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PHOTO ESSAY

The Underground Railroad

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Lewis Hayden

Courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society

A slave brought to freedom by the Underground Railroad, Lewis Hayden would go on to become one of the antislavery movement's most militant activists. In 1844 Hayden escaped Lexington, Kentucky, with the help of abolitionist minister Calvin Fairbanks—an associate of Levi Coffin—who smuggled Hayden to Ohio before sending him to Ontario. Hayden settled in Boston two years later and became a successful clothing retailer; by 1855, he was considered one of the richest African Americans in the city. After his arrival he immediately took up the abolitionist cause, serving on the executive board of the Boston Vigilance Committee and frequently hiding groups of fugitive slaves in his Beacon Hill home. Nevertheless, his most well-known efforts concern his open opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. In the case of Shadrach Minkins, Hayden, along with a group of like-minded residents, forcibly removed Minkins from the courtroom where he was to stand trial for leaving his Norfolk owners. Within six days Minkins arrived in Montreal; Hayden was arrested but not convicted for his role in the escape. In another instance, Hayden threatened to detonate gunpowder kegs stored in his basement if slave catchers entered to apprehend runaways William and Ellen Craft.

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