Richmond (VA) Dispatch, “The Underground Railroad,” January 7, 1860

    Source citation
    "The Underground Railroad -- Deplorable Poverty and Crime Among Free Negroes in Canada," Richmond (VA) Dispatch, January 7, 1860, p. 2: 2.
    Newspaper: Publication
    Richmond Daily Dispatch
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    The Underground Railroad -- Deplorable Poverty and Crime Among Free Negroes in Canada
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    Michael Blake, Dickinson College
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    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.

    The Underground Railroad -- Deplorable Poverty and Crime Among Free Negroes in Canada.

    The New York Herald has been at the pains to detail a special reporter to Canada, for the purpose of examining the condition of the negroes who have been stolen from the South, and run into that province. The report of this gentleman occupies nearly eight of the solid colums of the Herald, and exhibits a thorough exploration, and an elaborate and precise statement of every fact of interest and importance connected with the settlements.

    The writers states that 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 slaves on their road to Canada. The amount thus accumulated is said by the writer to be almost incredible, and the names of the charitable donors, if published, would astonish the world. Governors, Senators, editors, lawyers, merchants, and of course politicians, swell the capital stocks of the underground railroad. Scarcely a week passes without witnessing a band of negroes, of from three to a dozen, paraded quietly in some of the New York cities by the agent of the abolitionists, and shown to those from whom subscriptions are solicited as a "fresh importation." The negroes are always badly clad and apparently in a suffering condition; and sympathy being thus excited 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 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, adds the writer, 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 its 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 negroes 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.

    Among other items of information connected with the underground railroad, it is stated that when the funds get low a batch of bogus slaves are picked up in Worthstreet and other negro resorts in New York and elsewhere, and are put through the regular operations as fugitives, to stimulate the slack contributions of the fanatics in New York, Albany, Troy etc.; and that when the Simon Pure runaways get to Canada, certain philanthropic land speculators in Detroit and across the line rope them in to buy eligible lots and farms in the Canadian negrodom. There they soon become shiftless and worthless occupants of the land, till they are dispossessed, or die of consumption.

    To keep up this infamous business all sorts of tricks and humanitarian appeals are resorted to, and as fast as the old fools are disgusted and leave, new ones are roped in to supply the funds. Now and then bright looking negroes call upon benevolent citizens with stories of having mothers, wives, and children held in slavery, whose freedom they wish to purchase, and for this purpose ten, twenty and sometimes a hundred dollars only are required to complete the purchase money. In nine cases out of ten these negroes are merely the ticket agents of the trunk line of the underground railroad.

    So much for the underground railroad.- The condition of the slaves after they arrive in Canada is miserable in the extreme. At the southwest point of the Province of Canada is a neck of land running down between Lake Erie and the Detroit river, Luke St. Clair and the St. Clair river. It contains the counties of Essex and Kent, the only portion of Canada where the cold is not intolerable, and it is in these counties that the negroes who have escaped from the South mainly congregate.- All the townships, settlements, and associations, were thoroughly explored by the Herald's reporter, and the account from each and all presents a monotonous and dismal picture of destitution and crime. The fairest experiments have been made to ascertain by trial whether the negro race could be made self-supporting as their own masters and proprietors of farms, but every one has proved an entire failure. They will not work their farms; in warm weather, they work out as barbers, boot-blacks, or waiters, or any other light employment, when they can earn a little money without hard work. They return to their families in the winter, and lie idle as long as the little money they have saved will last. Their houses are generally of logs, badly constructed, dirty inside, the place of chairs supplied by boxes, and the poultry and dumb animals sharing their dwellings with them. - Around their dwellings, one sees a patch of land cleared here, and another one commenced there. Now a tree is half cut down and then left, and the destruction of an easier one attempted. The lazy, shiftless character of the free negro is seen everywhere. The exceptions of energetic and preserving settlers are not more than three or four in a thousand. The Rev. Mr. RENNIE, a Scotch clergyman at one of these colonies, was compelled to admit to the Herald's reporter, that with all his desire to see the colony prosper, the experiment had not as yet answered the expectations of its projectors, and expressed his fear that it would ultimately result in failure. He said that the negroes suffer terribly in the winder from the want of good clothing and good shoes. It is the lack of them, probably, that occasions so much sickness, and is making consumption so fatal a disease among the black population of Canada. The Rev. Mr. KING, of the same colony, has gone to Europe to try to raise more funds, probably to run off more negroes. He is reported in the Edinburgh Witness of November the 19th, to have states that at the time of the passage of the fugitive slave law thirty thousand fugitive slaves found their way into Canada, nearly all of them in a debased and ignorant condition.

    The white population of those counties in which the negro colonies are established, suffer greatly from their depredations. The value of their land has been depressed, their personal comfort and safety diminished, and the peace and good order of their communities destroyed. The reporter was assured by Sheriff MERCER, of Kent county - and the same is true of Essex- that nine-tenths of the offences against the laws are committed by negroes, although they do not constitute more than one-fourth of the whole population. In the township of Anderdon, Essex county, they had stolen nearly every sheep belonging to the white farmers. Occasionally some horrible murder startles the community, and nearly every assize is marked by a charge of rape, which offence if so prevalent that a prominent lawyer of the Province, who has held the position of public prosecutor, informed the reporter that no while woman was safe at all times from assault, and that those who were rearing daughters in that part of Canada might well tremble at the dangers by which they were threatened. The serious depreciation of property in their neighborhood is not matter of surprise. Through the soil in most parts of Kent and Essex is rich and fertile, and thousands of acres of land are open at a moderate price, the old white settler are moving away and a few come to take their places. In fine, here is another demonstration that the negro, in a state of freedom, deteriorates religiously, morally, socially, and industrially; here is an exhibition of the evils which the North will bring upon itself by running off fugitive slaves to its own borders; here is an illustration of the state of things which the triumph of abolition would make universal in the Southern States.

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