General Sherman’s March to the Sea

General Sherman on Horseback
(Courtesy of

From November through December 1864, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman led his army through Confederate-controlled Georgia on what became known as his “March to the Sea.” Over the course of their two-month, 235-mile trek, Sherman, his officers, and their men, destroyed or burned numerous buildings deemed essential to the Confederacy. Sherman believed his march was not one of rash or hostile greed or hatred; rather, he saw it as a response to the changing nature of war. To him the Union was,  “not only fighting hostile armies, but a hostile people, and [we] must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.” [1]Sherman’s “March to the Sea” shows Union strategy and prowess at the end of the war – aiming for and achieving the decimation of Confederate territory in order to convince Southern citizens to stop backing the war effort.

An occupation and march such as this was almost impossible without the leadership of men such as Sherman. His armies were aided by his confidence, strength, and organization for much of the early part of their campaign. The wings of infantry under his command moved, as planned, along roads and pathways determined before the march even began and did so with little to no disturbance by enemy forces. The disorganized enemy’s inability to execute an effective defense allowed Sherman and his men to march to Savannah with minimal casualties. With little Confederate resistance, the army was also able to deliver the harsh reality of war to the Georgian towns and institutions that it came across.

But the tactics and the strategy of Sherman’s March require thoughtful consideration. Noah Andre Trudeau, in his in-depth study Southern Storm (2008), notes how careful planning and military ingenuity of the march was unparalleled. The fact that Sherman was able to march so many men over an unfamiliar terrain, sometimes without the benefit of well-defined roads; negotiate fifteen river crossings, each more than 230 feet wide[2]; transport the necessary food and supplies for 62,000 troops with just 2,000 wagons (half the number the similarly sized Army of the Potomac used in its assault on Virginia in 1862); and still manage to emerge unscathed from the rubble in the Confederate stronghold of Savannah, was astounding. Not only was Sherman able to navigate miles of enemy territory, but he was able to do so while being almost completely cut off from his supply base in Atlanta. By turning the nature of military strategy on its head and removing the necessity for consistent contact with a stable base, his foraging of Confederate property and efficient wagon techniques made his army a self-sufficient and mobile force for Confederate destruction.[3]

Agricultural production map produced for Sherman to orchestrate his march (Courtesy of New York Times Online)

To have executed such a march across enemy territory, and without the use of today’s GPS technology, Sherman was forced to consult maps. Yet printed maps had not been created to aid a march quite like his. According to historian Sarah Schulten, Sherman requested from Joseph Kennedy, the superintendent of the census bureau, a visual representation of data that had been compiled before the war. Sherman then looked for population centers, livestock, grain and cotton production estimates as well as road and rail locations and Kennedy’s maps enumerated these figures by county for Georgia. With the help of cartographers, Kennedy integrated the census data into a map that allowed Sherman to plan the best pathways for his campaign. These marching routes cut through counties that had high foraging prospects (with lots of grain, corn, livestock, rice and tobacco) and high output of Confederate-supporting products (things that could be sold or sent to support the war effort or help the confederate civilian population, i.e. cotton and sugar) that could be burned and destroyed. These maps also charted population; both white and enslaved. Presumably including slaves in these statistics was a way to insure that Sherman was able to do some emancipating as he marched his way through the towns, cities and counties. Without these maps, Sherman knew, looking back on his march, his process of surviving off the land would have been “[subject] to blind chance.”[4] Not only were these maps essential to his understanding of the lands he occupied but also essential to insuring the success of surviving without a direct connection to his supply base.[5]

Magnified detail of Map used by Sherman
(Courtesy of New York Times Online)

After the war, Sherman tried to quiet Northern fascination with his heroics by saying “I only regarded the march…as a ‘shift of base,’”[6] (meaning physical base of operations).  Yet, it is hard to deny the morale boost and invigoration his march had for the strength of Union soldiers in their fight for the preservation of the Union. General William T. Sherman and his “March to the Sea” was a well-planned and deliberate effort to cut off the supply bases of the Confederate Army in the South and, by doing so, slowly diminish the size and strength of the rebellion. The total destruction that Sherman’s forces brought on the cities they encountered served to force their residents to suffer the harsh consequences of war, and quickly diminished the popularity of the war effort in the South. While this plan was justified in the eyes of the Union government, many white Southerners viewed the destruction the destruction and violence as atrocities.  Later, this made positive relations after the war between the sections difficult to foster and even harder to maintain.



[1] William T. Sherman, Letter to Henry W. Halleck (Savannah), December 24, 1864. [Civil War Trust, Online]

[2] Noah Andre Trudeau, Southern Storm (New York, Harper Collins 2008), 536.

[3] Trudeau, 51-52.

[4] William T. Sherman, Memoirs, Book 2

[5] Susan Schulten, Sherman’s Maps, November 20, 2015 [New York Times]

[6] William T. Sherman, Memoirs, Book 2  [Southern Storm, Noah Andre Trudeau] 220.

