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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: December 2019

4 - Free Soil

from Part II - 1838–1850


The chapter concludes the section by describing the relatively open operations of the Underground Railroad in the Free Soil Region. The roots of a distinct Free Soil culture of violence based on open defiance lay in the emergence of an African American ethos of self-assertion and community self-defense and in the abolitionist movement’s break with the culture of dignity, which led the movement to embrace the use of restrained violence to defend the “free soil” of the North. As a consequence, Underground activists in the region pioneered new and more open modes of operation. In Upper North strongholds such as Detroit; Oberlin, OH; central New York State; and Boston, abolitionists and vigilance committees publicly announced the passage of fugitives from enslavement and their efforts to provide assistance. The chapter concludes by examining the region’s increasingly open and successful defiance of state and federal fugitive slave laws, paying particular attention to the communal, interracial, and public nature of the resistance with which activists defended the region against the intrusion of slave catchers, regardless of the latter’s behavior.