The Roles Played by Leading Abolitionists in Underground Railroad Activities in the Lake Counties of Central New York, 1793-1859
Alex Robert Murenia
J. Congress Mbata
Thesis DT 3.5 1982 M975
vi, 80,  leaves; 28 cm.
My term paper for AS & RC 490 (An examination of the roles played by white Abolitionists to aid fugitive slaves who passed through the Lake County regions of Central New York State, 1703-1859) introduced me to the rich Afro-American history present in this area. It inspired further research of the role of Black and white Abolitionists from this area to gain a better understanding of why Underground Railroad operations were very successful here. My first chapter will examine this region's geography and explain the advantages its lakes offered to hundreds of fugitive slaves who passed through on their way to freedom. Blacks who escaped from the South were running from slavery, but had no idea where they were headed. The climate and topography of the wooded, gorged, and water-covered landscape of the Lake County region were as new to those passing through this area as the concept of finally being "free". Also new to fugitives were the Black and white Abolitionists they met here en route to Canada. The second and third chapters will discuss the roles played by leading Black and white Abolitionists in Lake County region Underground Railroad activity.
This thesis will chronologically examine the years 1793-1859. There were a number of reasons for selecting these dates. The period under investigation includes the dates which marked the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 and the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. The severity of defying these acts will be discussed. Secondly I will be able to compare the participation of Black and white Abolitionists on the Underground Railroad between 1793 and 1827 with actions for human freedom from 1829-1859 to see if any conclusions can be drawn from the effect of being a Black or white Abolitionist when slavery was legal, and later illegal in New York State. (July 4, 1827 marked the date of New York State slave emancipation; the particulars of this law will be discussed in chapter two.) Finally I wish to examine how Blacks and whites responded to the seriousness of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.
This study is not intended to offer a history of antislavery factions (either Black or white) in New York State from 1793-1859. Rather it is based on the assumption that slavery has always been a source of political, social, and psychological tensions during the nation's history to date. The term "Abolitionist" has implied a person who has taken action to contradict slavery, thereby giving mankind an opportunity to create a more perfect American society. As the countless volumes of antislavery intellectual histories attest, individual Black and white Abolitionists would invariably differ on spiritual sustenance, political freedoms, and Blacks' economic status. Yet despite these individual differences I have sought to determine whether or not there was significant cooperation between Black and white Abolitionists which might have helped account for the success of Underground Railroad operations in this region.
Chapter two specifically examines the role of Black Abolitionists in aiding Underground Railroad operations. It divides the sixty-six years under investigation into three separate periods. The 1793-1827 period was a time when there was minimal Underground Railroad activity (only one Underground Railroad station was in operation prior to 1827). During the 1830's and 1840's leading Black antislavery spokesmen emerged in Central New York. Men like Frederick Douglass, Henry Highland Garnet, Samuel Ringgold Ward, and Jermain Loguen worked to stimulate antislavery consciousness using lectures, writings, and preachings to publicize their cause. The 1830's and 1840's were decades when racism was still very invisible in Central New York and though a few stations were in operation, the Underground Railroad was still at a formative stage. Between 1850-59 the Railroad was running regularly through this area. The aforementioned Black leaders and probably the most famous Black Underground Railroad conductor, Harriet Tubman, were largely responsible for its success in this area.
Chapter three will investigate the role of white Abolitionists in Underground Railroad activity. My intent is to separate those white Abolitionists who had primary interest in the freedom of slaves from those who might have used the freedom of Blacks to achieve personal economic gain. This chapter will be followed by a brief concluding chapter which will compare and contrast the efforts of white Abolitionist with those of Black Abolitionists and will address the question, "Did well-planned and successfully executed escapes owe more to assistance from other slaves, from negroes, and Black Abolitionists than to white participants?" It will draw on information from the preceding chapters to make a thesis statement about co-racial cooperation in Underground Railroad activities in Central New York during the mid-1800's.