During the mid-19th century, the abolitionist movement gained strength in the Northern United States. Free states prohibited slavery, but many of those living in slave states were forced to suffer backbreaking work and constant forms of degradation. In 1847, one heroic mother, a freed slave, received a letter from the master of her two daughters. She had given birth to the girls while still a slave, making her daughters slaves according to the law. In the letter, the master threatened to sell the girls and send them to Louisiana unless she could raise $400 to buy their freedom. She had no way to get the money but was determined to save her daughters. This is her story, told from clippings from the Green-Mountain Freeman in October 1847.
After finding a few men who were sympathetic to her story, and able to help transport and hide the girls after their rescue, the mother devised a rescue plan. She immediately set out on foot, walking about 35 miles to the home where her girls were kept. Arriving at night, she waited in the woods until the following morning. Not wanting to raise suspicion, she went to the house as she always did when she visited her children. “I stayed there on Saturday and Sunday, til Monday evening; cooked and washed for them, and then bid my children goodbye, as if I should never see them again; for I told ‘master’ that I could not raise the money.”
After leaving the house, the mother again hid in the woods until 11:00 pm. As she quietly approached the house, two dogs began to bark furiously. “I stopped a moment, and hid behind the fence, and saw ‘master’ get up and open the window, and look out. Not seeing anything, he shut down the window. I waited till I thought he was asleep, and then went forward. I hurried quick into the cellar kitchen, where my children slept.”
She waited until she heard the master snoring, then quietly woke the children and told them not to speak a word. “I got on their clothes as soon as I could, and fearing that if I went out by the door the dogs would bark again, I determined to go out by the back window. I found it fastened. I got up on the window sill to take out the nail, and as I was pulling at it, I prayed, ‘O Lord, defend me and my dear children this night; I commit myself and them to thee.’ At length I got out the nail, and opened the window, and lifted my children out; and then got out myself. The two dogs were there, but they only stood and looked at us, and never even growled.”
The three of them ran through the garden, over three different fences and palings, and walked four miles to a waiting carriage, reaching it about 1:00 am. Boarding the carriage, they drove as fast as they could towards the city, but had no intention of going to the city, “For I knew that ‘master’ would be there as soon as he could, after he waked up and found the children gone,” said the mother.
Instead, the three were secreted in a series of safe houses and transported first to Pennsylvania and then to Boston. Once in Boston, the mother was able to obtain work and her daughters enrolled in school and learned to read and sew.
Would you like to read other amazing and heroic stories about rescues from slavery? Search our archives for more amazing accounts, and check out our Underground Railroad topic page on Newspapers.com. To see a beautiful short film on the Underground Railroad, check out Railroad Ties here.