"The Underground Railroad in the Adirondack Region" by Tom Calarco

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In “The Underground Railroad in the Adirondack Region,” Tom Calarco painstakingly builds a weighty narrative of abolitionist fervor and illicit transportation of runaway slaves in Upstate New York in the 1830s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. It’s an illuminating and intriguing read.

Mr. Calarco shows how, against the backdrop of faith-based reform movements – suffrage, temperance, and abolition – the growth of abolitionist sentiment generated a very active clergy and legal community which helped runaways. He also recounts the additional hardships placed on coloreds – the accepted term at the time – which pervasive racial prejudice imposed.
I had never explored this subject before. Here are some of the aspects of the movement Mr. Calarco brought to light for me:
  • The abolitionists were divided among themselves: various factions favored a “whatever means necessary” approach to immediate abolition, while others thought such militant talk was dangerous and counterproductive. They did agree, however, that abolition should be immediate and universal. 
  • Abolitionists did not immediately split from the colonization movement (which favored relocation of blacks to Africa and support for their government there), but ultimately learned of the movement’s racial hatred and reactionary nature, and avowed their opposition. 
  • One odd aspect of the movement: its adherents were quite slow to pursue political action to achieve its ends, but this is perhaps because of the very long odds they faced in that arena.
Along the way, we get an up-close view of the stiff-backed and uncompromising John Brown, some of whose opinions even Frederick Douglass found objectionable; the frightening practice of kidnapping, by which slave hunters abducted free blacks and sold them into slavery; the insights of the intuitive and charismatic Sojourner Truth.

Mr. Calarco tells us the Underground Railroad story of Upstate, particularly eastern, New York State has been omitted from the history texts; well, now there is no longer any excuse for that. Closely researched and engagingly told, Mr. Calarco’s work very ably fills the gap for those of us lucky enough pick it up. Recommended.

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