Irish Immigrants and the Underground Railroad

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2015-07-21 01:35Z by Steven

Irish Immigrants and the Underground Railroad

Medium
2015-07-02

Liam Hogan


A Ride for Liberty — The Fugitive Slaves, oil on paperboard, ca. 1862, Brooklyn Museum

But the Irish are indeed a strange people. How varied their aspect — how contradictory their character.
William Wells Brown (1852)

What William Wells Brown should have said was “the Irish are human.”

The sad history of anti-black violence perpetrated by some Irish immigrants in the United States is well known. This was often the abominable product of racism, political self-interest, craven leadership and labour competition. While these incidents, such as the New York Draft riots (1863) or the Memphis massacre (1866), were committed by a fraction of Irish immigrants who settled in the United States, they have certainly cast a long shadow over the historical relationship between the Irish-American and African-American communities. Some Irish were also active in disrupting the activities of the Underground Railroad. See the famous case of the self-emancipated slave Anthony Burns who was arrested under the Fugitive Slave Law in 1854 and held in custody in Boston. When a group of African Americans and white anti-slavery activists attempted to rescue him by force, it was an Irish militia which suppressed their advances. One of their deputised number was stabbed and killed during the altercation. When African Americans held a vigil before Burns was sent back to his owners they were subjected to the “jeers and insults of pro-slavery Irishmen.” Sojourner Truth witnessed how Burns was marched on to the ship, a solitary figure, under the armed guard of two thousand armed white men. Some of those in the crowd, likely to be Irish-Americans, cheered at this pathetic procession. They also pointed at prominent abolitionists in the crowd, shouting “there go [the] murderers” of an Irish labourer. The historian Noel Ignatiev has described the actions of the Boston Irish militia as being evidence that the Irish were “the Swiss Guards of the Slave Power.”

William Still included an account of a group of Irishmen who attacked fugitive slaves in his seminal work The Underground Railroad, A Record (1872) According to his correspondent, these Irish attackers were either a group of slave-catchers following up on a bounty or racist thugs looking to attack African Americans as part of their Halloween entertainment. Either way, they got more than they bargained for…

…Perhaps it is for these reasons that the role of a number of Irish immigrants in helping slaves escape their bondage has been overlooked. It helps to explain why the cordial relationships and marriages, although the latter were relatively rare, between Irish immigrants and African Americans in the early nineteenth century have been mostly forgotten. This complex relationship is illustrated well by Frederick Douglass’ guarded reaction to two sympathetic Irish labourers in Baltimore

Who were these Irish born “conductors”?

Because of the nature of this surreptitious activity, attempts to verify what actually happened are often difficult, if not impossible. While it may make the academic historian wince, this history generally relies on oral tradition. From the few names I have found, it seems that the Irish immigrants who supported the Underground Railroad were mostly middle class, some were Presbyterian, others were Catholic, and a majority hailed from Ulster. The class aspect is not a surprise as it mirrors the general make up of the anti-slavery movement in Ireland in the late eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century. The following list is far from exhaustive, so please get in touch if you know of more individuals from Ireland who were involved…

Name: Mary Weaver
From: Ireland
Location of UR Activity: Richmond, Virginia
Narrative: The remarkable story of Mary Weaver is recounted by William Still. Mary Weaver and John Hall, a slave, fell in love and wished to marry. Hall was the property of a slave owner named John Dunlap but he singled out his prior owner, a man named Burke, as being especially cruel. Both of these men might also have been Irish. Mary then proceeded to save money and make arrangements to pay for his escape via the Underground Railroad to Canada. She later joined him there and the two were soon married.

“[Hall] was also under the influence and advice of a daughter of old Ireland. She was heart and soul with John in all his plans which looked Canada-ward. It is very certain, that this Irish girl was not annoyed by the kinks in John’s hair. Nor was she overly fastidious about the small percentage of colored blood visible in John’s complexion. It was, however, a strange occurrence and very hard to understand. Not a stone was left unturned until John was safely on the Underground Rail Road. Doubtless she helped to earn the money which was paid for his passage. And when he was safe off, it is not too much to say, that John was not a whit more delighted than was his intended Irish lassie, Mary Weaver. John had no sooner reached Canada than Mary’s heart was there too.”

