Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad

Gateway to Freedom The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad More than any other scholar Eric Foner has influenced our understanding of America s history Now making brilliant use of extraordinary evidence the Pulitzer Prize winning historian once again recon

  • Title: Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad
  • Author: Eric Foner
  • ISBN: 9780393352191
  • Page: 233
  • Format: Paperback
  • More than any other scholar, Eric Foner has influenced our understanding of America s history Now, making brilliant use of extraordinary evidence, the Pulitzer Prize winning historian once again reconfigures the national saga of American slavery and freedom.A deeply entrenched institution, slavery lived on legally and commercially even in the northern states that had abolMore than any other scholar, Eric Foner has influenced our understanding of America s history Now, making brilliant use of extraordinary evidence, the Pulitzer Prize winning historian once again reconfigures the national saga of American slavery and freedom.A deeply entrenched institution, slavery lived on legally and commercially even in the northern states that had abolished it after the American Revolution Slaves could be found in the streets of New York well after abolition, traveling with owners doing business with the city s major banks, merchants, and manufacturers New York was also home to the North s largest free black community, making it a magnet for fugitive slaves seeking refuge Slave catchers and gangs of kidnappers roamed the city, seizing free blacks, often children, and sending them south to slavery.To protect fugitives and fight kidnappings, the city s free blacks worked with white abolitionists to organize the New York Vigilance Committee in 1835 In the 1840s vigilance committees proliferated throughout the North and began collaborating to dispatch fugitive slaves from the upper South, Washington, and Balti, through Philadelphia and New York, to Albany, Syracuse, and Canada These networks of antislavery resistance, centered on New York City, became known as the underground railroad Forced to operate in secrecy by hostile laws, courts, and politicians, the city s underground railroad agents helped than 3,000 fugitive slaves reach freedom between 1830 and 1860 Until now, their stories have remained largely unknown, their significance little understood.Building on fresh evidence including a detailed record of slave escapes secretly kept by Sydney Howard Gay, one of the key organizers in New York Foner elevates the underground railroad from folklore to sweeping history The story is inspiring full of memorable characters making their first appearance on the historical stage and significant the controversy over fugitive slaves inflamed the sectional crisis of the 1850s It eventually took a civil war to destroy American slavery, but here at last is the story of the courageous effort to fight slavery by practical abolition, person by person, family by family.

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    About “Eric Foner

    • Eric Foner

      Eric Foner is DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, where he earned his B.A and Ph.D In his teaching and scholarship, Foner focuses on the Civil War and Reconstruction, slavery, and nineteenth century America His Reconstruction America s Unfinished Revolution, 1863 1877, won the Bancroft, Parkman, and Los Angeles Times Book prizes and remains the standard history of the period His latest book published in 2010 is The Fiery Trial Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery.In 2006 Foner received the Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching at Columbia University He has served as president of the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association, and the Society of American Historians.

    454 thoughts on “Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad

    • I have no doubt that extensive research lies behind this book. I do not doubt its accuracy. It is filled with details about the growth of antislavery organizations, but as the book clearly states the Underground Railroad was in reality an "umbrella association" of independent, sometimes competing groups which very much relied on the efforts of single individuals. It was not controlled from the top. The book focuses upon the antislavery proponents that lived in New York. This is partially explain [...]


    • At times, I was frustrated with the weight given to NYC and for a while it almost seems like too much background material. Yet, after finishing this book, I understand more and know more than simply Harriet Tubman. Rich in information.



    • Once again the eminent historian Eric Foner has written a fascinating and important history that helps set the record straight about the period in America before, during, and after the Civil War. While this book focuses on the escape of runaway slaves and especially the support and/or obstacles they encountered in New York City, he places his study within the wider context of American politics at the time.New York was an important and active center of underground railroad activity. When William [...]


    • A time of ultimate polarization over the ultimate wedge issue. I am a bit partisan in my politics and my world view can often have good guys and bad guys weighing heavily in it. The Issue of Slavery which is not debatable today was a sectional hot button issue once. There were two contending sides and history now judges (rightly) one side on the side of angels and other with a more sulfurous tinge to it. Abolitionists who were filled with justified anger form an underground railroad a network wi [...]


