Sailing to Freedom
Maritime Dimensions of the Underground Railroad
Published by: University of Massachusetts Press
In 1858, Mary Millburn successfully made her escape from Norfolk, Virginia, to Philadelphia aboard an express steamship. Millburn's maritime route to freedom was far from uncommon. By the mid-nineteenth century an increasing number of enslaved people had fled northward along the Atlantic seaboard. While scholarship on the Underground Railroad has focused almost exclusively on overland escape routes from the antebellum South, this groundbreaking volume expands our understanding of how freedom was achieved by sea and what the journey looked like for many African Americans.
With innovative scholarship and thorough research, Sailing to Freedom highlights little-known stories and describes the less-understood maritime side of the Underground Railroad, including the impact of African Americans' paid and unpaid waterfront labor. These ten essays reconsider and contextualize how escapes were managed along the East Coast, moving from the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland to safe harbor in northern cities such as Philadelphia, New York, New Bedford, and Boston.
In addition to the volume editor, contributors include David S. Cecelski, Elysa Engelman, Kathryn Grover, Megan Jeffreys, Cheryl Janifer LaRoche, Mirelle Luecke, Cassandra Newby-Alexander, Michael D. Thompson, and Len Travers.
Timothy D. Walker
“Sailing to Freedom: Maritime Dimensions of the Underground Railroad”
Timothy D. Walker
“Working on the Docks: Waterfront Labor, Coastal Commerce, and Escaping Enslavement from Charleston, South Carolina”
Michael D. Thompson
“Black Watermen, Fugitives from Slavery, and an Old Woman on the Edge of a Swamp: Maritime Passages to Freedom from Coastal North Carolina”
David S. Cecelski
“Hampton Roads and Norfolk, Virginia, as a Waypoint and Gateway for Enslaved Persons Seeking Freedom”
“The Underground Railroad in Maryland’s Ports, Bays, and Harbors: Maritime Strategies for Freedom"
Cheryl Janifer LaRoche
“Claiming Liberty by Sea: The Port of New York as a Fugitive’s Gateway from Enslavement”
“Abolitionists and Seaborne Fugitives in Coastal Eastern Connecticut: Escaping Slavery in New London, Mystic, and Stonington”
“Seaborne Fugitives from Slavery and the Ports of Eastern Massachusetts”
“Making a Living in the ‘Fugitive’s Gibraltar’: People of Color in New Bedford, 1838–1845”
“Freedom on the Move by Sea: Evidence of Maritime Escape Strategies in American Runaway Slave Advertisements”
"[A] lively and engaging collection of essays on the maritime dimensions of the Underground Railroad . . . These assorted scholars are to be commended for beginning to chart mostly unexplored waters. Others must follow in their wake, continually sounding new shoals and working to fill in the map."—Journal of the Early Republic
"Sailing to Freedom recovers a neglected but crucial part of the past—and does so with flair and drama as heroic historical characters engage in gripping maritime adventures. This splendid collection of essays establishes, once and for all, the importance of the seaborne struggle against slavery."—Marcus Rediker, author of The Slave Ship: A Human History
"Sailing to Freedom connects the world of seafaring with the lives of runaway slaves in so many compelling ways that the reader cannot help but think the Underground Railroad should be renamed."—Christopher P. Magra, author of Poseidon's Curse: British Naval Impressment and Atlantic Origins of the American Revolution
"The central question of the volume—To what extent are maritime escapes rightfully referred to as part of the Underground Railroad?—leads to an expanded understanding of what the path to freedom in nineteenth-century America looked like."—Jeffrey A. Fortin, coeditor of Atlantic Biographies: Individuals and Peoples in the Atlantic World