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Altered Images From the End of the War

Louis Masur begins the final chapter of his book, The Civil War: A Concise History (2011) with a powerful opening line: “On January 11, 1865, Robert E. Lee wrote a letter that would have been unthinkable three years earlier.”  The reference is to Lee’s endorsement for the use of black troops, a move that most Confederates had previously resisted.  But as Masur points out, the belated decision, finally approved in March 1865 (just weeks before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox) demonstrated “perhaps” the “strength of Confederate nationalism” (76).  In other words, the question had always been which motivated Confederates more, a desire for their own political rights or the continuation of slavery?  In recent years, there has been an explosion of controversy over the particular subject of “Black Confederates.”  The debate mainly concerns whether they existed at all before the spring of 1865.  Here is one image frequently circulated over the Internet:

Black Confederates

But here is the original version of the same image, unaltered, showing that these alleged “Black Confederates” from 1861 were actually Union soldiers in training near Philadelphia in 1864.

Black SoldiersJerome Handler and Michael Tuite thoroughly dissect the manipulation of this image in their post, “Retouching History: The Modern Falsification of a Civil War Photograph” (2005).

Altered Image by

Actual photograph, circa 1864








Altering images is not just a modern-day phenomenon.  Print-makers and illustrators in the nineteenth-century were just as creative and calculating. In fact, the banner image from this course website provides a good example of what might be called pre-photoshop photoshopping undertaken by a commercial printer in Philadelphia following Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. Here is what the image looked like that year:

Emancipation Banner

Yet here is what the original illustration looked like in January 1863 when Thomas Nast first drew it for Harpers Weekly:

Emancipation OriginalThe difference is more than just color.  Nast’s allegory for emancipation has now been subtly altered to give the martyred president a greater role.

cropped-cropped-cropped-cropped-emancipation.jpgEmancipation DetailSometimes significant changes are also sometimes accidental rather than intentional. Here is a different image that was misdated for years as 1864.  Yet this is actually a detail from a photograph taken in Washington DC in November 1865.  Students in History 117 should be able to explain why that seemingly small mistake matters quite a bit.


Believe it or not, it’s also possible to enhance images by altering them.  Here is a photograph taken at Fort Sumter on Friday, April 14, 1865.  That was a special day for the Union coalition –a kind of “mission accomplished” moment as Col. Robert Anderson returned with a delegation of notables, including abolitionists like Rev. Henry Ward Beecher and William Lloyd Garrison, to raise the American flag once again over the fort in Charleston harbor where the Civil War had begun almost exactly four years earlier.

Sumter 1865 DamagedNote the cracked glass plate from this seemingly ruined photograph now in the collection of the Library of Congress.  But look what happens to this image when it is digitized at a high resolution and then magnified.

Sumter 1865 Enhanced

That’s Rev. Henry Ward Beecher speaking on the afternoon of Friday, April 14, 1865, from what he called “this pulpit of broken stone.”  Originally, scholars, using magnifying glasses, thought that William Lloyd Garrison was perhaps seated on Beecher’s left.

Garrison 1865 Option 1But now we are confident at the House Divided Project that Garrison was actually seated in a special section on Beecher’s right, with other leading abolitionists and Lincoln administration notables.

Garrison 1865 Option 2

Garrison 1865 Detail

It was obviously a moving, reflective moment for Garrison, one captured in this detail image above from right after the ceremony and by the little known story of his visit the following morning to see the grave of secessionist icon John C. Calhoun.  You can read more about this episode here and here.  Sometimes people are surprised by the stories that slip out of public memory and don’t make it into standard textbooks.  The Garrison visit to South Carolina in April 1865 is certainly one of them, but another such lost tale involves a Dickinsonian named John A.J. Creswell, who was deeply involved in the final passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery, which occurred in early January 1865.  Here is the image that appeared in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper to celebrate that moment.

Thirteenth Amendment

You will notice the trio of men in the lower right hand corner, obviously prominent figures according to the illustrator.  We researched them here at the college and were thrilled to discover that one of them was a Dickinsonian.  It turns out that these are three congressman from the Mid-Atlantic (from left to right) Thaddeus Stevens, William D. Kelley, and John A.J. Creswell.  We used a detail from that image for the cover of our first House Divided e-book, which profiles Creswell, a Dickinson graduate and Maryland politician who became one of the nation’s most important wartime abolitionists.  Yet, he’s almost completely forgotten, not even mentioned in Steven Spielberg’s movie “Lincoln” (2012), which concerned passage of the amendment.  You can download a free copy of Creswell’s biography, written by Dickinson college emeritus history professor John Osborne and college librarian Christine Bombaro, here.  Ultimately, that might be the best way to “alter” images from the end of the Civil War –by seeing old stories from new perspectives.

Forgotten Abolitionist New Cover

The scene at Congress on January 31, 1865 was reminiscent in some ways of an earlier scene involving a celebration of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.




Sergeant Prince Rivers receives the colors of the First South Carolina Volunteers, Port Royal, South Carolina, January 1, 1863 (Courtesy of the House Divided Project)

Sergeant Prince Rivers receives the colors of the First South Carolina Volunteers, Port Royal, South Carolina, January 1, 1863 (Courtesy of the House Divided Project)

This scene in Port Royal, South Carolina is very revealing at several levels, but as a study of the end of the war, it offers a poignant window into the revealing saga of Prince Rivers, a man who arguably is the most teachable figure from the Civil War & Reconstruction era.

