New York Herald, “The Runaway Slaves,” January 5, 1860

    Source citation
    "The Runaway Slaves," New York Herald, January 5, 1860, p. 1: 6.
    Newspaper: Publication
    New York Herald
    Newspaper: Headline
    The Runaway Slaves
    Newspaper: Page(s)
    Newspaper: Column
    Date Certainty
    Zak Rosenberg, Dickinson College
    Transcription date
    The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print. Spelling and typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.


    Practical Operations of the Underground Railroad


    Bogus Slaves Sent Through to Raise Subscriptions.


    The Negro Settlements in the British Provinces.


    Prevalence of Consumption Among Them.


    Confessions of Ministers and Guardians.

    Opposition of the Canadians to Free Negrodom,

    &c., &c., &c.,


    Special Report for the New York Herald on the Condition and Prospects of the Negroes in the British Provinces.

    While the fanatical abolition agitators are carrying on the nefarious system of running slaves into Canada, and endangering the highest interests of the country with their raids upon the South, few are aware of the real condition of abandonment, destitution and misery in which the negroes, enticed from the warm South, exist in their northern residence. Public attention has lately been called to this state of things by the letter of Col. Prince and recent discussions on the subject in the Canadian Parliament, which laid open their shiftlessness, the evils they inflict upon the surrounding localities, and their utter insistence for self-control.

    It is with a view of investigating these points, of so much interest at the present moment, and for the purpose of laying before its readers all the information which can be obtained bearing upon the questions now agitating the country, that the HERALD details a special correspondent to Canada to examine the practical working of the underground railroad system, the prospects and condition of the negro in the Province, the influence of the importation of fugitive slaves upon property and upon the public morals, and the character of the various schemes in operation professedly for the "improvement" and "amelioration" of the condition of the black race.

    In all the principal cities in the State of New York-in New York, Albany, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo and other places- regular agents are located, and subscriptions are solicited and collected all the year round, to help "ooor fugitives from the South" on their road to Canada and freedom. The amount thus accumulated is almost incredible, and the the names of the charitable donors, if published, would astonish the world. Governors, Senators, editors, lawyers, merchants, and of course politicians, swell the capital stock of the underground railroad. Scarcely a week pauses withouth witnessing a band of negros, of from three to a dozen, paraded quietly in some of our cities by the agent of the abolitionists, and shown to those from whom subscriptions are solicited as a "fresh importation." The negros are always badly clad and apparently in a suffering condition; and sympathy being thus exited for them, a contribution follows as a matter of course. It is probable that in every instance the money is misapplied. The "agent" is always a man who, without any visible means of support, makes himself well off. Half a dozen idle hangers-on find a living out of the funds. But the poor slave for whom the charity is craved receives barely enough to carry him to the limit of his journey, and is set down, a half clad, half starved beggar, in a strange, inhospitable country, and congratulated on having achieved his "freedom."

    A large proportion of the money contributed to the underground railroad is given under a misapprehension of facts. It is believed by the donors to be an act of humanity to the negro, and to be instrumental in bettering his condition. The little of it that is honestly expended on the fugitive from slavery only helps to remove him from a home where he is well provided for and happy, to plunge him into suffering and crime. The greater portion of it finds its way into the pockets of the idle scamps who are prominent as agents and collectors. Yet, owing to the liberal contributions of the North and of British abolitionists, of late years, the stealing of negros from the border States has increased to an alarming degree, until it has culminated in Brown's bold attempt to incite a servile insurrection in an entire State.

    It has been justly remarked that the offensive [illegible] of the recent wicked and murderous attack upon Virginia, is the connection of British abolitionists in Canada with the principal actors in the crime. It is unquestionably true that these foreigners were aware of, and abetted Brown's treason. No concealment of the fact is attempted by them. At Chatham the first meeting was held at which the plot was arranged, and with the money of Canadian abolitionists in his pocket, Brown went into Ohio to obtain recruits for the service. A half breed, named Shadd, who publishes a paper at Chatham, was a prominent accomplice of Brown in the action prior to the Harper's Ferry attack, although he was careful to keep a whole skin in Canada, while the fighting was progressing in Virginia. Within a week or two, a Canadian is reported to have boasted at a meeting in Philadelphia that he had been an agent of Brown for the reception of fugitive slaves in Canada. The few men of Brown's party who escaped with their lives are at the present moment in Canada, where they are certain of protection from the people, should they be demanded of the government as escaped murderers. Merriam, a white, and a negro whose name I do not know, both of whom were engaged in the Harper's Ferry affair, are at the present moment at Shadd's house. Merriam is a young looking man, apparently not over twenty-two years of age, short and slightly built, with a thin, hatchety-looking face, very pale, and no beard. He looks more like a schoolboy than a conspirator. The negro is, I believe, a Canadian, and is a tall, spare, wiry black of the deepest dye. They keep very quiet, and I could learn no particulars of their escape, except that they had been passed from house to house by the "friends" until they reached Canada. Coppie, it is said, is at present at a house a few miles from Toronto. One might well believe that this avowed co-opertion and sympathy of British abolitionists with an attempt to spread servile insurrection, with all it horrors, through a portion of the States of the Union, would of itself open the eyes of patriotic Americans to the dangerous tendency of the underground railroad system, and deter them from affording any aid, direct, or indirect, to those who are instrumental in operating it.

