National Geographic : 1984 Jul
recaptured in the swamp, was found to be wearing "a coat that was impervious to shot, it being thickly wadded with turkey feathers." Most simply walked to freedom. "Guided by the north star alone," wrote the great res cuer William Still, "penniless, braving the perils of land and sea, eluding the keen scent of the blood-hound as well as the more dangerous pursuit of the savage slave hunter .... [enduring] indescribable suffer ing from hunger and other privations... making their way to freedom." Slaveholders, of course, looked upon the Underground Railroad as organized theft. Under the Constitution of the United States, it was. Slavery was lawful and slaves were property. Their bondage was upheld as a matter of economic necessity for the agricul tural South. Buying and selling at slave auc tions was a sort of human stock market and a major source of income for many. Not only the South benefited. Entrepreneurs in the industrial North were eager to purchase cheap, slave-produced raw materials. IF THE UNDERGROUND Railroad had a charter apart from the longing for freedom and the urgings of conscience, it was the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which greatly strengthened an earlier law dating from 1793 and gave slaveholders the right to organize a posse at any point in the United States to aid in recapturing runaway slaves. Courts and police everywhere in the United States were obligated to assist them. COURTESYTHE FRIENDSHISTORICALLIBRARY,SWARTHMORECOLLEGE Freightinghimselfto freedom, a Richmond slave hit on inventive transportin 1848 after being separatedfrom his wife and children, who were sold to a ministerbound for North Carolina.A white friend, Samuel A. Smith, helped devise a baize lined box for shipment to Philadelphiaallies. For26 hours the escapee traveled as cargo, often on his head, until his "resurrection"by antislavery leaders (above), who christened him Henry "Box" Brown. Smith was sent to prisonfor helping fugitives, but he never regrettedhis acts. One of Brown's saviors, William Still, standingbehind the box, worked tirelessly with fugitives, keeping recordsto guide their relatives.His own descendants held their 114th reunion last summer in Lawnside, New Jersey (left).