Jim Chrismer

John Carroll School

NEH Workshop on URR

Summer 2006


Research/Writing Assignment on Fugitive Slaves and the Underground Railroad

(Students would be provided a separate handout detailing the assignment)


The following is intended to be the second quarter Research/Writing Assignment for 11th grade students in an Honors United States History Class (c16-18 students) at John Carroll School. Students will have approximately five weeks to complete the project, whose outcome is a 7+ page typewritten paper. Endnotes and bibliography comprise additional pages.


John Carroll School  (www.johncarroll.org), an Independent College Preparatory school in Harford County, Maryland, develops its own curriculum. There are no district or statewide curriculum objectives. The assignment connects with the students’ study/understanding of the philosophical heritage of the War for Independence, ante-bellum social reforms, and the growing sectional tension in the immediate years prior to the outbreak of civil war.


Harford County, Maryland (a slave state), lies on the Mason-Dixon line due south of York County. The Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay comprise a large part of its border. The Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal, running from Havre de Grace, Md., to Columbia, Pa, paralleled the river, which was crossed by small ferries and several bridges. In the 19th century the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad and the Old Post Road (today Route 7) bisected the lower portion of the county (Tidewater, small plantations growing tobacco and later mixed grain) from the upper (Piedmont, small grain and dairy farms), and served as major connecting routes with points north and south. The county supported as many as five Quaker Meetings (at least two of which were Hicksite). The socially and economically prominent families (mostly English extraction) identified with the south and states rights; the remainder of the population was more ethnically and politically diverse. By 1840 the number of Free Blacks outnumbered slaves, with concentrations of free blacks in at least three communities (Havre de Grace, Gravel Hill/Hopewell, and Kalmia). The major towns were Bel Air and Havre de Grace.


The assignment rests on the following basic assignment: Harford County, Maryland, was an area significantly involved in incidents involving runaway slaves and activities associated with what eventually came to be called the Underground Railroad. Fugitives from other geographic areas traveled through the county on their way north; slaves from the county itself escaped north to free states and to Canada; and African-Americans from Harford County, but living in free states, were subject to the activities of slave catchers and at times returned to the county to live as slaves.






I  - Assignment Objectives: Students will:


      1.  Learn and understand local connections to national issues involving runaway

           slaves and the activities of the Underground Railroad.                       

      2.  Locate, evaluate, and incorporate appropriate print, visual, and electronic

           resources (primary and  secondary) into their own written histories.

      3.  Identify major laws, court cases, organizations, and individuals (local and

            national) involved with anti-slavery activity, 1770s to 1861.  

      4.  Appreciate the personal dimension of events involving fugitive slaves.

      5.  Grow in their understanding of history and the historical process.

      6.  Continue to develop their abilities in writing analytical papers  



II – Resources Available for Student Use:


   A - Materials available in the school Media Center. These include electronic

          resources (e.g., Accessible Archives) and the Reserve Shelf for United States  

          History ( with a separate section for materials  needed by Honors and Advanced

          Placement students).        


  1. Several copies of binders containing photocopies of Harford County related 

      fugitive slave accounts (taken largely from regional newspapers, 1770s to 1860s) 

2.   Paperback copy of William Still’s Narrative and Smedley’s History. 

3.   Microfilm of the 1850 and 1860 US Census for Harford County (including

      schedules for slave owners and  individual free heads of households).

4.   Reserve Shelf materials. Among these are copies of state (e.g., Brugger, The

     Middle Temperament) and county histories (e.g., Wright, Our Harford Heritage);

     issues of the Harford Historical Bulletin (the quarterly journal of the local

      historical society); histories of Black America (e.g., J. H. Franklin, Quarles,

      Fields); secondary histories of the Underground Railroad (e.g., Gara, Switala,

      Chadwick, Blockson); and standard chronological and topical histories of the

      United States (e.g., New American Nation Series).

  5.  Microfilm covering the mid 1850s to mid 1860s of the Southern Aegis and

      Intelligencer and the National American, both published in Bel Air, Maryland.


   B - Additional materials available to students at the Historical Society of Harford

         County, approximately two miles from campus:


  1. Card files of listings of obituaries of county personages contained in the Aegis newspaper, 1856 to present.
  2. Card files of burial sites of persons interred in Harford County cemeteries, 1760 to present
  3. Family History folders (containing, in particular, printed copies of obituaries and weddings).
  4. Histories of individual families associated with Harford County (and some from southern York County).
  5. Vertical Files of persons/subjects/topics associated with county history (e.g., slavery, Underground Railroad, Quakers, biographies).
  6. Reprints and some originals of southern Pennsylvania county histories from late 19th/early 20th centuries;
  7. Printed abstracts of runaway slave advertisements from southern Pennsylvania newspapers; printed abstracts of marriages and obituaries from H/C newspapers, 1850s to 1870s.


   C – Electronic Materials available through the Harford County Public Library, located    

          two miles from  campus, as well as available online (www.hcplonline.info) and

         through the Media Center page  on John Carroll’s website.


       1.  Heritage Quest – access to U. S. census 1790 to 1930

       2.  Ancestry.Com – full range of services available at the Library branch; basic

            service available at remote computers.



III – The Research/Writing project for the Second Quarter: 


Each student is to produce a paper of approximately seven pages in which he/she is to:


1.  Identify and evaluate those factors (e.g., geographic, economic, social, etc.) that  

     contributed to the county’s being so involved with runaway slaves.

      2.  Identify and describe at least six instances (three 1770s to 1830s; three 1840s to    

           1860) involving fugitive slaves  associated with Harford County and/or to persons,

            groups, or organizations within the county.

       3.  Explain the manners in which the incidents are related to national events, trends,     

            actions, etc. (e.g., large numbers of H/C slaves captured in York mid 1790s,

            Fugitive Slave Act 1793; Margaret Morgan, Prigg v Pennsylvania 1837-1842,

            personal liberty laws; Eliza Parker [Mrs. William] and her sister Harriet Pinckney

            escaped to Canada after Christina Resistance 1851, whereas their mother, Cassy,

            under terms of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, was remanded to her Harford

            County owner).