GRADES 9 – 12


Sharon Dietz

J. P. McCaskey High School District of Lancaster

Lancaster, PA







 Culminating Project

National Endowment of the Humanities

 Landmarks in History

Landmarks of the Underground Railroad

Dickinson College, July 23-27, 2007







Lesson:  Voices of the Underground Railroad

Course:  Enrichment Seminar for gifted/high achieving students

Grade Level:  9 – 12

Type of Activity: Research, Written Report and Oral Presentation

Activity Duration: 2 – 3 days; 1st day separated by 2 weeks from 2nd and 3rd day




This lesson is designed as an enrichment extension for students who have already studied the Underground Railroad in their history class. Students will use primary source documents to read about firsthand accounts showing various views about slavery and anti-slavery/ Underground Railroad activity in the first half of the 19th century.


Pennsylvania State Standards:


8.1.       Historical Analysis and Skills Development

“Pennsylvania’s public schools shall teach, challenge and support every student to realize his or her maximum potential and to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to . . .


A.  Synthesize and evaluate historical sources.

C.  Evaluate historical interpretation of events.

D.  Synthesize historical research.”



8.3. United States History

“Pennsylvania’s public schools shall teach, challenge and support every student to realize his or her maximum potential and to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to analyze cultural, economic, geographic, political and social relations to . . .


A.    Identify and analyze the political and cultural contributions of individuals and groups to United States history from 1787 to 1914.

B.     Identify and analyze primary documents, material artifacts and historic sites important in

      United States history from 1787 to 1914.

C.     Identify and analyze conflict and cooperation among social groups and organizations in

      United States history from 1787 to 1914.”


Essential Questions:

1.  What arguments did the abolitionists use to oppose slavery? What arguments did their

     opponents use?
2.  Why did so many people in the North resist antislavery reform in the 1830s and 1840s?
3.  What were the methods used by the abolitionists to persuade the American people?

     How well did they work?

4.  What laws were passed by the United States to attempt to contain slavery to established regions?

      How well did they work?

5.  How did the actions of the fugitive slaves and Underground Railroad agents contribute to the

     regional tensions of the time period?





Students will be able to:

·  Interpret and analyze primary source documents

·  Develop research skills

·  Develop historical understanding of the conflicting opinions, actions, and politics of

    individuals and organizations that eventually led to the Civil War and abolition of slavery in

    the United States.




·         Profiles of Individuals involved in abolitionist, anti-slavery, or pro-slavery organizations including fugitive slaves and Underground Railroad agents.

·         Primary source documents attributed to the profiled individuals

·         Computer lab for student research




1.      Do Now: Students will work in two groups of eight to match four profiles with four

documents containing books, essays, or diaries written or speeches given by these individuals. (A total of eight profiles and eight documents are provided with this plan. This is designed for an enrichment seminar and could be adjusted upward to accommodate a larger class by adding more profiles/documents or by having more than one group work with the materials provided.) The teacher will circulate between the groups asking leading questions to guide them in their decisions.


2.      Lecture/Discussion: After the students correctly match the individuals with the corresponding documents,  the teacher will lead a short discussion on the opposing views and activities surrounding slavery and emphasize the diversity of opinions and actions within a group and among similar groups as well as within the same geographic area.


3.      Group Work:  Students will work in pairs for the remainder of the class/seminar time and as an assignment to research the person on their profile/document. Using supporting documents found on the suggested websites, they will prepare oral and written reports for the class where they will:

A.    Read the profile and the original document given to them in the first class period.      

B.     Discuss how this individual’s opinions and actions reflected or ran counter to the prevalent opinions of his social, political or religious affiliations.

C.     Discuss how this individual’s opinions and actions  reflected or ran counter to the prevalent opinions of those in the same geographical location.

D.    Discuss how this individual’s opinions and actions contributed to or impeded the operation of the Underground Railroad.

E.     Discuss how this individual’s opinions and actions contributed to the  regional tensions of the time period.


4.      Presentations:  One or more class periods (as needed) will be devoted to the presentations by

      the research teams (pairs). The written report that answers the four discussion points above

      and serves as a guide for the oral presentation will be submitted a week before the oral

      presentation to allow the teacher to evaluate and suggest additions/corrections before the

      class presentations.




