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Chronology

Key dates and events relating to Slavery in America and the time of the Underground Railroad movement ...

 

1619 Slavery in Virginia
Africans brought to Jamestown are the first slaves imported into Britain's North American colonies. Like indentured servants, they were probably freed after a fixed period of service.
 
1700 First Anti-Slavery Publication
Massachusetts jurist and printer, Samuel Seawell, publishes the first North American antislavery tract, The Selling of Joseph.
 
1705 Slaves as Property
Describing slaves as real estate, Virginia lawmakers allow owners to bequeath their slaves. The same law allowed masters to “kill and destroy” runaways.
 
1775-83 American Revolution
Battles at the Massachusetts towns of Lexington and Concord on April 19 spark the war for American independence from Britain.
 
1775 First Abolitionist Society
Anthony Benezet of Philadelphia founds the world’s first abolitionist society.
Benjamin Franklin becomes its president in 1787.
 
1776 Declaration of Independence
The Continental Congress asserts "that these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States".
 
1793 Fugitive Slave Act of 1793
The United States outlaws any efforts to impede the capture of runaway slaves. However many Northern states sought ways to circumvent the Act; indeed the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1842 that the states did not have to offer aid in the hunting or recapture of slaves, greatly weakening the law of 1793.
 
1808 United States Bans Slavery
Importing African slaves is outlawed, but smuggling continues.
 
1820 Missouri Compromise
The Missouri Compromise
was an agreement passed in 1820 between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions in the United States Congress, involving primarily the regulation of slavery in the western territories. It prohibited slavery in the former Louisiana Territory north of the parallel 36°30′ north except within the boundaries of the proposed state of Missouri. Prior to the agreement, the House of Representatives had refused to accept this compromise, and a conference committee was appointed.
  - Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missouri_Compromise
 
1831-39 Origin of Term 'Underground Railroad'
There are several versions of the origin of the term "Underground Railroad." One story says that in 1831 a fugitive slave named Tice Davids escaped from Kentucky to safer ground in Sandusky, in northern Ohio. When David's master looked in vain for him in Ripley, just across the Ohio River, he is said to have commented, "The nigger must have gone off on an underground railroad." Another version explains that the term came into use among slave hunters in Pennsylvania who experienced similar frustrations. Yet a third story places the origin in Washington DC, in 1839, when a fugitive slave, after being tortured, allegedly claimed that he was to have been sent north, where "the railroad ran underground all the way to Boston." Whatever the actual first use of the term, it was common by the mid-1840s to speak and write of the Underground Railroad as a clandestine system for runaway slaves. It was already in part a legend, a construction of historical memory, as much as it was historical by the time of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
 - National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
 
1834-38 England Abolishes Slavery
England abolishes slavery in its colonies including Jamaica, Barbados, and other West Indian territories.
 
1850 Compromise of 1850
The Compromise of 1850 was a package of five bills, passed in the United States in September 1850, which defused a four-year confrontation between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North regarding the status of territories acquired during the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). The compromise, drafted by Whig Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky and brokered by Clay and Democrat Stephen Douglas, avoided secession or civil war and reduced sectional conflict for four years. See also below.
  - Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compromise_of_1850
 
1850 Fugitive Slave Act of 1850
In response to the weakening of the original fugitive slave act, the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was passed by the United States Congress as part of the Compromise of 1850 between Southern slave-holding interests and Northern Free-Soilers. This was one of the most controversial acts of the 1850 compromise and heightened Northern fears of a "slave power conspiracy". The new law declared that all runaway slaves were, upon capture, to be returned to their masters. Any Federal marshal or other official who did not arrest an alleged runaway slave was liable to a fine. Law-enforcement officials everywhere now had a duty to arrest anyone suspected of being a runaway slave on no more evidence than a claimant's sworn testimony of ownership.
  - Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fugitive_Slave_Act_of_1850
 
1851 Jerry Rescue
On October 1. 1851, William Henry, an escaped slave who called himself 'Jerry', was arrested in Syracuse, New York under the Fugitive Slave Law. The anti-slavery Liberty Party was holding its state convention in the city, and when word of the arrest spread, several hundred abolitionists including Charles Augustus Wheaton [see People] broke into the city jail and freed Jerry. The event came to be widely known as the Jerry Rescue. In the aftermath, the Congregationalist minister Samuel Ringgold Ward had to flee to Canada to escape persecution because of his participation.

The fight against slavery in Central New York and the Finger Lakes region and the desire to help escaped slaves occurred because New York State was a free state and a number of well positioned citizens who were sympathetic to the slaves lived in the area. The central location of Syracuse meant that many slaves passed through the area "on their way to freedom" in Canada .
  - Wikipedia: 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Rescue
 

1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act
Setting aside the Missouri Compromise of 1820, Congress permits these two new territories to choose whether to allow slavery. Violent clashes erupt.
 
1857 Dred Scott Decision
Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857), also known as the Dred Scott Decision, was a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that people of African descent brought into the United States and held as slaves (or their descendants, whether or not they were slaves) were not protected by the Constitution and were not U.S. citizens.  Since passage of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the decision has not been a precedent case, but retains historical significance as perhaps the worst decision ever made by the Supreme Court.
 - Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dred_Scott_Decision
 
1860 Abraham Lincoln Elected
Abraham Lincoln of Illinois becomes the first Republican to win the United States Presidency.
 
1861-65 United States Civil War
Four years of brutal conflict claim 623,000 lives.
 
1863 Emancipation Proclamation
President Abraham Lincoln decrees that all slaves in Rebel territory are free on January 1, 1863. The Proclamation only freed those slaves in states that were in rebellion against the United States. The proclamation did not free slaves in the states that never left the Union.
 
1865 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution Outlaws Slavery
 
  More soon ...

 


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