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Fugitive Slaves and Spaces of Freedom in North America$
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Damian Alan Pargas

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780813056036

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813056036.001.0001

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Seeking Freedom in the Midst of Slavery

Seeking Freedom in the Midst of Slavery

Fugitive Slaves in the Antebellum South

(p.116) 5 Seeking Freedom in the Midst of Slavery
Fugitive Slaves and Spaces of Freedom in North America

Damian Alan Pargas

University Press of Florida

Slave flight in the antebellum South did not always coincide with the political geography of freedom. Indeed, spaces and places within the U.S. South attracted the largest number of fugitive slaves. From the forests that bordered plantation districts (where slaves remained hidden and maintained by local slave communities) to southern cities (where slaves attempted to pass for free blacks), a majority of fugitive slaves strove for freedom by disguising themselves within the slaveholding states rather than risk long-distance flight attempts to formally free territories such as the northern U.S., Canada, and Mexico. This chapter examines the experiences of fugitive slaves who fled to southern cities between 1800 and 1860. It touches upon themes such as the motivations for fleeing to urban areas (e.g., slave families dodging forced migration), the networks that facilitated such flight attempts, and the ways in which runaway slaves navigated sites of “informal freedom” after arrival in urban areas. Whereas some scholars have approached this group of runaways mainly as “absentees” or “truants” (temporary runaways), this chapter argues that throughout the South, many fugitive slaves who hid out in towns and cities were in fact permanent refugees from slavery—at least by intent, and often by outcome.

Keywords:   U.S. South, Free blacks, Fugitive slaves, Informal freedom, Slave families, Forced migration

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