Brooklyn in the Civil War
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detail of runaway slave on Harriet Tubman dress
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Runaway Slave

This picture shows a runaway slave escaping to the North. It is embroidered on artist June Gaddy's dress commemorating Harriet Tubman's work leading slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad. Before the Civil War, slaves would try to escape to the northern states or Canada. Slave owners often put ads in newspapers offering a reward for the capture and return of runaway slaves. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 established that the federal government would help owners looking for runaway slaves, which angered abolitionists in the North.

Brooklyn was actively involved in the Abolitionist movement. Henry Ward Beecher, minister at the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights, mobilized anti-slavery feelings among his parishioners and others in the community. Men and women joined anti-abolitionist movements, contributed money to the cause, and invited such well known abolitionists as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman to speak in their community. It is said that Plymouth Church, Bridge St. A.M.E. Church, the Lott House in Flatlands, and possibly a few private homes in downtown Brooklyn, were stops on the Underground Railroad.

Read about Frederick Douglass's speech at the A.M.E. church in 1863, in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle: "Fred. Douglass in Brooklyn" (February 20, 1863), part 1; part 2 .

Read Brooklyn Daily Eagle reports on fugitive slaves:

"Fugitive Slaves" (October 2, 1850)

News reports on fugitive slaves (October 2, 1850)

For more documents on the Underground Railroad and Plymouth Church, see Documents 11 and 12. To see a full view of the front of this dress, see Document 106.

Citation - Document 107
Courtesy of June Gaddy

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