The Enrichment Facilitator will “negotiate” with the classroom teacher to determine the amount of points given for the activity or if the entire class does the activity, points will be assigned by the classroom teacher to fit the grade structure of the unit and marking period.


Extension Activities:


Students will be encouraged to use this research as a springboard to participation in National History Day. This topic is an excellent one to adapt to exhibits, performances, papers, or documentaries relating to this year’s theme: Conflict and Compromise in History.


Key to Profiles and Matching Documents:


Document A – James Miller McKim


Document B – Levi Coffin


Document C – John Gregg Fee


Document D – William Wells Brown


Document E – Reverend Wilbur Fisk


Document F – Dickinson Gorsuch III


Document G – William Lloyd Garrison


Document H – Josiah Henson


Note:  Teachers may want to remove the citations and/or references at the bottom of the document pages to prevent students from matching profiles and documents by matching sources!HH    

Document A – Voices of the Underground Railroad –NEH – Sharon Dietz, 2007


Washington, D.C. Feb. 6th, 1838.

MY DEAR BROTHER, -- At the Convention held at Harrisburg, it was agreed upon by the delegates from the western part of Penn. and myself, that I should proceed to that region as soon as my engagements would permit, with the view of laboring there in the duties of my agency. But being desirous to visit our national capitol, not only for my own participation, but because I supposed in so doing I might subserve the interests of our cause, I was induced to pursue a rather circuitous route to the scene of my future labors, for the purpose of taking this city in my way. An account of some of the incidents with which I have met, in the meantime, I think will not be without interest to you and your readers.

I left Harrisburg last Tuesday morning, in the stage for Baltimore. Nothing occurred to beguile away the tedium of our journey, excepting a little disputing on the subject of abolition, until we had crossed the Maryland line, some distance. There we stopped to take in passengers. Among these was a young slaveholder, belonging to a very wealthy family of that neighborhood. He was a fair specimen of southern 'bloods,' and one of the proudest and most profane men I ever saw. When I first noticed him, which was in the tavern before we got into the stage, he was amusing himself with a well-trained but very fierce bulldog, which he would start with a hiss after some of the men about the house, and stop him before he could bite them. The people of the tavern endured his overbearing rudeness with a very ill grace, but were unwilling as I supposed to lose his patronage, by crossing him. When he got into the stage, he seemed disposed to give us a specimen of his spirit, in the curses he heaped upon his unoffending slave, who brought his baggage to be put into the boot. After we started and had rode some distance, he espied a little colored boy on horseback, at some distance from the road. He demanded of him, in a fierce and most profane manner, what he was doing there. Of course, the reply of the little boy, at such a distance, could not be heard for the noise of the coach. He called upon him to come up to him -- the boy hesitated, as the stage was going very fast. He then in a tone and manner which seemed to frighten the boy, ordered him immediately to ride up along side of the stage. This he did, and rode along with the stage until his master, so called, had catechized him sufficiently. He then gave him some curses and dismissed him.

These things seemed to excite little sensation among the other passengers, but to me it was exceedingly painful. It was painful to witness the horrid effect of slavery upon the temper and morals of the master; it was touching to see the poor boy's spirit broken by tyranny, and crouching with abject fear before such a consummate young ruffian, and it was a matter of painful reflection to think, that this fellow had absolute power over these and others of his fellow-men, and to have proof furnished that he made abundant use of that power.

When he left the stage, which he soon did, one of the passengers observed, that was Young Mr. J. P_____, a high fellow, but having some fine traits of character -- he loses a good deal of money gambling, but fortunately he is not intemperate -- adding that he was now on his way to Philadelphia after a runaway slave.


Document found at:




Document B - Voices of the Underground Railroad –NEH – Sharon Dietz, 2007


This letter concerned the fate of Seth Concklin, an Underground Railroad agent who died trying to rescue Charity Still, the wife of Peter Still, a slave from Alabama who was William Still’s long lost brother. In 1851, William Still was a clerk at the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Office in Philadelphia.