    The Harper's Ferry affair was but the natural result of that looseness of morals which has of late years prevailed in the Northern States, and which, fostered by the incendiary doctrines of political agitators, has accustomed the mass of the people to look with indifferences on the depredations committed upon the property and the rights of the citizens of slaveholding States. Every man who contributes money to aid in robbing the South, directly or indirectly, of its slaves, is responsible for such lawless acts, and for the fatal consequences they may entail upon the Union.

    But independent of those considerations, the question must present itself to every reflecting mind, does the negro himself derive any real benefit from being seduced, from his Southern home, and his Southern master, and made a "free man" at the North-from being stolen or enticed from a state of servitude, and left to shill for himself in a strange and uncongenial country? Is society in general improved, socially or morally, by the introduction of fugitive blacks into its midst? While "priceless liberty" and "gailing bonds" are invaluable aids in political harangues, the practical man who pays his hard dollars at the call of professed philanthropists, to assist the "poor slave," may well inquire whether the object of his charity is actually benefitted, or is only injured and demanded thereby.

    At this time, such questions are pertinent and important. The evil effects of the "irrepressible conflict" practically carried out, whether by the systematic stealing of slaves, or by murder and insurrection, are apparent in the distracted condition of the Union, and the ill-blood between the States. Surely, if we find that acts which produce these ills are mischevous and baneful to the slave-a curse to him and to society, instead of a blessing-we shall be worse than insane not to apply the remedy.

    The underground railroad is no myth. A regular organization, to which this name has been applied, stretches through every free state in the Union, and has its agents and emissaries on the borders of every slave State and along all the routes travelled by fugitive slaves. It is a systematized association of negros and republican abolition whites, having for its object the enticing away of the slave property of the South, and its safe transportation into Canada. It has regular subscribers to its capital stock to a large amount, and amongst them in our own State may be found the names of the most prominent politicians in the republican party. The republican abolition organs affect to ridicule the ideas of the existence of any systematic organization of the kind; but the editors of the very papers that would discredit the story record their subscriptions upon the books of the association. Wherever practicable, men of color are put forward as the native agents of the road, as applications for aid come with a better grace from them than from whites; but in every city in the State of New York, and in all places of not along the States bordering upon Canada, the white abolitionists are interested in the subscriptions, and a gang of them live in idleness and case upon the profits.

    As before remarked, a large number of conservative, honorable men subscribe to the funds of the underground railroad, under the erroneous belief that they are doing a charitable and Christian act, while in fact every dollar they contribute is a wrong to their neighbors, a blow at the Union, and a premium to one of the grossest swindles ever perpetrated in the name of philanthropy.

    Some idea of the shrewdness and unscrupulousness of the speculators engaged in this business may be afforded by the exposure of a trick, now practised week after week, for the purpose of swelling the funds. A gang of negros, numbering from three to ten, is gathered in New York; the men composing this gang are represented as fugitives from slavery; but it has been rumored that at times, when runaways are scarce and money needed, any idle nigger is hired to pass as an escaped slave. These men are exhibited to the charitable in New York by the agent of the underground railroad, and a story is told of their sufferings on the road, of their present destitution, and of the lack of funds to help them onward on their journey to a "land of freedom." It is seldom that this appeal fails, and snug sum is generally collected in New York to assist the flight of the fugitive to Canada. But as soon as these poor fellows, flying so swiftly from oppression, reach Albany, they are detained at that "depot," and again put to practical use as a means of raising money. The respectable colored agent of the underground railroad in that city once more parades them amongst the charitable-the same tale of their sufferings, their destitution, and the lack of means to help them into Canada, is repeated, and another contribution is extorted from those who are inclined to credit the story. From Albany the "property" is frequently transported to Troy, and there, and at every city thence to the Canada line, the same use is made of the "poor fugitives," and the cash of the credulous flows into the pockets of these underground railroad speculators, and remains there. The "poor fugitive" receives just sufficient to keep body and soul together, until he lands in Canada a half clad beggar.

    The underground railroad is not always worked under its true name. Its character is often concealed by means of an alias, and the money collected for its object obtained under false representations. "Colored schools," and "Homes," and "Missions," are nearly all of them the underground railroad under a mask. A leading paper in Detriot, the Free Press, recently made the following exposition of the real character of an association in that city, known as "The Refugee's Home Society," the ostensible object of which is to secure homesteads for the fugitive black:-


    How to Cite This Page: "New York Herald, “The Runaway Slaves,” January 5, 1860," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,