Oxford AASC: Photo Essay

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PHOTO ESSAY

The Underground Railroad

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The Branded Hand

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Whereas abettors of fugitive slaves in the North might have faced fines or short imprisonment, collaborators caught in the South could be subjected to brutal retribution. (That is if they were white; the punishment for black accomplices was often death.) In one well-documented case from 1844, white Massachusetts captain Jonathan Walker was overtaken at sea while attempting to transport seven slaves from Florida to the Bahamas, where, per act of the British Parliament, slavery had been abolished ten years earlier. Walker was first imprisoned in Key West, then taken to Pensacola to stand trial, where he was convicted, jailed, and pilloried. Additionally, his right hand was branded with the initials SS for "slave stealer." Fellow abolitionists helped secure his release after eleven months, and Walker's tribulations became a rallying cry for the antislavery movement. Poet John G. Whittier's ode "The Branded Hand" helped disseminate Walker's story, and in 1846 Walker published The Trial and Imprisonment of Jonathan Walker through the Boston Anti-Slavery Office.

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