This online research journal represents a joint effort by the National Park Service (NPS) Network to Freedom and the House Divided Project at Dickinson College to address the phenomenon of group escapes from slavery. Our initial regional focus has been on the Missouri borderlands during the antebellum and wartime period. We are now also beginning a second phase looking at the Kentucky borderlands. Contemporaries almost always called these group escapes, “slave stampedes.” Yet that term rarely appears in modern-day studies of the Underground Railroad or resistance to slavery. Even the idea of large groups of freedom seekers moving defiantly together toward attempted self-liberation seems almost impossible many teachers and students to accept. Yet stampedes happened –sometimes quite frequently– and we need to try to understand what these revolutionary episodes meant to Americans in that era.
To begin this journey, we suggest watching this short 2-minute video interview with Dr. Deanda Johnson of the National Park Service Network to Freedom. She offers a concise history of the term’s origins and explains how the reality of group attempts at liberation can complicate our understanding of the Underground Railroad. Then you might want to read the attached 2019 essay by Professor Matthew Pinsker from Dickinson College. His 23-page introductory survey of the topic also helps explains why the Missouri borderlands should rightly be considered at the front lines of the stampedes phenomenon and how both antebellum and wartime slave stampedes helped tip the balance toward the final destruction of slavery.
At this online research journal, we will continue to post examples of the historical material that we are turning up in our digital and archival searches about the phenomenon. This is truly a team effort, involving faculty and students, with significant input from our outside academic experts. Eventually, our findings will form the basis of an online report with various multi-media maps and tools, and a freely accessible database designed to provide an array of resources for anyone who wants to learn more about this important subject. For now, however, please consider this site 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.