CINCINNATI, 4TH MO., 10TH, 1851.

FRIEND WM. STILL:-We have sorrowful news from our friend Concklin, through the papers and otherwise. I received a letter a few days ago from a friend near Princeton, Ind., stating that Concklin and the four slaves are in prison in Vincennes, and that their trial would come on in a few days. He states that they rowed seven days and nights in the skiff, and got safe to Harmony, Ind., on the Wabash river, thence to Princeton, and were conveyed to Vincennes by friends, where they were taken. The papers state, that they were all given up to the Marshal of Evansville, Indiana.

We have telegraphed to different points, to try to get some information concerning them, but failed. The last information is published in the Times of yesterday, though quite incorrect in the particulars of the case. Enclosed is the slip containing it. I fear all is over in regard to the freedom of the slaves. If the last account be true, we have some hope that Concklin will escape from those bloody tyrants. I cannot describe my feelings on hearing this sad intelligence. I feel ashamed to own my country. Oh! what shall I say. Surely a God of justice will avenge the wrongs of the oppressed.

Thine for the poor slave, _____________________.





Document found at:














Document C - Voices of the Underground Railroad –NEH – Sharon Dietz, 2007


This is an excerpt from the autobiography of _________________ published in 1891.


I returned to Lewis County, Kentucky, my then chosen field of labor. At the appointed time I went to the church house where I had engaged to preach a sermon on the subject of slavery. I found there more people than could be seated in the house. I selected the text, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself." I showed that human slavery was plainly a violation of this fundamental principle of the Christian religion. I then considered the various texts in the Old and New Testaments assumed as sanctions of slavery. I showed that such assumptions were wrong; that the precepts of Christianity must be construed in harmony with its fundamental principles, and that slavery was sinful as certainly as anything in human action could be sinful. I invited the congregation to come back the next Lord's day and we would then consider the various schemes for the removal of this evil; I then dismissed them.

On the next Lord's day the congregation was not so large as on the previous occasion. I reminded my audience that we had shown on the previous occasion that human slavery was a violation of the law of love, and therefore a sin; that this sin, like all other sins, needed to be repented of, and that immediately; just as we should immediately repent of any other great sin. I then considered the plea for colonization. I showed that to banish a man from the land of his birth, guilty of no crime, was gross injustice - only adding iniquity to crime. I showed that to do right is always safe; and that emancipation in the West Indies was an acknowledged good to all; that the slaves in our country, as a general rule, were patient, long-suffering, receptive, trusting, and, withal, acclimated; and would be more quiet laborers than those we would import from abroad. The verdict was soon rendered: "He is an Abolitionist, in favor of 'nigger' equality; his teaching is dangerous to our property, and will breed insurrection and rebellion; he ought to be moved."

        That Sabbath afternoon was not a quiet one in that part of Lewis County where we then were. No violence as yet; only jeers and taunts. My wife was as quiet as if all around her had been serene. The next morning our landlord informed me that his wife was unwilling to keep us any longer. We had not a home of our own. My covenant was still on me to spread the gospel of love, justice and mercy, in Kentucky, my native State; where, I knew not. My purpose was unchanged. I could only stand still and see the salvation of God. It came.


Courtesy of  Documenting the American South. 1998. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 7 January 2004





Document D - Voices of the Underground Railroad –NEH – Sharon Dietz, 2007

Excerpt from a speech by ______, Delivered at the Town Hall, Manchester, England 1 August 1854

