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Grant number: BH-50680-14

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University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth (North Dartmouth, MA 02747-2300)
Timothy D. Walker (Project Director: March 2014 to present)

Sailing to Freedom: New Bedford and the Underground Railroad

Two one-week workshops for seventy-two school teachers to explore abolitionism and the Underground Railroad in the port city of New Bedford, Massachusetts.

This program examines New Bedford, Massachusetts, as a lens through which to view the great challenges facing nineteenth-century America. Though New Bedford is best known as American's preeminent whaling port, during this period it also became one of the nation's most cosmopolitan cities. While its maritime trade drew diverse populations of immigrants, it also transported to freedom fugitive African Americans in ship cargo holds. With its significant Quaker population, New Bedford emerged as a hub of both reform society and abolitionist activity. As Kathryn Grover captures in her book The Fugitive's Gibraltar: Escaping Slaves and Abolitionism in New Bedford, Massachusetts, New Bedford was "not so much a stop along the Underground Railroad, but rather a terminus--a community where ex-slaves knew they could settle and prosper." Project director Timothy Walker (University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth [UMD]), a maritime and slave trade historian, has assembled a group of faculty, including UMD historians Len Travers and Lee Blake, Jeffrey Bolster (University of New Hampshire), John Stauffer and Mary Malloy (Harvard University), independent scholars Kathryn Grover and David Cecelski, Laurie Robertson-Lorant (Bridgewater State University), Kate Clifford Larson (Simmons College), Delores Walters (University of Rhode Island), and local poet laureate Everett Hoagland. Presentation topics include "An Overview of New Bedford Waterfront Trades"; "Black Seamen in the Atlantic"; "New Bedford's African-American Community"; "Frederick Douglass, New Bedford and the Underground Railroad"; "History of the Underground Railroad in Poetry and Oral Tradition"; and "Gendered Resistance: Black Women and Resistance to Enslavement," among others. Each day, experts connect lectures and discussions with close studies of original documents, objects, and architecture. Teachers examine rare maritime guides, captains' logs, and mariners' scrimshaw sculpture. Primary readings include census data, fugitive slave narratives, and the speeches and letters of Frederick Douglass; secondary readings include works by several of the visiting scholars, such as Jeffrey Bolster's Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail.

Project fields:
U.S. History

Landmarks of American History

Education Programs

Total amounts:
$170,304 (approved)
$160,691 (awarded)

Grant period:
10/1/2014 – 3/31/2016