Prince-Rivers Detail

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Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave

Prince, Mary. The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave. Related by Herself. With a Supplement by the Editor. To Which Is Added, The Narrative of Asa-Asa, A Captured African. Edited by Thomas Pringle. London: Published by F. Westley and A.H. Davis, Stationers’ Hall Court, 1831.

Courtesy of Caribbean Literature

Courtesy of Caribbean Literature

Mary Prince’s remarkable life story in “The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave” portrays her horrific treatment as a slave in the West Indies and her life-long journey towards freedom. Her simple, yet effective, writing style gives readers a glimpse into the heartbreaking reality of being a female slave in the early 1800s. Mary experienced the worst of slavery including severe physical abuse and being torn away from her family as a young girl, however her resilience and determination throughout these events is something to be admired. Mary told her life story with the goal of spreading awareness about the horrors of slavery in order to debunk common misconceptions about slavery held by many English people and ultimately implement change [1].

Mary was born into slavery in Devonshire Parish, Bermuda and spent the majority of her life enslaved to a number of different masters in the Caribbean, including in Turks and Caicos and Antigua. When she was about 40 years old (c.1828) Mary moved to London, England with her master in hopes of becoming a free woman. Due to the Slave Trade Act of 1807, which banned British involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, it was henceforth illegal for slaves to be carried on British ships [2]. Mary technically gained her freedom once landing in the United Kingdom, however her dependence on her master’s consent to maintain her freedom when returning to the West Indies combined with the fear of being in a new country resulted in her continuing to live as a slave for a number of years after arriving in London. The Slave Trade Act was passed with the idea of gradual emancipation and it was not until 1833 that a formal Emancipation Act was passed by Parliament [2]. Even then, the Act instilled a six-year apprenticeship system, in other words another form of gradual emancipation, that was not abolished until 1838 [2]. In 1828 if Mary were to return to the West Indies without proof of freedom she would most likely be forced back into slavery due to the laws of the time.

While the United States also banned the transatlantic slave trade in 1807, British colonies in the Caribbean had a greater dependence on the slave trade due to the high number of slave deaths that occurred [3]. In fact, the number of slave deaths was around one third greater in the Caribbean than the American South [4]. These deaths were common for a number of reasons including the harsh conditions of working on sugar plantations, the most common export of this area, disease, and malnutrition [5]. In addition, unlike in America, slaves were not increasing at the natural rate of reproduction due these large death tolls and the majority of imports being male [6].

Mary Prince’s narrative can be used as a basis of comparison between slavery in the British West Indies and the United States. One direct connection that can be made is the frequency in which slave families were separated. Mary was separated from her family when she was young and later separated from her husband, spending the majority of her life having to continually start over and form new relationships. While strong familial ties were evident in Mary’s narrative, stable slave families were more commonly formed on plantations in the United States than the Caribbean [7]. The mindset of plantation owners in the Caribbean was more focused on simply buying new slaves instead of encouraging those they had to form relationships and reproduce [5]. Despite not being able to legally marry in the United States many slaves started families and lived in constant fear of being separated from their loved ones [8]. Plantation owners made a lot of their money from selling their slaves, and around one third of enslaved children would experience some sort of separation from one and/or both of their parents at some point in their lives [8]. This familial separation was a great motivator to escape from slavery and become free in order to be reunited with ones family. Alternatively, if enslaved families were not separated, escaping from slavery would be quite difficult and they would be more likely to remain in slavery.

Mary’s narrative brought the brutality of slavery to those living in the United Kingdom and helped enlighten those who had previously been told that slaves in the West Indies and other British colonies were happy being enslaved. In the United Kingdom the West India Lobby was responsible for spreading propaganda about the benefits of slavery and claiming that enslaved people were happy with their current circumstances [2]. The West India Lobby benefitted greatly from the exports produced on slave plantations in the Caribbean, especially sugar, and wanted to prevent the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade from making progress [2]. To combat the efforts of pro-slavery groups the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, later the Anti-Slavery Society in 1823, helped to publish pamphlets and slave narratives, such as Mary Prince’s, and set up anti-slavery speeches and petitions throughout the country [9]. Similar to the publication of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe in the United States in 1852, “The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave” exposed slavery for what is really was and allowed people to hear a slave’s perspective on slavery [10]. As Mary made quite clear in her narrative “All salves want to be free – to be free is very sweet” [11].

[1] Williamson, Jenn. “Summary of The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave. Related by Herself. With a Supplement by the Editor. To Which Is Added, the Narrative of Asa-Asa, a Captured African.” Documenting the American South. 2004. Accessed December 6, 2016.[].

[2] “The 1807 Act and Its Effects.” The Abolition Project. 2009. Accessed December 7, 2016. [].

[3] Morgan, Kenneth. Slavery and the British Empire: From Africa to America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, 85.

[4] Mintz, Steven. “American Slavery in Comparative Perspective.” The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Accessed December 7, 2016. [].

[5] Morgan, Kenneth. Slavery and the British Empire: From Africa to America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, 90-91.

[6] Morgan, Kenneth. Slavery and the British Empire: From Africa to America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, 84.

[7] Morgan, Kenneth. Slavery and the British Empire: From Africa to America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, 98.

[8] Williams, Heather Andrea. “How Slavery Affected African American Families.” Freedom’s Story, TeacherServe. National Humanities Center. Accessed November 13, 2016. [ htm].