“I stand tonight without ever having had a day's schooling in my life. You have been called together to hear men speak tonight—I am here as a piece of property. I am a slave according to the laws of the United States at the present time. Something has been said this afternoon about my having been purchased by the liberality of the English people; I know not that such a purchase has taken place; I know it is the contemplation, and many suppose it may have been accomplished by this time, but I do not know that such is the case. I stand here, this evening, therefore, not only a slave, a piece of property according to the laws of the United States, but I am here without education or without having received a day's schooling in my life, and what education I have has been of my own seeking in my own way; and, therefore, I can hope to say but little that shall go to aid in making up the testimony that is intended by the holding of this conference. (Applause.) No one can read, Mr. Chairman, the declaration of the American independence, and compare that document with the history of the legislation of the federal government of the United States, without being struck with the marked inconsistency of the theory of the people and their acts; the one declaring that all men are created equally, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and the other is the history of the encroachment of slavery upon liberty, or legislation in favor of slavery in that country against the cause of freedom. From the very hour that the convention that was held to form the constitution of the United States down to the present time, the acts of the government have been for the perpetuation and the spread of slavery in that land. As has been said, slavery was introduced into the constitution by allowing the African slave trade to be continued for twenty years, making it lawful and constitutional, which it had never been before; and then the slave owner was allowed representation for this slave property, and every man that would go to the Coast of Africa, and steal five Negroes and bring them to the United States, was allowed by the constitution, then, three votes for the five slaves. And it is carried down to the present time, as the American congress has more than twenty-five representatives based upon this slave representation. And that is one of the reasons why in the national congress the slave owners have the power of carrying so many of their measures, and the twenty-five, I need not say, who are slave owners themselves, do not represent, but misrepresent, their "property," and these slave owners go for the purpose of spreading the system of slavery over the land. America is called a free and independent country, and yet there is not a single foot of soil over which the stars and the stripes wave upon which I could stand and be protected by law. (Sensation.) There is not a foot of soil in the United States upon which I could stand where the constitution would give me any protection; and let me return to the United States, I am liable to be seized at any moment and conveyed in chains to the southern states, and there handed over to a man who claims me as his property, and to be worked up as he may think fit.”

From: Ripley, C. Peter, et al., eds. The Black Abolitionist Papers, Vol. I: The British Isles, 1830-1865, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1985. Used by permission of the publisher. Originally published in Manchester Examiner and Times (England), 5 August 1854.

Courtesy of  Documenting the American South. 1998. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 7 January 2004

Document E - Voices of the Underground Railroad –NEH – Sharon Dietz, 2007


Excerpts from an address delivered before the MIDDLETOWN COLONIZATION SOCIETY, AT THEIR ANNUAL MEETING, July 4, 1835.  


“I rise to present, for the consideration of the audience, the following resolution –

Resolved, That it is the duty of all American citizens, on the ground both of patriotism and philanthropy, to aid by their countenance and their money, the cause of African Colonization.

I consider, sir, this anniversary of our nation’s birthday, an appropriate occasion for investigating this subject. Every successive fourth of July ought, in my opinion, to be a type of the fourth of July, 1776... The fourth of July 1776 was not a day of military parade, of the clashing of arms, and the shout of the battlefield; but it was a day of deep thought of close investigation, of firm intellectual discussion, and lofty moral action... On such a day, what can be more important than to direct our attention to the colored population of our country...

 There are, sir, but two leading plans before the public, in reference to the object proposed. One is, the “American Colonization Society,” and the other is the “American Anti-Slavery Society.”... If then, we would act at all, on this subject, we must compare the claims and bearings of these two enterprises...

Now, sir, it ought to be particularly understood here, that the anti-slavery society, has no direct and immediate bearing, upon the interests and condition of the enslaved; either to secure their freedom, or to mitigate the rigors of slavery...

But, sir, I have said that the anti-slavery society has no immediate and direct influence, in the work of emancipation. The members of that society are none of them slaveholders—their constitution excludes such—hence they cannot liberate slaves themselves, in a private way. Can they do it in a public way, by legislation? It would seem not. The great theatre of this society’s operations is in the non-slaveholding states. Now, sir, what have these states, in their legislative capacity, to do with the question of slavery in the slaveholding states? Nothing. What has the national legislature to do with it? Nothing... Thus it appears, that the members of the abolition society, neither individually nor collectively, neither by private nor public action, can immediately and directly effect the liberation of slaves. . .

