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

2 - Under Siege

from Part II - 1838–1850


This chapter and the two that follow cover the period from 1838 to enactment of the Fugitive Slave Act in October 1850. The chapter begins with an examination of the covert networks that helped fugitives from enslavement traverse the Borderland in at least a dozen places between Quincy, IL, and Chester, PA. It then discusses the cultural roots of the violence of mastery, and dozens of incidents in which slaveholders and slave catchers brought the violence of mastery into the Borderland, rampaging through entire communities, breaking into homes, and on a few occasions killing and dismembering escapees who resisted. The chapter explores the impact of this violence on the lives of abolitionists, free blacks, and Underground activists in the Borderland and the manner in which the Underground Railroad adapted its operations to meet the challenge by embracing speed and stealth. Finally, the chapter discusses the dynamics of fugitive rescues in the Borderland, noting particularly the different dynamics of urban and rural rescues and the rarity of interracial cooperation in these efforts.