There are three main areas of discussion here: transatlantic travel, transatlantic communication, and escaping slavery.
Using the questions below as starting points, discuss these topics in pairs, groups or as a class. Then click to see the information below each topic and see if it matches your ideas. After your discussions, complete the activities below using the links to other resources on the website.
Discussion Points: Transatlantic Travel
Imagine you were going on holiday to the United States with your family. Which methods of transport would you use on your journey? Think about everything, from your departure from your house to your arrival at your destination. Ask your friends and family: have they ever been to the United States before? How long would the journey take?
Now imagine you wanted to make this journey in the 1850s – how would your journey differ? Would it be longer or shorter, and how much so? Would you use the same methods of transport? Would you travel to and from the same cities? Why do you think this has changed now?
Make a list of the advantages/ disadvantages to travelling across the Atlantic in the mid-nineteenth century. Why do you think transatlantic travel is so much easier now?
There were several technological advancements in the nineteenth century which made travel across the Atlantic much easier. Thanks to the steam boat, it only took 14 days to travel from England to the United States, and vice versa. Have you ever travelled by boat? What was it like?
Because of these developments, several African Americans, who were either previously enslaved, or who were escaping from slavery, were able to travel to England. In England, and most of the British Empire, slavery had been finally abolished by the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, following the Slave Trade Act of 1807 which had outlawed trading in slaves. Here, many of them stayed in or visited Leeds, and spoke to large audiences across Britain about the evils of American slavery. Several of them toured Ireland and Scotland as well, and were able to get the support of the British public to end slavery in the United States.
However, travelling by boat relied on the use of major ports in England and America. One of the most popular routes used by nineteenth-century travellers who wanted to travel from the United States to England was from New York to Liverpool, although many others existed. Nowadays, most people would make journeys between England and the United States by aeroplane. This means that modern-day travellers no longer need to depart from cities which have ports, as most major cities are served by local airports. Travellers from the United States to America therefore no longer have to stop off at New York or Liverpool.
Many of the previously enslaved people who came to England in the nineteenth century spoke in places which you may recognise: click here to see some of the figures who were involved in local anti slavery activity and here to see some places in Leeds which hosted abolitionist meetings.
Discussion Points: Transatlantic Communication
Imagine you have written a message to your friend, who lives in the United States. It is the middle of the nineteenth century and you live in Leeds, England. What method do you use to send this message? What are your options? Which of these is the quickest?
How long would it take to send a message to a friend in the United States now? How would you send this message? Make a list of the ways people keep in touch with relatives and friends who live abroad nowadays.
The transatlantic telegraph was one of the most important advancements of the nineteenth century. What were the advantages of having this link? What is the advantage of knowing news quickly?
Nowadays, much of our written communication with friends or relatives abroad relies on the internet. Many people use Facebook or Twitter to keep friends up to date, or rely on email to send longer messages. Even if we are sending these to the other side of the world, thanks to the internet, these things can be done in a matter of seconds. Of course it is also often very easy to telephone people using either landlines or mobile phones.
Before the advent of the internet, though, sending telegrams was the quickest and most reliable means of sending and receiving information. Although people had dreamt about building a transatlantic telegraph as early as the 1840s, it was not until 1858, with the backing of the British and American governments that the Atlantic Telegraph Company finally succeeded in laying a transatlantic telegraph cable.
What with developments in telegraphy, people could send telegrams to each other quickly, rather than sending letters which took much longer to arrive from different countries. Telegraphs used submerged cables to transmit messages across the Atlantic, and provided a much faster method of transatlantic communication than letter writing. As a result, abolitionist meetings which were held and documented in England soon made the news in the United States. What is the advantage of knowing news quickly?
Discussion Points: Escaping Slavery
What do you think it was like to be an enslaved person on the run?
Escaping from slavery was dangerous, so why do you think so many risked it?
Can you think of any escape methods? How would you make sure you were safe?
What was the Fugitive Slave Law, and what effect do you think this had on those who were still enslaved?
In 1850 the Fugitive Slave Law, also known as the ‘Bloodhound Law,’ was established to recapture any enslaved people found on the run, even if they were in the Free States of the north. Any free citizens who did not comply with this, by failing to recapture the fugitives or helping them escape, was liable to a fine of $1000. The passing of this law made escaping from slavery much more difficult. Despite the increased risk, many fugitives simply altered their plans and planned their escapes to Canada, rather than the Northern states.
There were a great many successful and well-documented escapes, even after the passing of the law, many of which included quite startling disguises.
Now listen to some accounts of escapes from slavery.
The accounts of the escape of the Crafts and Henry "Box" Brown have been adapted from the Leeds Anti-Slavery Series number 35, sold by W. and F.G. Cash, 5 Bishopsgate Street, London; and by Jane Jowett, Friend's Meeting Yard, Leeds. Eliza's escape across the ice and to freedom was one of the most dramatic and reproduced scenes from Uncle Tom's Cabin. Though it is fictional, it is clear that many real escapes were also extremely dramatic and dangerous.
Suggestions for Activities (school activities)
Listen in groups to the stories of famous escape routes. Then imagine you and your friends are planning to escape from slavery, and discuss possible escape routes. When would you escape? Where would you go? How could you make sure you weren't recognised? Make a detailed plan and storyboard of your ideas.
Listen to any one of the stories of the well known escapes from slavery, noting down any important details. Make an illustration of your favourite escape plan, using the notes you have made.
Imagine you are on the run from slavery. Write a diary entry of the night of your escape, including details of your plan, and your feelings about fleeing slavery. What are your feelings about leaving behind the people you loved?
Have a look at the biographies of figures associated with local antislavery activity in Leeds and England. Using the information provided, make a timeline of important events, such as births, deaths, and relevant publications.
Click on this link to the animated carriage tour of Leeds, and play it. Look out particularly for street names and buildings. Do you recognise any of the places in the tour?
Have a look at our photo gallery here. Did you know that these places were sites of anti-slavery activity?