We acknowledge, sir, that the direct and official operations of our Society, do not relate to slaves as such. The exclusive business of the society, in its direct official action, is “to colonize the free people of color, with their own consent.” But, sir, the society embraces slaveholders, as well as others, and many of its members have emancipated their slaves, for the express purpose of placing them under the action of this Society... And we would point to Liberia herself, and show these emancipated slaves, in the possession, not of nominal merely, but of real freedom and independence. Colonizationists therefore, have freed slaves, and freed them also under the influence of Colonization principles, long before modern abolitionism had its being;...

  Sir, it must not be – the contributions of this day, and our labors and munificence in this cause hereafter, will show, I trust, that we are faithful and efficient friends of that noble enterprise, which is laying a foundation for the future independence of the degraded, oppressed and exiled sons of abused and bleeding Africa.

Copyright: Old Sturbridge Inc.




Document F - Voices of the Underground Railroad –NEH – Sharon Dietz, 2007

Excerpts from the diary of _____________________

Friday, September 12, 1851


Yesterday morning I was moved to the Pownalls. I was wounded in the right side and arm and struck with a club in the arm I staggered to the woods from there I was moved to Levi Pownall.

Dr. Patterson came.


Saturday, September 13, 1851


At the time I was very sick suffering in great deal of pain. I was very kindly treated. Dr. Pearce came over and stayed with me Friday night.  John and Dr. Pearce came up this evening.


Monday, September 15, 1851


There is a great excitement throughout the country at Christiana.


Wednesday, September 17, 1851


The weather is quite cool this week. A great change since last week. The trial did not go on yesterday.  It was put off till next week. They want to get counsel from Maryland.










Diary excerpts courtesy of Lancaster County Historical Society













Document G - Voices of the Underground Railroad –NEH – Sharon Dietz, 2007


Excerpted from an article from The Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper published weekly in Boston.
WORCESTER, [Mass.] Oct. 6, 1840. Tuesday Night.

I write now from Worcester. ‘The heart of the Commonwealth’ is not yet perfectly sound in relation to our great anti-slavery enterprise, though it is in a more healthy condition than it was formerly. As to the effect of slavery upon the nation, it may be scripturally affirmed that the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint—and from the crown of our head to the sole of our foot, we are full of wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores. But there is some hope of recovery.

I left Boston this morning in company with a choice number of old organized abolitionists, to be present at the State Anti-Slavery Convention in this place. We have not had a more pleasant day since the present year was ushered into existence. As pleasing evidence of the change which is gradually taking place in public sentiment on the subject of prejudice, I will state that no distinction between white and colored travelers is now made on the Worcester railroad. All who behave decently are treated accordingly. There were several colored delegates to the Convention in the cars, but I could not perceive that the feelings of any individual were ruffled on that account. Custom will soon make it, I trust, a matter of course in all our steamboats, stagecoaches, railroad cars, and other conveyances. The prejudice which persecutes and degrades a brother on account of the color of his skin is manifestly unreasonable, vulgar, unnatural, impious. – It must be abandoned universally in this country, or our republicanism and Christianity will continue to be a jest and by-word.

No meetinghouse could be obtained for the use of the Convention but the Methodist, which is a small one, but very neat. The notice of the meeting had not been given from any of the pulpits in this town, or in any newspaper except the Christian Reflector; so that the inhabitants generally were not apprised of our intention. In consequence of the present political excitement in this State, and the fact that another Convention is to be held at Springfield on the 8th and 9th, I did not anticipate a large meeting. The number of delegates in attendance, however, is about 200, which will doubtless be increased to-morrow. They are fine specimens of genuine, unshackled abolitionism. Several important resolutions were discussed and adopted with perfect unanimity. But I have not time to go into particulars. Nearly four hundred dollars were collected this evening, in pledges and money, in the course of a few minutes. About one hundred dollars was also taken at the Anti-Slavery Fair. It is truly good to be here.

In great haste, I remain,
Your faithful,


The Liberator, Oct. 9, 1840. [An abolitionist newspaper published weekly in Boston.]

Copyright: Old Sturbridge Inc.






