Runaway Journeys
Many Reasons to Leave
The Peaks of Migration
Profile of the Fugitives
Escape to Cities and Towns
Maroon Communities
Going South and West
Up North
Canada, the Promised Land
The Civil War
The Consequences of the Migration

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The number of fugitives who made it to safety can only be estimated.  In 1850 and 1860, United States census takers asked each slave owner in the South how many of his or her slaves had run away during the previous year and remained at large. They reported 1,011 in 1850 and 803 in 1860.  But many owners did not wish to admit that their "property" had become successful fugitives, and so the census reports were almost surely far below the actual numbers.  The records of northern anti-slavery societies as well as newspaper notices of runaways in the Southern states suggest that probably several thousand people made it to freedom each year during the antebellum era.  While this figure is low compared with the total number--3.2 million in 1850 and 4 million in 1860--over time it amounted to a significant migration.

The journey of runaways to towns and cities in the South gave momentum to African-American urbanization during the antebellum period, a phenomenon that accelerated after the Civil War.

The migration of the maroons to remote areas caused great fear among slave owners and represented a continuing problem in maintaining control over their human property. Indeed, existence of these outlying groups served as a counterpoint to the proslavery ideology that promoted the institution as benign and paternalistic.

The western movement of runaways led white Kansans to recognize the permanence of African-American settlement in their state in 1862.  Lawrence abolitionist Richard Cordley acknowledged their presence when he declared, "The Negroes are not coming.  They are here.  They will stay here.  They are to be our neighbors, whatever we may think about it, whatever we may do about it."  Supported by the mostly white Kansas Emancipation League, the refugees founded Freedman's Church in Lawrence on September 28, 1862, creating the first of the many African-American community institutions that existed throughout Kansas by the end of the Civil War.

In the North and Canada, runaways became symbols of the evils of slavery. Their increasing presence - as important and often charismatic figures in the abolition movement - played a major role in energizing the struggle against slavery. The fugitives would come to symbolize the inherent contradiction in the national creed: America as a land of liberty and equality, and America as a land of slavery and oppression.

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