    • Impeccably academic, slightly dry, but pleasantly readable, Gateway's scope is smaller than the title suggests. Foner's focus is on New York City's anti-slavery movement, and touches on Pennsylvania, upstate New York and New England only to the extent that they interact with the NYC movements. And, since he sticks to documentary evidence, much of which was destroyed after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made aiding fugitives even riskier, the book is short on experiences of actual "passengers". B [...]


    • Couldn't put it down. A refreshing new look at NYC's role in the underground railroad, and the brave, selfless people who risked everything to help thousands escape to freedom. Also a great reminder of how the Fugitive Slave Law and other pro-slavery legislation terrorized both free and fugitive African Americans of the time. Foner's use of Sydney Howard Gay's meticulous records of fugitives gives readers a very cool look at human light shining through the darkest of hours


    • Interesting but not quite what I thought. I thought this would be about the composition of the Underground Railroad, how it was set up and then the use of the UGRR to free Blacks from the South. However the book spent a great amount of time on the laws which established the rights of Slave Holders to recovery their property and the impact on individuals who were trying to free/protect fugitive or slaves already free. The book also spent a great deal of time explaining the difference between the [...]


    • This is the second of Foner's books I've read, and once again his subject is more interesting than his treatment of it. His initial focus is as much on the internecine squabbles among different New York abolitionist groups as on how any of them, or various individuals, assisted fugitive slaves. Foner does eventually make his way to the latter topic. Overall, I learned quite a bit about how the citizens of various states approached the question of whether to help the slaves trying to escape, or t [...]


    • Eric Foner’s ‘Gateway to Freedom’ tells gripping tales of the Underground RailroadBY WENDY SMITHLOS ANGELES TIMES01/16/2015 6:00 AM 01/17/2015 8:46 PMEric Foner’s vivid new book, about the semiorganized system to aid runaway slaves popularly known as the Underground Railroad, makes an excellent companion to “Reconstruction,” his magisterial 1988 account of the post-Civil War effort to bring racial justice to the American South.In both histories, Foner appreciates the crucial role of [...]


    • Though this book focuses narrowly on the efforts of the Underground Railroad in New York City, it frames it against the larger story of the national conflict over slavery.


    • Review Title: This train carried saints and sinners to the land of hope and dreams The Underground Railroad was credited by contemporaries with successfully directing thousands of fugitive slaves to freedom in the North (abolitionists) or illegally subverting federal and state laws to destroy a specific region and culture (southern slave owners). Both views were partially true but incomplete. Foner attempts to complete the views and counteract the legends that have grown up around this vital pie [...]


    • The origins of this book is a story that is especially appealing to a teacher. In 2007, one of Eric Foner's Columbia U. undergrad students was doing research on a history paper in the Columbia Rare Books Room and came upon the journal of a man who had been essential in New York City's Underground Railroad. She told her teacher about it, he eventually investigated it, and found it so fascinating that he used it as the centerpiece of his latest book (for which he thanks her profusely in the "Ackno [...]


    • The title of this book is misleading. It is not a history of the underground railroad nation-wide. Rather, it is a study of New York City's role in the "corridor of freedom" that stretched from the Upper South to Canada along the East Coast. New York City up until Eric Foner's book was the "black hole" of underground railroad studies. There was considerable opposition to abolitionists in the city and the conductors of the underground railroad tried to be discrete about their activities. The key [...]


    • Eric Foner is a very good historian, and his work on Reconstruction is the best I have read. So when I heard of this book, I had to jump to get a copy. This is a great book. It has a lot of new stories to tell because it is based on a source that hadn’t been used before – Sydney Howard Gay’s Record of Fugitives. Gay played a prominent role in the Underground Railroad in New York and kept a record of fugitives that he helped. This book tells the story of the Underground Railroad, mostly in [...]


    • For subject matter I'd give this book 5 stars but the execution brings it down to 3.5. The reader was good.Most people know about the Underground Railroad via the life and work of Harriet Tubman who is barely mentioned in this book. This book deals with other parts of the Railroad and its history, in particular New York and its relation to it both positive and negative. A lot of the history of its development was presented in a rather dry declaratory manner of dates and facts most of which I hav [...]


    • Somewhat disappointed in this book. It focused mainly on New York. I expected more individual stories of escapes to freedom, but this was a historical depiction with dates, names, and numbers of slaves that escaped. It was extremely well researched, honest and full of facts. I listened to the author on public radio, and he was so interesting, that I ordered the book right away from Kindle. I recommend listening to his interviews instead of reading the book, unless you're really into facts, or yo [...]