Document H - Voices of the Underground Railroad –NEH – Sharon Dietz, 2007


Excerpt from "Uncle Tom's Story of his life." An Autobiography of the ____________________ (Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom"). From 1789 to 1876. Edited by John Lobb 224 p., ill.
London "Christian Age" Office, 89, Farringdon Street.1876

“The degraded and hopeless condition of a slave can never be properly felt by him while he remains in such a position. After I had tasted the blessings of freedom, my mind reverted to those whom I knew were groaning in captivity, and I at once proceeded to take measures to free as many as I could. I thought that, by using exertion, numbers might make their escape as I did, if they had some practical advice how to proceed.

        I was once attending a very large meeting at Fort Erie, at which a great many coloured people were present. In the course of my preaching, I tried to impress upon them the importance of the obligations they were under; first, to God, for their deliverance; and then, secondly, to their fellowmen, to do all that was in their power to bring others out of bondage. In the congregation was a man named James Lightfoot, who was of a very active temperament, and had obtained his freedom by fleeing to Canada, but had never thought of his family and friends whom he had left behind, until the time he heard me speaking, although he himself had been free for some five years. However, that day the cause was brought home to his heart. When the service was concluded, he begged to have an interview with me, to which I gladly acceded, and an arrangement was made for further conversation on the same subject one week from that time. He then informed me where he came from, also to whom he belonged, and that he had left behind a dear father and mother, three sisters and four brothers; and that they lived on the Ohio River, not far from the city of Maysville. He said that he never saw his duty towards them to be so clear and unmistakable as be did at that time, and professed himself ready to cooperate in any measures that might be devised for their release. During the short period of his freedom he had accumulated some little property, the whole of which, he stated, he would cheerfully devote to carrying out those measures; for he had no rest, night nor day, since the meeting above mentioned.

        I was not able at that time to propose what was best to be done, and thus we parted; but in a few days he came to see me again on the same errand. Seeing the agony of his heart in behalf of his kindred, I consented to commence the painful and dangerous task of endeavoring to free those whom he so much loved. I left my own family in the hands of no other save God, and commenced the journey alone, on foot, and traveled thus about four hundred miles. But the Lord furnished me with strength sufficient for the undertaking.”

Courtesy of  Documenting the American South. 1998. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 7 January 2004

Profile of James Miller McKim

James Miller McKim (1810-1874) headed the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. McKim was born in Carlisle, Pa, graduated from Dickinson College and became a Presbyterian minister before finding his life’s calling in the abolition movement in 1833. In spite of the unpopularity of abolitionism in Carlisle, McKim founded the Carlisle Anti-Slavery Society and in 1840, McKim became the secretary to the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society and editor of the Pennsylvania Freeman, the Society’s newsletter. McKim remained active even after the war. He founded the Philadelphia Port Royal Relief Committee, which provided assistance to local, newly freed blacks; in 1863, the organization went statewide as the Pennsylvania Freedman’s Relief Association. But McKim’s work remained unfinished. McKim continued onward and in 1869, served as the American Freedman’s Union Commission’s first secretary. McKim crowned his career as an abolitionist and then an advocate for free blacks by founding a New York paper, The Nation, which was a mouthpiece for the interests of newly emancipated blacks.





Profile available at:



Matching document found at:




Voices of the Underground Railroad –NEH – Sharon Dietz, 2007


Profile of Josiah Henson


Josiah Henson (circa 1789-1883) was a Maryland slave whose remarkable metamorphosis from obedient slave to fiery abolitionist is one of the great stories of the underground railroad and abolitionist movement. Henson’s relationship with his master, Isaac Riley, was a unique one. Riley treated Henson well, and Henson performed his duties as a slave not only competently, but competitively. At the age of 18, Henson converted to Methodism. Eventually, Riley made Henson an overseer—a reasonably unusual position for a black man to fill—and even placed Henson at the head of an expedition to remove a sizable number of his slaves to Kentucky, so that they would be beyond the reach of creditors. Henson lived happily in a managerial position in Kentucky until Riley’s creditors caught up with him and he ordered the slaves sold. Henson attempted to manumit himself and his family but Riley cheated him by driving the manumission fee higher than Henson could ever hope to pay. Henson and his family fled, eventually crossing into Canada to be free. Later in life, Henson would return to Kentucky to assist fugitive slaves and eventually establish the Dawn colony in Canada. Henson hoped the colony would provide a permanent African American community residence that fostered work ethic and morals. What he got was a temporary community, which helped fugitive slaves transition from slavery to freedom.