[9] Oldfield, John. “British Anti-Slavery.” BBC History. 2011. Accessed December 7, 2016. [].

[10] “Impact of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Slavery, and the Civil War.” The National and International Impact of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. 2015. Accessed November 13, 2016. [].

[11] Prince, Mary. The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave. Related by Herself. With a Supplement by the Editor. To Which Is Added, The Narrative of Asa-Asa, A Captured African. Edited by Thomas Pringle. London: Published by F. Westley and A.H. Davis, Stationers’ Hall Court, 1831, 23.

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Themes of Republicanism in Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery

Image of Booker T. Washington between 1905 and 1915 courtesy of the Library of Congress

Image of Booker T. Washington between 1905 and 1915 courtesy of the Library of Congress

Themes of Republicanism in Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery

Despite declaring that his life began in the “most miserable, desolate, and discouraging surroundings,”[i] Booker T. Washington’s narrative, Up From Slavery, is brimming with republican optimism and perseverance. Based on Washington’s narrative, after departing from the abhorrent institution of slavery, blacks had inherited republic ideals and aspects of Southern culture that defined their lives even after gaining their freedom.

Even while still enslaved in a Virginian plantation, Washington’s hunger for education was insatiable. After witnessing one of his mistresses attending school at a local schoolhouse, Douglas resolves that one day he will seek an education for himself. Republicanism placed a heavy weight on the value of education, which was seen as a deterrent for tyranny.[ii] As such, even nearly a decade after the founding of the Republic, men and women alike still attended school for the hopes of contributing to the virtuous republic through education; this desire for education was not lost on the slaves who observed this culture of seeking virtue through education.

However, education was not something that was readily available to blacks. Even after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freed slaves were in a significantly disadvantaged position. Despite the promises freedom held, it also came with an independence that had not previously existed under the rule of a master. On this matter, Washington wrote, “In a few hours the great questions with which the Anglo-Saxon race had been grappling for centuries had been thrown upon these people to be solved. These were the questions of a home, a living, the rearing of children, education, citizenship, and the establishment and support of churches.”[iii]

However, this socioeconomic disadvantage did not impede the perseverance and progress of blacks like Washington. Staying true to the republican ideal of upward mobility and the “self-made man,”[iv] Washington begins work in a salt mine operating in Malden, West Virginia. While working, Washington finds himself in a culture that operates largely outside of social institutions, and which therefore adopts a lifestyle of roughness which Washington equates to immorality– “Drinking, gambling, quarrels, fights, and shockingly immoral practices were frequent.”[v] The practices that Washington describes are likely similar, if not identical, to the rough leisure activities practiced by whites that lived in backcountry areas similar to the black community in which Washington found in Malden, WV. These practices adopted by poor residents of isolated backcountry localities were an exercise which prepared its practitioners for “a violent social life in which the exploitation of labor, the specter of poverty, and a fierce struggle for status were daily realities.”[vi]

Although these practices were common among poor, back country blacks, there were groups of newly freed slaves, one of which was Washington, who desired a culture of education and earnestness. While working in the salt mines, Washington managed to acquire one of a copy of Webster’s Blue Back Speller, a book that had burgeoned in popularity after the Revolutionary war, selling around 3 million copies by 1783[vii]. Nearly a century later, the book still provided a means of education to members of the republic seeking an education. Determined to receive a formal, higher education, Washington used the money he saved from working in the salt mines to attend the Hampton Institute. Having “resolved to let no obstacle prevent [him] from putting forth the highest effort” to seeking an education and giving to his community, Washington earns his keep at Hampton by proving his worth as a skilled janitor. Washington explains his reasoning behind his eagerness to earn his keep through labor, something which he noted that other freed slaves had chosen to give up for good; Washington knew that education was inseparable from labor and he valued labor for “labour’s own sake and for the independence and self-reliance which the ability to do something which the world wants done brings.”[viii] In describing his time at Hampton, Washington’s narrative is rich with the republican ideals of removing paternalistic and dependent relationships from the country and instead cultivating a culture of independence and individual liberty.[ix]

Even after the immediacy of his emancipation, Washington continued to play the role of the ideal citizen of the republic by seeking an educated and virtuous life. Despite having little to give other than his time, effort, and knowledge, Washington became philanthropist by supporting initiatives to educate native Americans and fellow blacks at the Hampton Institute and the Tuskegee Institute, respectively. Washington’s greatest legacy is arguably the Tuskegee Institute, a facility aimed towards instilling the republican qualities of earnestness, virtue, and appreciation of labor in the less fortunate, albeit freed, blacks of the South.[x]

[i] Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery: An Autobiography (New York: Skyhorse, 2015), 12.

[ii] Gordon S Wood, The American Revolution (New York: Modern Library, 2002), 122.

[iii] Washington, Up From Slavery: An Autobiography, 28.

[iv] Wood, The American Revolution, 121.

[v] Washington, Up From Slavery: An Autobiography, 32.

[vi] Elliot J. Gorn, “‘Gouge and Bite, Pull Hair and Scratch’: The Social Significance of Fighting in the Southern Backcountry,” The American Historical Review 90 (1985): 22, accessed August 29, 2009.

[vii] Wood, The American Revolution, 124.

