About the Project

Our Mission

Overview. During the summer of 2018, the National Park Service (NPS) and its Network to Freedom program began a cooperative agreement with the House Divided Project at Dickinson College designed to investigate the concept of “slave stampedes” with a focus on Eastern Missouri and escapes from there into the greater Missouri borderland.  The goal of this research project will Project mapbe to produce a full-length report accompanied by various online resources, such as interactive maps, videos, and an underlying database of sources.  We expect these freely available resources to help spark further classroom discussion and more expansive scholarly research into this national phenomenon.

Origins and Definition. The term “slave stampede” or “stampede of slaves” began appearing in American newspapers in the late 1840s, but spread quickly during the fugitive crisis of the 1850s, and eventually became a staple of sectional debate, especially after John Brown’s raids in 1858 and 1859 and throughout the Civil War era.  Participants and observers seemed to use the concept in diverse ways: sometimes to describe serial escapes by individuals or pairs, sometimes to describe either spontaneous or planned small group escapes of 3 or more people, and yet most often to define a special type of mass escape involving a dozen or more, often armed, bands of enslaved people heading defiantly toward freedom.  The term thus represented for them something deeper than a vague or localized reference to group flight, but rather became weighted down with obvious revolutionary meaning.  It seems clear that modern-day teachers and scholars should consider trying to situate the idea of slave stampedes more consciously within the taxonomy of American slave resistance, probably somewhere between “day-to-day resistance” and “servile insurrection.” For now, however, our research effort will define the term as broadly as possible in order to help see where the sources may lead us and to better appreciate the larger context.

Future plans.  On this blog site, we will post examples of the historical material that we are turning up in our digital and archival searches.  Please consider this site only as a kind of open historical laboratory.  We are trying to share our progress as it develops, seeking your input and assistance whenever it might be helpful. Eventually, these findings will form the basis of the online report and freely accessible database designed to provide resources for anyone who wants to teach or learn about this important subject. Ultimately, we anticipate that this final report will explain the evolution of the slave stampede concept by detailing a number of the most important such stampedes occurring out of eastern Missouri during the late antebellum period. This Missouri borderland represents one of the most compelling places to begin studying such a phenomenon because no other slave state had a longer or more turbulent antebellum border with the free states.  Consider, for example, the widely reported “slave stampede” of St. Louis-area runaways in January 1850 that seemed to travel right across former congressman Abraham Lincoln’s neighborhood in Springfield, Illinois.  This story, involving a free black drayman named Jameson Jenkins who was an acquaintance of Lincoln’s, is already being interpreted at the Lincoln National Home site and offers a template for how we hope to develop other such episodes from around the region.

Our Team


Matthew Pinsker (House Divided) is a Professor of History and Pohanka Chair for Civil War History at Dickinson College, where he also serves as Director of the House Divided Project. Pinsker graduated from Harvard College and received a D.Phil. degree in Modern History from the University of Oxford.  He has held visiting fellowships with the New America Foundation in Washington, DC, the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, PA, and the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. He is the author of two books and numerous articles on Abraham Lincoln and various topics in the Civil War era and the history of slavery.  Pinsker will serve as principal investigator (PI) for the slave stampedes project.


Deanda Johnson (National Park Service), PhD, is currently the Midwest Regional Coordinator for the National Park Service Network to Freedom Program in Omaha, Nebraska. She joined the program in 2010. In this capacity, she works with local, state, and federal entities, as well as other interested parties to preserve, promote, and educate the public about the history of the Underground Railroad. Previously, Johnson was the Coordinator of the African American Research and Service Institute at Ohio University where she was involved with the “The African American Presence in the Ohio River Valley Oral History Project.” At the university, she also served as a visiting instructor in the Department of African American Studies. She received her BA from University of California, San Diego and her MA and PhD in American Studies from the College of William & Mary.  Johnson will serve as the agreement technical representative (ATR) for the slave stampedes project.

Dickinson staff

Technical experts from Dickinson’s Academic Technology division include Drupal specialists Todd Bryant and Ryan Burke, GIS specialist Jim Ciarrocca, and academic computing director, Pat Pehlman.  Senior researchers include independent historian Rick Beard, local educator and author Todd Mealy, and House Divided Project co-founder, John Osborne.

Dickinson students

Interns on this project include Dickinson College undergraduates Sarah Aillon, Amanda Donoghue, Dana Marecheau, Liz McCreary, Jocelyn Reyes (Drupal specialist), Naji Thompson and Cooper Wingert.  Here are some examples of their impressive previous work, including both web and print publications:

Participating NPS Sites

Lincoln National Home (Springfield, IL) –principal contact: Tim Townsend, NPS Historian

Gateway Arch (St. Louis, MO) –principal contact: Bob Moore, NPS Historian


Richard J.M. Blackett (Vanderbilt) is the Andrew Jackson Professor of History at Vanderbilt University. He is the author, most recently, of The Captive’s Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law and the Politics of Freedom (2018) and Making Freedom: The Underground Railroad and the Politics of Freedom (2013). He teaches courses on 19th century U.S. history and the history of the Caribbean. During the academic year, 2013-14, he was Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford University.

Roy E. Finkenbine (University of Detroit Mercy) is professor of history and co-chair for the History Department at University of Detroit Mercy. He teaches courses in African American history, modern Africa, slave resistance, the Civil War era, and the Underground Railroad, and serves as Director of the Black Abolitionist Archive. He received a Ph.D. from Bowling Green State University in 1982 and joined the Detroit Mercy faculty in 1996.  He is also the author of Sources of the African-American Past (1st ed., 1997; 2nd ed., 2004), as well as a dozen articles and book chapters on the black abolitionists and the Underground Railroad.

Diane Mutti Burke (University of Missouri / Kansas City) is an associate professor of history at UMKC who teaches courses on the Civil War, the U.S. South, U.S. Women’s History, and 19th century U.S. social history.  She received her BA from Dartmouth College, and an MA and PhD from Emory University.  Mutti Burke’s award-winning first book On Slavery’s Border: Missouri’s Small-Slaveholding Households, 1815-1865 (University of Georgia Press, 2010) is a bottom-up examination of how slavery and slaveholding were influenced by both the geography and the scale of the slaveholding enterprise.

Lea VanderVelde (University of Iowa College of Law) is the Josephine R. Witte Professor of Law at the University of Iowa College of Law. She writes in the fields of employment law, property law, 19th century legal history, and constitutional law.  Her latest book is Redemption Songs: Suing for Freedom before Dred Scott (Oxford University Press, 2014) is based upon the discovery of almost 300 freedom suits brought by slaves in the St. Louis courts. She is also the author of Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery’s Frontier (Oxford University Press, 2009) which is a full-scale biography of Harriet, the hidden protagonist in the infamous Supreme Court decision, Dred Scott v. Sandford. In 2011 she was the Guggenheim fellow in Constitutional Studies.


Our Banner Image

28 Fugitives

Detail from Osler’s 1872 illustration

The colorized image which currently adorns the banner of our blog site originally comes from William Still’s Underground Railroad (1872), p. 103.  The original illustration, by nineteenth-century engraver John Osler, depicted the escape of 28 fugitives from the Eastern Shore of Maryland in late October 1857.  We chose this image because it captures some key insights of the slave stampedes project (notice the men, women and children all fleeing together, armed).  However, it is most definitely not about Missouri. So far, we have yet to identify a contemporary image of any mass escapes or slave stampedes from the Missouri borderlands.  If you know about one, please contact us at hdivided@dickinson.edu or call 717-245-1865.