Profile available at:


Autobiography available at:


Voices of the Underground Railroad –NEH – Sharon Dietz, 2007


Profile of Dickinson Gorsuch III


Dickinson Gorsuch III (1826-1882), son of Edward Gorsuch, the Maryland slave owner who was killed at Christiana in Pennsylvania in 1851. Dickinson Gorsuch traveled with his father and a small slave-catching party and was seriously wounded during the confrontation. Nursed back to health by the Pownall family, local Christiana residents, Dickinson Gorsuch went on to inherit his father's property. His remaining slaves, however, joined the Union Army during the Civil War. Gorsuch died at the age of 56, the same age his father had been when he was killed at Christiana.







Profile available at:



Matching Document available at:






Voices of the Underground Railroad –NEH – Sharon Dietz, 2007


Profile of Levi Coffin



In 1814 Levi Coffin (1798-1877) , a Quaker and North Carolina native, his father Vestal and brother Addison, helped to found the North Carolina Manumission Society. In 1818, the Society merged with the American Colonization Society. Rejecting the notion that slaves should be removed to Africa to obtain freedom, the Coffins separated themselves from the Society to take more decisive action. The Coffins began by helping only kidnapped slaves escape to freedom but progressed to assisting any fugitive slave. Their efforts acted at the genesis of the Underground Railroad in North Carolina . But by 1825, anti-Quaker sentiment had grown so predominant that the Coffins removed to Richmond , Indiana . There they established an underground that operated ceaselessly for decades.




Profile available at:



Complete matching document found at:







Voices of the Underground Railroad –NEH – Sharon Dietz, 2007

Profile of John Gregg Fee

John Gregg Fee (1816-1901) was born in Bracken County, Kentucky to middle class farmers and slaveholders. After receiving an education at both Augusta College in Bracken County and Miami University of Ohio, he studied at Lane Theological Seminary in 1842 and 1843. In 1844, he married Matilda Hamilton who, like Fee, was a devoted abolitionist. Fee then returned to Kentucky, where he preached against slavery. In 1854, with the help of Cassius Marcelus Clay, Fee founded the town of Berea, Kentucky, and in 1858 and 1859 he founded Berea College. The town became a center of abolitionist activity, and Fee intended the school to become a model for racial integration and peaceful coexistence. However, in December of 1859, sixty armed men attacked Berea while Fee was away, and the town was deserted. Fee lived in exile in Ohio until 1864, when he returned to Berea. After the Civil War, the college became increasingly integrated. By 1892, approximately half of its students were African American. However, shortly after, the college's new president, William Goodell Frost, changed the emphasis of the school to white education. In his lifetime, Fee had understood the challenges of race relations that followed the abolition of slavery, but his ideas were largely ignored, and he became embittered during his last years.

In his Autobiography of John G. Fee, Berea, Kentucky (1891), Fee describes various incidents that epitomize his experience as an abolitionist in the South, beginning with his religious conversion in early childhood. Throughout the text, Fee continually emphasizes that slavery and racism are sinful. He believes that the Untied States as a whole, and the South in particular, must accept and adopt a policy of true equality for all. He describes the threats and acts of violence visited on himself, his family, and his institutions because of his race politics. The narrative closes with an address Fee gave in 1890 that outlines the religious reasons for his political opinions.

Profile and full-digitized text of John G. Fee’s autobiography can be found at:


Voices of the Underground Railroad –NEH – Sharon Dietz, 2007

Profile of William Wells Brown

William Wells Brown (ca. 1814-1884) was born in Lexington, Kentucky, the son of Elizabeth, a slave woman, and a white relative of his owner. After twenty years in slavery, Brown escaped to freedom in January 1834. He spent the next two years working on a Lake Erie steamboat and running fugitive slaves into Canada. In the summer 1834, he met and married Elizabeth Spooner, a free black woman; they had three daughters, one of whom died shortly after birth. Two years after his marriage, Brown moved to Buffalo, where he began his career in the abolitionist movement by regularly attending meetings of the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society, by boarding antislavery lecturers at his home, speaking at local abolitionist gatherings, and by traveling to Cuba and Haiti to investigate emigration possibilities.