“Circumstances, however, required that she should remain in Richmond a number of months for the purpose of winding up some of her affairs. As soon as the way opened for her, she followed him. It was quite manifest, that she had not let a single opportunity slide, but seized the first chance and arrived partly by means of the Underground Rail Road and partly by the regular train. Many difficulties were surmounted before and after leaving Richmond, by which they earned their merited success. From Canada, where they anticipated entering upon the matrimonial career with mutual satisfaction, it seemed to afford them great pleasure to write back frequently, expressing their heartfelt gratitude for assistance, and their happiness in the prospect of being united under the favorable auspices of freedom!”…

Read the entire article here.

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Call for Proposals: Escaping to Destinations South: The Underground Railroad, Cultural Identity, and Freedom Along the Southern Borderlands

Posted in History, Live Events, United States on 2011-12-29 16:38Z by Steven

Call for Proposals: Escaping to Destinations South: The Underground Railroad, Cultural Identity, and Freedom Along the Southern Borderlands

National Park Service
Network to Freedom
2012-06-20 through 2012-06-24
St. Augustine, Florida

Call for proposal deadline is Sunday, 2012-01-15, 23:59 PST (Local Time).

The 2012 Conference theme is the resistance to slavery through escape and flight to and from the South, including through international flight, from the 16th century to the end of the Civil War. Traditional views of the Underground Railroad focus on Northern destinations of freedom seekers, with symbols such as the North Star, Canada, and the Ohio River (the River Jordan) constructed as the primary beacons of freedom. This conception reduces the complexity of the Underground Railroad by ignoring the many freedom seekers that sought to obtain their freedom in southern destinations.

Likewise, borders and the movement across them by southern freedom seekers are also very crucial to our understanding of the complexities of the Underground Railroad. Freedom seekers often sought out political and geographical borderlands, as crossing these locations usually represented the divide between slavery and freedom. To this end, the conference will explore how southern freedom seekers seized opportunities to escape slavery into Spanish Florida and the Seminole Nation, to the Caribbean Islands, and into the western borderlands of Indian Territory, Texas, and Mexico.

Call for Proposals:

The 2012 National Underground Railroad Conference seeks to create a cultural, historical, and interpretive exchange between domestic and international descendent communities of southern freedom seekers.

The 2012 National Underground Railroad Conference seeks a program that includes the full diversity of academic and grassroots research, documentation, and interpretation of the Underground Railroad. Whenever possible, proposals should consist of presenters of both sexes, all age groups, and members of racial and ethnic minorities. We welcome scholars who practice their craft in a variety of venues, including: independent researchers and educators; community organizations; archeological investigations; museums; archives and libraries; historical societies; living history and reenactment groups; academic institutions at all levels; and the National Park Service.

The Program Committee is keen to encourage a wide variety of forms of conversation. Please feel free to submit such nontraditional proposals as poster sessions; roundtables that home in on significant topics in Underground Railroad history; discussions around a single historical person, image, or archeological/historic site in Underground Railroad history; a series of sessions organized around a single thread that will run through the conference; working groups that tackle a common issue or challenge; workshops that develop professional skills in the documentation or education of Underground Railroad history; or multimedia representations, documentaries, and performances whose central topic is Underground Railroad history. Teaching sessions are also welcome, particularly those involving the audience as active participants or those that reflect collaborative partnerships and/or conversations among students, teachers, public historians, research scholars, and educators at all levels and in varied settings.

We prefer to receive proposals for complete sessions, but will consider individual papers and performances as well.

