The Historical Spectator.

Slaves Escaping Up the Hudson

In 1841, an English abolitionist named Joseph Sturge came to the United States to report on the state of slavery there. On his way up the Hudson to Albany, he met a couple who were escaping from slavery in the South. Striking up a conversation with them, he found out how they did it.

On the evening of the 17th, in company with several of my abolition friends, I started for Albany, where the State legis­lature was then in session. The distance from New York is about a hundred and fifty-five miles, and is fre­quently per­formed by the steamers, on the noble river Hudson, in nine hours and a half up the stream, and in eight hours down. On these steamers there is accom­mo­dation for several hundred passen­gers to lodge, and the fare is only one dollar, with an extra charge for beds and meals. For an additional dollar, two per­sons may secure a state room to themselves.

As night drew on, and the deck began to be cleared, I observed a well-dressed black man and woman sitting apart, and sup­posing they could obtain no berths on ac­count of their color, I went and spoke to them. I told them I and several others on board were aboli­tion­ists. The man then informed us they were escaping from slavery, and had left their homes little more than two days before. They appeared very intel­ligent, though they could neither read nor write, and described to us how they had ef­fected their escape. They had obtained leave to go to a wedding, from which they were not ex­pected to return till the evening of the day fol­lowing. Having procured forged certificates of freedom, for which they paid twenty-five dollars, each, they came forward with expe­dition by railway and steam boat. They had heard of emanci­pation in the British West Indies, and the efforts of the abolitionists in the States, but they were unac­quainted with the existence of vigilance committees, to facil­itate the escape of runaway slaves. We assisted them to proceed to the house of a relative of one of our party, out of the track of the pursuer, should they be followed. There is little doubt that they have safely reached Canada, for I was told at Albany, public opinion had become so strong in favor of self-emanci­pation, that if a runaway were seized in the city, it is probable he would be rescued by the people.

I would also point attention to the fact, which is brought to light by this relation, that the slave-holders have not only to contend with the honest and open-handed means which the abolitionists most righteously employ,* to facil­itate the escape of slaves, but with the mercenary acts of members of their own community, who live by the manu­facture and sale of forged free papers.

*See Deut. xxiii. 15, 16 [“Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee: He shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him.”].

A Visit to the United States in 1841.