Brown's abolitionist career was marked by a turning point in the summer of 1843 when Buffalo hosted a national antislavery convention and the National Convention of Colored Citizens. Brown attended both meetings, sat on several committees, and became friends with a number of black abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass and Charles Lenox Remond. Brown's expanded service to the antislavery movement, his increasing sophistication as a speaker, and his growing reputation in the antislavery community brought an invitation to lecture before the American Anti-Slavery Society at its 1844 annual meeting in New York City; in May 1847, he was hired as a Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society lecture agent. Brown moved to Boston and by the end of the year, he had published the successful narrative of his life.

In 1849, he began a lecture tour of Britain and remained abroad until 1854. The length of his stay was conditioned by personal and political motives. Quite as important, once the Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850, it was dangerous for the escaped slave to return to America. Concern for Brown's safety prompted British abolitionists to "purchase" his freedom in 1854.

When Brown did return, he had written Clotel, the first novel published by an Afro-American, and was finishing St. Domingo, a work that suggests Brown's growing antislavery militancy. The publication of those works as well as a travelogue, a play, and a compilation of antislavery songs established his reputation as the most prolific black literary figure of the mid-nineteenth century. During the remainder of his life, Brown lived in the Boston area and produced three major volumes of black history. During the last ten years of his life, he continued to travel, lecture, and write.

Profile found at:   http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/brownw/bio.html

Full text of Brown’s speech  found at http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/brownw/support5.html

Profile of Wilbur Fisk

Wilbur Fisk (1792-1839) a prominent American Methodist minister, educator and theologian, was born in Guilford, (near Brattleboro), Vermont.  He was educated at Brown University intending to study law, but after a year or so decided that a career in law was at odds with his Christian character. After a short period serving as a tutor, he came in contact with the great religious revival sweeping the state of Vermont. His mother, Hannah, had forsaken her New England Calvinist roots to become a Methodist, and her home was a center of Methodist activity in northern Vermont. Wilbur, after much contemplation, decided to become a Methodist minister. Later he became interested in furthering educational opportunities in New England. He was named the first president of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.

Under his leadership the university became an important center for Methodist education in New England. Many of his ideas were regarded as being unusual in his day: admission was not dependent on religious affiliation, he encouraged the “bodily health” of students, and he regarded modern languages as being as important as classical languages. His views may be summed up with this quote from his writings: “The great object which we propose to ourselves in the work of education is to supply, as far as we may, men who will be willing and competent to effect the political, intellectual, and spiritual regeneration of the world.” To that end, he worked to insure the physical, moral and intellectual developments of his students.


The complete text of Reverend Fisk’s address available at:


Voices of the Underground Railroad –NEH – Sharon Dietz, 2007


Profile of William Lloyd Garrison

William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) , a native of Boston, was the founder of the Liberator, the leading and most radical anti-slavery newspaper in America from 1831-1865 which did a great deal to reshape the anti-slavery movement and made Garrison the nation’s leading public emancipationist. The establishment of the Liberator in 1831 was a turning point for the movement. Following the paper’s foundation the abolitionist movement gained an uncompromising edge as well as a sense of immediacy the movement had not yet seen. Despite this urgency, however, Garrison was also known for his commitment to nonviolent resistance. In 1832 he founded the New England Anti-Slavery Society and in 1833 he organized and led the nation’s first national abolitionist conference in Philadelphia which led to the formation of the American Anti-Slavery Society. The Philadelphia conference published the famous “Declaration of Sentiments,” a document written in one night by Garrison himself which solidified the core values of the movement for the remaining years leading up to the Civil War.



Profile available at:


Document available at:


Voices of the Underground Railroad –NEH – Sharon Dietz, 2007