Proposals of specific interest
  1. Dispersal of Gullah Geechee culture through the migration of freedom seekers;
  2. Military and political defense of freedom in Spanish Florida;
  3. The War of 1812 and its Impact on southern Freedom seekers;
  4. Black Seminole maroons and the Seminole Indian Wars;
  5. Freedom seekers along the Trail of Tears and in Indian Territory;
  6. The Underground Railroad between the United States and the Caribbean;
  7. Black Indian Freedom Seekers along the U.S.- Mexican Borderlands;
  8. Creation of southern maroon communities;
  9. Freedom seekers in the South’s maritime system;
  10. Cultural representations of southern Underground Railroad history (i.e. music, living history, exhibits, performance, documentaries);
  11. Strategies to preserve and interpret Underground Railroad and Freedom seeker stories
  12. Strategies to teach local Underground Railroad history to children

Other topics of interest include stories of southern freedom seekers during the War of 1812 and the American Civil War in commemoration of the 200th and 150th anniversaries, respectively, as well as the American Revolutionary War. The conference will also commemorate the 450th anniversary of the City of St. Augustine’s founding and the important role of Africans to this history.

Submission Procedures

Proposals should be submitted on the attached form by email (2012NationalUGRRConference@oah.org) to the Organization of American Historians, beginning October 2011. Complete panel proposals should include no more than 3 presenters, and a chair/moderator or commentator. Commentators may be omitted in order for the audience to serve in that role. Each participant will receive 20 minutes for his or her presentation. Session membership should be limited by the need to include substantial time for audience questions and comments. Individual submissions that are accepted will be placed on a panel by the Program Committee.

All proposals must include the following information:

  • a complete mailing address, e-mail address, phone number, and affiliation for each participant;
  • an summary of no more than 500 words, required only for panel proposals;
  • a description of no more than 250 words for each presentation; and
  • bio/vita of no more than 250 words for each participant.

Submission Deadline

The deadline for proposals is Sunday, January 15, 2012, by 11:59 pm PST.

For more information, click here.

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Escaping to Destinations South: The Underground Railroad, Cultural Identity, and Freedom Along the Southern Borderlands

Posted in Caribbean/Latin America, Forthcoming Media, History, Live Events, Mexico, Native Americans/First Nation, Slavery, Texas, United States, Wanted/Research Requests/Call for Papers on 2011-12-29 00:07Z by Steven

Escaping to Destinations South: The Underground Railroad, Cultural Identity, and Freedom Along the Southern Borderlands

National Park Service
Network to Freedom
2012-06-20 through 2012-06-24
St. Augustine, Florida

The Network to Freedom has joined with local partners to present an annual UGRR [Underground Railroad] conference beginning in 2007. These conferences bring together a mix of grass roots researchers, community advocates, site stewards, government officials, and scholars to explore the history of the Underground Railroad. Rotated to different parts of the country, the conferences highlight the unique history of various regions along with new research.

The 2012 Conference theme is the resistance to slavery through escape and flight to and from the South, including through international flight, from the 16th century to the end of the Civil War. Traditional views of the Underground Railroad focus on Northern destinations of freedom seekers, with symbols such as the North Star, Canada, and the Ohio River (the River Jordan) constructed as the primary beacons of freedom. This conception reduces the complexity of the Underground Railroad by ignoring the many freedom seekers that sought to obtain their freedom in southern destinations.

Likewise, borders and the movement across them by southern freedom seekers are also very crucial to our understanding of the complexities of the Underground Railroad. Freedom seekers often sought out political and geographical borderlands, as crossing these locations usually represented the divide between slavery and freedom. To this end, the conference will explore how southern freedom seekers seized opportunities to escape slavery into Spanish Florida and the Seminole Nation, to the Caribbean Islands, and into the western borderlands of Indian Territory, Texas, and Mexico.

Escape from enslavement was not just about physical freedom, but also about the search for cultural autonomy. The conference will explore the transformation and creation of new cultural identities among southern freedom seekers that occurred as a result of their journeys to freedom, such as the dispersal of Gullah Geechee culture and the formation of Black Seminole cultural identity.

The 2012 Conference will include participation by independent and academic scholars at all levels, educators, community activists, public historians and preservationists, and multi-media and performance artists. The conference seeks to create a cultural, historical, and interpretive exchange between domestic and international descendent communities of southern freedom seekers.

Gullah Geechee and Black Seminole descendants are particularly welcome at the conference.

For more information, click here.  Call for papers information (Deadline 2012-01-15) is here.

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