1793 Fugitive Slave Law in 1982, most northern states did little to prevent slave owners from kidnapping fugitives and even let state police, judges and jails assist; but afterward most northern states passed laws forbidding all of that. Partly as a result, the notorious Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 passed, but then most northern states passed Personal Liberty Laws, declaring any slave brought into these states by their owners to be free. Thanks to these laws and the agitation of abolitionist and vigilance groups, the 1850 Act was virtually unenforceable in most northern states - but in New York City big business (bankers, cloth merchants, printers, etc.) tied to the southern economy raised enormous amounts of money, political support and popular opinion to help enforce it there, even while the City was also one of the central hubs of the UGRR.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Lines

    Eric Foner is a very good historian, and his work on Reconstruction is the best I have read. So when I heard of this book, I had to jump to get a copy. This is a great book. It has a lot of new stories to tell because it is based on a source that hadn’t been used before – Sydney Howard Gay’s Record of Fugitives. Gay played a prominent role in the Underground Railroad in New York and kept a record of fugitives that he helped. This book tells the story of the Underground Railroad, mostly in New Yo Eric Foner is a very good historian, and his work on Reconstruction is the best I have read. So when I heard of this book, I had to jump to get a copy. This is a great book. It has a lot of new stories to tell because it is based on a source that hadn’t been used before – Sydney Howard Gay’s Record of Fugitives. Gay played a prominent role in the Underground Railroad in New York and kept a record of fugitives that he helped. This book tells the story of the Underground Railroad, mostly in New York, but also in Boston and Philadelphia and Southeast Pennsylvania. This is a remarkable story of a lot of good people risking things from their reputations all the way to their lives to help slaves escape. The great contribution of this book is that it shows how the system depended on the agency of all those involved – slaves, free blacks, white abolitionists, genteel fundraisers, etc. This was not just the work of a few magnanimous white folks, as some earlier accounts said. It was the work of heroes like Sidney Howard Gay, Louis Napoleon, Harriet Tubman, Thomas Garrett, Albert Fountain, William Still, James Miller McKim, and countless others. One other fun fact that I did not know: The justly-vilified Fugitive Slave Act was used as a template for the Civil Rights Act of 1866. As Foner explains, the Act “drew on the Fugitive Slave Act’s enforcement mechanisms and civil and criminal penalties, and the way it superimposed federal power on state law in order to establish a national responsibility for securing constitutionally protected rights.” Now that is a beautiful turnabout!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Prima Seadiva

    For subject matter I'd give this book 5 stars but the execution brings it down to 3.5. The reader was good. Most people know about the Underground Railroad via the life and work of Harriet Tubman who is barely mentioned in this book. This book deals with other parts of the Railroad and its history, in particular New York and its relation to it both positive and negative. A lot of the history of its development was presented in a rather dry declaratory manner of dates and facts most of which I hav For subject matter I'd give this book 5 stars but the execution brings it down to 3.5. The reader was good. Most people know about the Underground Railroad via the life and work of Harriet Tubman who is barely mentioned in this book. This book deals with other parts of the Railroad and its history, in particular New York and its relation to it both positive and negative. A lot of the history of its development was presented in a rather dry declaratory manner of dates and facts most of which I have already forgotten. On the other hand, when the author describes the trials and experiences of escaped slaves, men, women, entire families and their determination to live free then the book is very compelling.The description of the heinous politics and impact of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was well done. Also the internecine issues, including racism among people and groups, even those who were in favor of abolition was quite interesting. The stance of most slave owners was appalling. Very few freed their slaves. In some cases those who did had their heirs try to regain slaves freed. And any person of color who was free-whether born free or manumitted was still vulnerable to being kidnapped and sold into slavery. Overall it was a worthwhile read about an ugly part of American history that the effects of are still resonant today.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Karen Koppy

    Somewhat disappointed in this book. It focused mainly on New York. I expected more individual stories of escapes to freedom, but this was a historical depiction with dates, names, and numbers of slaves that escaped. It was extremely well researched, honest and full of facts. I listened to the author on public radio, and he was so interesting, that I ordered the book right away from Kindle. I recommend listening to his interviews instead of reading the book, unless you're really into facts, or yo Somewhat disappointed in this book. It focused mainly on New York. I expected more individual stories of escapes to freedom, but this was a historical depiction with dates, names, and numbers of slaves that escaped. It was extremely well researched, honest and full of facts. I listened to the author on public radio, and he was so interesting, that I ordered the book right away from Kindle. I recommend listening to his interviews instead of reading the book, unless you're really into facts, or you're doing research. It took away some of the mystery surrounding the whole idea of an "Underground Railway", because according to his book, there weren't tunnels and organized routes. There were a couple of main organizations which consisted of just a few people. It was mainly a time in history when men and women of black and white race worked together for the most part to assist slaves in their endeavors to become free. I learned a lot about the role the Quakers played, how funds were raised, well as funds the organizers received from other countries, how they kept records of escapes.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Candace

    I find it so fascinating how directly tied the phrase "underground railroad" is to aiding escaping slaves. If I were to attempt to describe a subway to someone by saying "underground railroad," I think it would be more confusing than helpful, even though that is a pretty accurate description, simply because of how entrenched this idea is, historically. So Foner's exploration of how this railroad wasn't that organized, wasn't that formal--more of a haphazard web of individuals willing to aid fugi I find it so fascinating how directly tied the phrase "underground railroad" is to aiding escaping slaves. If I were to attempt to describe a subway to someone by saying "underground railroad," I think it would be more confusing than helpful, even though that is a pretty accurate description, simply because of how entrenched this idea is, historically. So Foner's exploration of how this railroad wasn't that organized, wasn't that formal--more of a haphazard web of individuals willing to aid fugitive slaves get as far North as they needed to go was a great read. By the very unique nature of each person's journey and escape, the book is a little scattered, though Foner did focus primarily on the "stations" in and around New York City, which aided the organization and comprehensibility of the many, many stories he had to tell us.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.