[viii] Washington, Up From Slavery: An Autobiography, 68.

[ix] Wood, The American Revolution, 125.

[x] Emma Lou Thornbrough, Booker T. Washington (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1969), 37.

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Escape of William and Ellen Craft

William Craft, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; 
or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery,(London 1860)

In the early 1840’s slavery in the South was thriving and millions were trapped in its horrific way of

Courtesy of Google Images

William and Ellen Craft (Courtesy of Google Images)

life. One married couple, having endured lives of slavery, decided this wasn’t the way they wanted to live, a decision that would lead to a long journey for freedom. This couple was William and Ellen Craft. William was the son of two slaves from Macon, Georgia, a small city in the center of the state. At an early age his family was split up, after his master sold his parents, a brother, and a sister to separate owners. William was sent out to work as an apprentice for a cabinetmaker, a job that would earn him little money for his work. At the age of sixteen, William’s master took out a mortgage to help expand his farm and cotton business. However, when repayment was due, the master was without the proper funds, and the bank took William and his younger sister as compensation. William was sold to the cashier at the bank in Macon, and he allowed to continue working at the cabinet shop. His sister, however, wasn’t so lucky and she sold off to a farmer far away. A few years later, his wife, Ellen, moved to Macon with her owners family, and she worked as a house servant. Ellen was born in Clinton, Georgia and was the daughter to her master, Major James Smith. She was given away as a wedding gift by the master’s wife as a way of getting rid of the evidence of her husbands infidelity.  The master’s wife often became upset when guests would mistake Ellen as one of her children due to her fair complexion.

In Macon, William and Ellen met and immediately fell in love. Ellen wouldn’t marry William at first because she didn’t want to start a family in slavery–remembering the pain of her mother they were separated. Eventfully, after coming to the conclusion they would be enslaved for the rest of their lives, they got married. After living in slavery as a married couple for two years, they decided to start a family. However, they also wanted their freedom. They knew that they only had one option, to escape to the North.

In order to escape, Ellen had to pretend that William was her slave, and that she was travelling with him as his owner. They would use this disguise in order to travel to Philadelphia, in the free state of Pennsylvania. Because of Ellen’s fair skin tone, it would be easy to pass her off as white. However, in the South it wasn’t customary for a white woman to be traveling alone with a male slave, and this would bring a lot of unneeded attention to the couple. For this plan to work, Ellen realized that she would have to dress up as a man. In the days before the escape, William went out to buy men’s clothing for Ellen to wear. He would have to shop at odd hours of the day because, in Georgia, it was illegal for whites to trade with slaves without the permission of their master. However, many shop owners would still sell to slaves for the money and if no one was around. After they collected all the pieces of clothing, they then asked their masters for some time off. After their requests for leave were granted, the couple were sure that the few days off would allow them to get a head start on their escape and create some space between them and their masters before they realized that they were trying to escape. During Christmas time it wasn’t uncommon for slaves to ask their masters for a few days off to be at home with their families. When the day of the escape arrived, Ellen got into her disguise and the Craft’s set off to the train station. They took the train from Macon to their first destination, Savannah, Georgia. After getting their tickets Ellen sat in the white-only train-car, while William sat in the colored car. While sitting against the window, Ellen was approached by a man, a good friend her owner, and he sat next to her. The man tried to start a conversation with Ellen but she ignored him, hoping not to give herself up. Resulting from her silence, a nearby man suggested that maybe she, or rather “he,” was deaf, causing the man to leave her alone. When they arrived in Savannah, the Craft’s boarded a steamboat to Charleston, South Carolina, their next stop. On the boat, Ellen made conversation with a military officer who was also traveling with a slave. The military officer was shocked by how nice Ellen was to her slave, and called in his slave to show how they were supposed to be treated. “You will excuse me, Sir, for saying I think you are very likely to spoil your boy by saying ‘thank you’ to him. I assure you, sir, nothing spoils a slave so soon as saying, ‘thank you’ and ‘if you please’ to him.”(Craft 50)[1]

Courtesy of Pinterest

Photo of Ellen Craft Dressed as a man (Courtesy of Pinterest)

When they arrived in Charleston Ellen and William got a room at a nice hotel where other slaves were also working. Here, William would strike up a conversation with these slaves who became very emotional when talking about their life in slavery and their freedom.”Gorra Mighty, dem is de parts for Pompey; and I hope when you get dare you will stay, and nebber follow dat buckra back to dis hot quarter no more, let him be eber so good.”(Craft 54) [2] The next day, they boarded a steamboat to Wilmington, North Carolina, however, before boarding, they first had to get by the Customs- House in Charleston. It was here that travelers had to sign their name and with whom they were travelling into the customs book. Ellen, being a slave, could not write and faked an injury to her hand so that someone else would have to sign her signature. At first the plan backfired, as the officer inside the customs house refused to sign Ellen’s name. However, the situation was quickly defused when the military officer who Ellen had conversed with before stepped up to say that he knew the her, or rather “him”. The captain of the steamboat overheard the conversation and signed the book for Ellen. This allowed the Craft’s to advance in their journey. They would then travel from Wilmington, North Carolina to Richmond, Virginia to Washington, D.C. and then to Baltimore without any incident. Baltimore would be their last stop in a slave state and their final obstacle before entering freedom. They were set to leave Baltimore on Christmas Eve of the year 1848. At the train station they ran into trouble when a man pulled William off the train and demanded to see his master to show proof of documentation for Northern travel. Just when the couple thought their plan was ruined, the conductor of the train told the officers that he had been with them since Washington, D.C., and the officers at the station then let them board the train. The Craft’s would finally reach Philadelphia and their freedom the next day, on Christmas.