    • I find it so fascinating how directly tied the phrase "underground railroad" is to aiding escaping slaves. If I were to attempt to describe a subway to someone by saying "underground railroad," I think it would be more confusing than helpful, even though that is a pretty accurate description, simply because of how entrenched this idea is, historically. So Foner's exploration of how this railroad wasn't that organized, wasn't that formal--more of a haphazard web of individuals willing to aid fugi [...]


    • More about the politics of abolitionist and anti-slavery societies (not necessarily the same thing) than the stories of individual fugitive slaves or a mythical network of people assisting runaway and manumitted slaves in their escapes to Canada. (Was I really wanting to read a certain currently popular fictional treatment that made the railroad metaphor explicit? Not necessarily!) The ramifications of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850 get a lot of attention, as does New York State (a previously un [...]


    • This re-writes everything you thought you knew about the Underground Railroad. While the book does not necessarily go into the nitty-gritty of people escaping, it gives you a better understanding of what and how the underground railroad worked. There were accounts of whole cities being so fine with helping fugitive slaves, that people would be driving them around in carriages in broad daylight. It also turns out that most slaves did not escape by foot, walking to the North; most fugitive slaves [...]


    • Fantastic individual stories of how the activist networks of earlier eras worked, splintered, bickered, were divided by race lines and politics, and yet still did important humanitarian work. My only real criticism is the lack of larger theoretical sophistication and historiography - it could at time feel more like a layman's book than an academic one, and tend towards feeling more like a series of stories about the movement than a serious analytic look at it overall. Still, a quick read and wel [...]


    • The scope of this book is very exactingly narrow. It presents mostly the history of The Underground Railroad in New York City. The research provides a fresh look at interesting details. This is my second book by Eric Foner. I am always satisfied by his work. Perhaps it would be more promising if it was a broader view of the entire organization.


    • Another well researched piece of scholarship from one of the finest historians working today. This period of history and topic continue to fascinate and baffle students of the American experience. Foner helps clarify the picture and has made a major contribution about the people on all ends of the Underground Railroad. Loaded with case histories that could spawn a thousand other books.


    • Excellent book. Describes in detail about Black people 'cutting sticks' (escaping) from slavery during the Fugitive slave act of the 19th century. Amazing and brave souls risked their lives.



    • This is a readable volume on the Underground Railroad, mostly covering its operations between Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, New England, and Canada. The R.R. was an outgrowth of vigilance committees that were founded in Northern cities to assist fugitive slaves as well as help free blacks, including free black children, that might be kidnapped in the North and sold into slavery in the South. Many of the Vigilance Committees' efforts were public - such as filing writs of habeas corpus, suppl [...]


    • I have such a brain crush on Eric Foner! He is the author of my favorite US History textbook to teach from. My favorite parts of this book were the stories about the people involved in running the Underground Railroad and the people who escaped. I admit to skimming some of the parts about the many internal conflicts within the various anti-slavery societies. There is also a great deal of information about the many court cases and legal attempts to prevent slaves and free blacks from being kidnap [...]


    • Ho Hum. An, at times, interesting read, though the title is misleading as the book's focus is primarily about the Underground Railroad as it relates to New York state. And yet, one never gets the feeling that you're reading about the Underground Railroad. Foner spends a good deal of time discussing the differences between the various anti-slavery and abolitionist groups as well as addressing the various laws and legal ramifications of each state's choice to obey or not obey the Fugitive Slave la [...]


    • This book was an interesting look into the history of the Underground Railroad in New England. I specify because anything not connected directly to New York City is not mentioned--which makes sense, given the sources Foner was working with. He does a careful job of making sure not just to highlight white participants, and really did his work in trying to follow Black participants who may not have otherwise been highlighted. The story itself moves chronologically and also traces debates among abo [...]


    • Eric Foner is a solid historian admired by all of us who care about such things. He's offered valuable insights into America's past and enhanced our understanding of the United States. But let's face it, this book is a paltry offering, thin on details and a bit of a hash as an account of the Underground Railroad.I'm no expert on the subject, but I know enough to recognize that trying to come up with a good history of what happened in secret so long ago is bound to be a perilous foray into a diff [...]


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