John Curtiss Underwood (American National Biography)

Michael Powell, "Underwood, John Curtiss," American National Biography Online, February 2000,
Underwood was an ardent abolitionist and active in the Whig, Liberty, and Free Soil parties. In the spring of 1848, after several unsuccessful attempts at elective office in New York, he turned his attention southward to western Virginia, where he established over fifteen farms utilizing free labor. He hoped, in concrete terms, to demonstrate that the South need not rely economically on the immoral institution of slavery. Although these farms ultimately failed, his efforts represent a rare attempt by a northern abolitionist to go South and create pragmatic alternatives in order to effectuate change in southern society.

After delivering a speech critical of Virginia and slavery at the 1856 Republican National Convention, Underwood was strongly "advised" not to return to his home in western Virginia. While following this advice, he campaigned for the Republican presidential candidate, John C. Frémont, and continued to write and speak out against slavery. He eventually moved to New York City. Underwood's new project was organizing the American Emigrant Aid and Homestead Company, which sought to establish antislavery communities in western Virginia. The purpose of the company was twofold: to foster abolitionist sentiment among the western Virginians and to demonstrate, again, that communities based upon free labor could prosper in the South. This effort, begun with great optimism in 1857, could not sustain itself in the hysteria following John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859 and the subsequent Civil War.
    How to Cite This Page: "John Curtiss Underwood (American National Biography)," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,