Soon after arriving in the city the Craft’s made friends with a man named Robert Purves who was a wealthy business man from Philadelphia. He introduced the Craft’s to another man named Barkley Ivens, a farmer from the countryside. Mr. Ivens invited the Crafts over for dinner one night where they met his daughters. During dinner, over conversation, the Craft’s revealed that they could not read nor write. The daughters jumped at this opportunity and began giving the two lessons, beginning with how to sign their names. In 1829, a law passed in Georgia that banned slaves from learning how to read and write.[3] This law was similar to those in southern states at the time. Learning how to sign their names was important to the Craft’s, because it allowed them to sign their names on things such as important documents, a true symbol of their freedom.

The Craft’s only made Philadelphia home for a short time, after being advised to leave the city by other abolitionists. While Pennsylvania was a free state, racial tensions were ever growing. Being on the border of the Mason-Dixon line meant that Pennsylvania was the first place that runaway slaves were stopped when coming up from the south. With the influx of people within the city of Philadelphia, came an increase in crime rates. The judicial system also showed prejudice against African Americans, as a their sentences was usually much harsher than a white man’s when they had committed the same crime.[4] This lead to a negative stigma about African Americans and would often lead to racial hate crimes.

The abolitionists suggested that the Craft’s move up Boston where the community is much more tolerant of colored people. The Craft’s obliged and made Boston their home for the next two years until 1850, when the Fugitive Slave Act was passed by congress. The Fugitive Slave Act allowed masters to go after the runaway slaves who had already escaped into free territories. The Craft’s learned that their former master sent agents to find and return the two to Macon. Upon hearing this, the Craft’s knew that they were no longer safe anywhere in the U.S., and decided that it would be best to move to England to ensure their safety. With the help of some friends, the Craft’s eluded the slave catchers to begin their journey to Liverpool, England. There, the Crafts fulfilled the promise they made from the beginning which was to have children who were born free. In 1870, the Craft’s returned to the United States, and decided buy a farm outside of Savannah, Georgia. A few years later, the Craft’s, with the help of some investors, opened the Woodville Co-Operative Farm School where they taught and employed former slaves. The school was short-lived because the funds to run the school ran out by 1876. After this, the Craft’s retired to a quiet life, and lived out their days with their daughter in Charleston. [5]


[1] William Craft, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; 
or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery, (London 1860). 50.

[2] William Craft, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; 
or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery, (London 1860). 54.

[3] Fields, Tara. “A Brief Timeline of Georgia Laws Relating to Slaves, Nominal Slaves, & Free Persons of Color.” A Brief Timeline of Georgia Laws Relating to Slaves, Nominal Slaves, & Free Persons of Color. N.p., Feb. 2004. Web.
[4] Harper, Douglas. “Racism in Pennsylvania.” Racism in Pennsylvania. N.p., 2003. Web.
[5] Waggoner, Cassandra. “Craft, William and Ellen (1824-1900; 1826-1891) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed.” Craft, William and Ellen (1824-1900; 1826-1891) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed. N.p., n.d. Web.


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Elizabeth Keckly (1818-1907), Success in Manumission

Keckly, Elizabeth. Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House New York: G. W. Carleton & Co., Publishers, 1868. 371 p.

Courtesy of Fleischner, page 18.

Elizabeth Keckly’s story is a remarkable one. Her life is important to discuss when analyzing the act of manumission, which is when a slaveholder decides to free their own slaves. Elizabeth Keckly was a loyal slave for many years to master Colonel A. Burwell [1]. Her fidelity in service to her slaveowners was recognized and honored through Lizzy Keckly and her son’s liberation. The spelling of her name speaks to her strength and her ability to find independence and individuality in a life that was oppressive in its majority. Elizabeth Keckly spelled her name differently than how it appears in history books and most published articles, and how even Abraham Lincoln’s wife spelt it [2]. “Lizzie Keckley” is the spelling most commonly seen. However, she herself would sign her name “Elizabeth” or “Lizzy Keckly.” Thus in this blog post, much like Jennifer Fleischner’s book, Elizabeth’s name will be spelt as “Lizzy Keckly” in order to restore her voice in history and present Lizzy how she presented herself [3].


Courtesy of Fleischner, page 19.

The reasons for a slaveholder to decide to free his or her slaves varied upon the owner [4]. In some cases, slaveholders exercised the act of manumission because a slave had surpassed a capable age to effectively execute the labor that needed to be completed on the plantations and were no longer of best use to their slave owners [5]. In other cases, similar to Keckly’s situation, freedom was granted due to loyalty, service, or good behavior. Originally, when Keckly asked her master for freedom, he refused [6]. Her motive for requesting liberation was because she did not want her son to be born into slavery like she was [7]. Keckly’s son “came into the world by no will” of her own [8]. “One-half of my boy was free, and why should not this fair birthright of freedom remove the curse from the other half… Much as I respected the authority of my master, I could not remain silent on a subject that so nearly concerned me” [9]. Her son was of mixed-race, however Keckly did not want her son to live a mixed-life; she wanted him to only know freedom [10].

