Henry David Thoreau
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Thoreau, Civil Disobedience, and the Underground Railroad continued

 

Henry Williams stays with Thoreau, 1851

Here is Thoreau's full account of "Henry Williams's" stay in Concord, just as he wrote it in his Journal after putting Williams on the evening train. (He misspelled some words.)

(Thoreau, A Year in Thoreau's Journal: 1851, Penguin paperback 1993, p. 247. Part of journal entry for October first, 1851. Thoreau was 34 years old.)

Oct 1st 51
5 P m just put a fugitive slave who has taken the name of Henry Williams into the cars
[the train] for Canada. He escaped from Stafford County Virginia to Boston last October, has been in Shadracks place at the Cornhill Coffee-house - had been corresponding through an agent with his master who is his father about buying -himself- his master asking $600 but he having been able to raise only $500. - heard that there were writs out [arrest warrants] for two Williamses fugitives - and was informed by his fellow servants & employer that Augerhole Bums & others of the [Boston] police had called for him when he was out. Accordingly fled to Concord last night on foot - bringing a letter to our family from Mr Lovejoy of Cambridge - & another which Garrison had formerly given him on another occasion.

He lodged with us & waited in the house till funds were collected with which to forward him. Intended to despatch him at noon through to Burlington - but when I went to buy his ticket saw one at the Depot [train station] who looked & behaved so much like a Boston policeman, that I did not venture that time.

An intelligent and very well behaved man -- a mullatto. [...]

The slave said he could guide himself by many other stars than the north star whose rising & setting he knew - They steered for the north star even when it had got round and appeared to them to be in the south. They frequently followed the telegraph when there was no railroad. The slaves bring many superstitions from Africa. The fugitives sometimes superstitiously carry a turf [a piece of soil] in their hats thinking that their success depends on it.

Back to Underground Railroad narrative


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Updated Feb. 20, 2010