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    Floating to freedom on an old wooden gate

    The story of an American slave, who sought  freedom in Canada by attempting to cross the Niagara River on a wooden gate, is told in this item from the Toronto Leader, August 1853.

    A case occurred yesterday which might be wrought into a thrilling scene in some future Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

    A runaway slave had succeeded in reaching the state of New York; but when he arrived at Oswego he was closely pursued. He got on board a vessel there which, however, turned out to be bound, not for Canada, but for Youngstown.

    When the fugitive arrived at the last-named place he was in no better position than before. The dread of instant capture urging him on, he secured an old gate and floated himself upon it, expecting to be able to reach the Canadian shore. He, however, got out twelve miles into the lake instead of getting across [the Niagara River close to where it empties into Lake Ontario] to Niagara.

    He was found yesterday on the old gate, 12 miles from shore, by the [steamship] Chief Justice, and by her landed in this city, where he is safe from his pursuers.

    Between 1840 and 1860, more than 30,000 American slaves escaped to freedom in present-day Ontario through the Underground Railroad, with its network of secret routes, safe houses, and the aid of anti-slavery activists. The trailblazer was Josiah Hanson, who arrived a decade earlier. “When my feet first touched Canadian shore, I threw myself on the ground, rolled in the sand, seized handfuls of it and kissed them,” Henson wrote in his autobiography. Hanson and his family endured a long, perilous trek from Kentucky through Indiana, Ohio and New York state before crossing the Niagara River from Buffalo on October 28, 1830. In Canada, Hansen established a large and important farming community for escaped American slaves.

    For more blog items about escaped American slaves in Canada, click these stories: “Black colony in Upper Canada heralds underground railroad;” “Uproar when U.S. seeks extradition of a ‘fugitive slave’;” “Afro-American slaves not always welcomed in Canada.”

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    TAGS: Runaway slaves, Slavery, Freedom, Underground Railroad, Afro-Americans

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