Sexual relations between masters and slaves was common This created a population of slaves that had become “visibly whiter” [11]. It is possible that due to this relationship that her master felt guilty about owning one of his own children. However, this is not explicitly indicated. According to her memoir, it was Keckly’s loyalty and servitude to the her masters for decades that explained why her owner eventually decided to liberate Keckly and their son. She was strategic with her requests for freedom. When her master told her he would pay for her to run away and take the ferryboat, she refused by showing loyalty in this moment [12]. In addition, she stated that she wanted to earn the money to buy her and her son’s freedom, which attests to her pragmatism, drive, and level-headedness in obtaining the “upward mobility” she sought [13]. She was able to borrow, and repay through dressmaking, $1,200 in exchange for her and her son’s freedom. That amount of money is equivalent to about $27,000 today [14].

Her life is the story of a woman who did not back down; she persevered for years and eventually became a freed woman, a successful businesswoman, and even became a close confidant to Abraham Lincoln’s wife [15]. Even through all of the years of torture and both mental and physical brutality, Lizzy Keckly was resilient and held onto the belief that “it will be all silver in heaven” [16]. Her experience with Mr. Bingham specifically speaks to her strength and resilience; “she did not scream; she was too proud to let her tormentor know that she was suffering” [17]. Keckly demanded to her master as to know why she had been “flogged” and beaten by Mr. Bringham, who was not even her own master. When she stood up to Mr. Burwell’s son during this demand, she experienced more torture. However, this did not break Keckly, but rather made her stronger. By the third time Mr. Bingham “flogged” her, he was the one to break down, cry, and ask for forgiveness. Keckly’s perseverance through these brutal ordeals helped future slaves that came across Mr. Bingham or were owned by him as it is believed that after this last incident, Mr. Bingham never abused another slave again [18].

Keckly was unlike most slaves as she stood up for herself. Even if she was afraid, she did not let her fear of punishment get in the way of what she wanted to know or what she wanted to accomplish. Many slaves were unsuccessful in their attempts to be granted manumission [19]. In some cases, slaveholders would pass away before being able to fulfill their manumission and liberation agreements. In other cases, some slaveholders would simply fall through on their deals; it varied on the slaveowner [20]. However, Lizzy Keckly’s loyalty, pragmatism, and optimism for a brighter future allowed her to persevere and obtain freedom for herself and her son. Due to her loyalty and her resilience, she lived a unique and remarkable life and died in 1907 as a free woman [21].

[1] Keckley, Elizabeth, Behind the Scenes, or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House (1868, republished 1988).

[2] Jennifer Fleischner, Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly: The Remarkable Story of the Friendship Between a First Lady and a Former Slave (New York: Broadway Books, 2003), 4.

[3] Fleischner, 4.

[4] A bond for the manumission of a slave, 1757, The Gilder Lehman Institute of American History.

[5] A bond for the manumission of a slave, 1757.

[6] Keckley Elizabeth, 46.

[7] Keckley Elizabeth, 47.

[8] Keckley Elizabeth, 47.

[9] Keckley Elizabeth, 48.

[10] Fleischner, 4-5.

[11] Fleischner, 5-6.

[12] Keckley Elizabeth, 48.

[13] Fleischner, 6-7.

[14] “A Slave’s Life,” EyeWitness to History, (2007); Keckley Elizabeth, 49; McNally, Deborah. “Keckley, Elizabeth Hobbs (1818-1907).” Blog. Accessed November 07, 2016.

[15] “A Slave’s Life,” EyeWitness to History, (2007).

[16] Keckley Elizabeth, 3.

[17] Keckley Elizabeth, 31-37.

[18] Keckley Elizabeth, 31-37; “Keckley, Elizabeth Hobbs (1818-1907).” Blog. Accessed November 07, 2016.

[19] Rowe, Linda. “Manumission takes careful planning and plenty of savvy.” (Williamsburg: Interpreter, 2004).

[20] Rowe, Linda. “Manumission takes careful planning and plenty of savvy.” (Williamsburg: Interpreter, 2004).

[21] “A Slave’s Life,” EyeWitness to History, (2007); “Keckley, Elizabeth Hobbs (1818-1907).” Blog. Accessed November 07, 2016.

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Decoding the Course Banner Image

Print-makers and illustrators in the nineteenth-century could be quite creative and calculating. In fact, the banner image from this course website provides a good example of what might be called pre-photoshop photoshopping undertaken by a commercial printer in Philadelphia following Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. Here is what the image looked like that year:

Emancipation Banner

Yet here is what the original illustration looked like in January 1863 when Thomas Nast first drew it for Harpers Weekly:

Emancipation OriginalThe difference is more than just color.  Nast’s allegory for emancipation has now been subtly altered to give the martyred president a greater role.

cropped-cropped-cropped-cropped-emancipation.jpgEmancipation DetailThis discrepancy appears to have slipped past most scholars, or at least they have not commented on it in print.  Yet at a teacher’s workshop in 2013, an educator from Utah discovered the contrast while working on a project about Lincoln’s emancipation policy.

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Underground Railroad

William Still

William Still

The Underground Railroad was a metaphor used by antislavery activists to describe and publicize efforts at helping runaway slaves during the years before the Civil War. While secrecy was essential for particular operations, the movement to help fugitives was no secret at all. Northern Underground Railroad operatives were often openly defiant of federal statutes designed to help recapture runaways. Agents used state personal liberty laws, which aimed to protect free black residents from kidnapping, as a way to justify their fugitive work. Vigilance committees in northern cities such as Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Detroit formed the organized core of this effort. These committees often worked together and provided legal, financial and physical protection to black people threatened by kidnappers or slave-catchers. Notable vigilance leaders included black men such as William Still in Philadelphia, David Ruggles in New York, Lewis Hayden in Boston and George DeBaptiste in Detroit. There were also thousands of other individuals, often white and usually motivated by religious belief, who helped fugitives during the antebellum period. Though most of these Underground Railroad figures operated with relative impunity in the North and across Canada, southern operatives faced grave dangers and thus maintained a much lower profile. This is one reason why Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave herself, was such a courageous figure. Her repeated rescues inside the slave state of Maryland during the 1850s became the basis for her legendary post-war reputation as “Moses.” Though Underground Railroad agents such as Tubman freed only a fraction of the nation’s slaves (probably no more than several hundred each year out of an enslaved population of millions), the widespread reports about their actions infuriated southern political leaders and helped bring about the Civil War and the end of slavery in the United States.

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Susie King Taylor

Susie King Taylor, Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33rd United States Colored Troops  Late 1st S.C. Volunteers:, (Boston 1902).


Courtesy of Doc South

In a time of chaos and confusion, it is hard to stay optimistic. However for Susie King Taylor optimism came naturally. Her determination in life inspired others, and allowed her to be an educated, independent, veteran in a time of oppression. Susie Taylor was born into slavery, but lived a life far less oppresses than the standard slave at the time. Susie’s mother worked as a domestic servant for the Gress Family on a farm in Liberty County Georgia, but Susie and her brother were treated almost as part of the master’s family. Susie recalled, “I had often been told by mother of the care Mrs. Grest took of me. She was very fond of me, and I remember when my brother and I were small children, and Mr. Grest would go away on business, Mrs. Grest would place us at the foot of her bed to sleep and keep her company.”[1] 



Courtesy of TheAtlantic

At the age of seven Susie was allowed to go and live with her grandmother. While living with her grandmother in Savannah Georgia, Susie received an education in secret. At that time African Americans were not supposed to receive formal educations in the south. She was so determined to receive an education that she covertly went to school at odd hours of the day and had her books wrapped in paper so no one could see them. She would study as often as she could. Susie even asked close friends to tutor her at night. Although her home life was less oppressive than others, Susie still experienced oppression, and racism in the world around her. In her autobiography she said, “I have seen many times, when I was a mere girl, thirty or forty men, handcuffed, and as many women and children, come every first Tuesday of each month from Mr. Wiley’s trade office to the auction blocks, one of them being situated on Drayton Street and Court Lane, the other on Bryant Street, near the Pulaski House. The route was down our principal street, Bull Street, to the courthouse, which was only a block from where I resided.” [2]

When the Union Army invaded the South, Susie volunteered to assist the army in any way possible. She served as an aid in hospitals, a cook, a launderer, a tutor for the men in literacy and a friendly ear to talk to. She traveled with the army and as a result saw the devastating effects of war. She learned to fire a rifle and was fired at herself. While with the 1st S.C. Volunteers she experienced racism at every southern town she visited. Even when she helping to save the homes, and lives of Charlestonians in the aftermath of the attack on Charleston the inhabitants thanked her with sneers and insults. After the war she returned to Savannah Georgia where she opened a school for African American children.

Later in life she moved to Boston, where she worked as a maid. Her son became mortally sick and so she returned to the South to care for him. As she traveled through the south she was shocked at the rampant racism and treatment of blacks. Susie heard horror stories of murders and lynchings against blacks, and she herself faced blatant racism. Despite her obstacles she visited her son and buried him. One example that she recalled in her journey to the south was when she was in Cincinnati. She wrote, “I reached Cincinnati on the eighth, where I took the train for the south. I asked a white man standing near (before I got my train) what car I should take. “Take that one,” he said, pointing to one. “But that is a smoking car!” “Well,” he replied, “that is the car for colored people.” I went to this car, and on entering it all my courage failed me. I have ridden in many coaches, but I was never in such as these. I wanted to return home again, but when I thought of my sick boy I said, “Well, others ride in these cars and I must do likewise,” and tried to be resigned, for I wanted to reach my boy, as I did not know whether I should find him alive”[3]  Despite all of the adversity Susie Taylor faced she carried on in a dignified manner and always lent a hand to those in need. She wrote her autobiography as a testament to the valor of the men who fought, and as a guide for understanding the life of an African American in the south.

[1] Taylor Susie King, “Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops Late 1st S. C. Volunteers: (Boston: By Author, 1902), 2.

[2] Taylor Susie King, “Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops Late 1st S. C. Volunteers: (Boston: By Author,1902), 65.

[3] Taylor Susie King, “Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops Late 1st S. C. Volunteers: (Boston: By Author, 1902), 69.


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