Fugitive Slave Act

This picture of a poor fugitive is from one of the stereotype cuts manufactured in this city for the southern market, and used on handbills offering rewards for runaway slaves. The Anti-Slavery Record, Vol. III, No. VII. July, 1837. Whole No. 31.

As if the Underground Railroad and escaping to freedom were not perilous enough already, the "Fugitive Slave Act" complicated matters even further. 

Slave catching and slave taking was a deeply entrenched part of slavery, with groups and individuals always on the look out or employed to hunt down specific freedom seekers. Slave agents employed many, including African Americans, to run down those trying to escape. David Ruggles, a black abolitionist from New York City, "identified several blacks working for slave agents...Ruggles cited two other black men, John Wallace of Staten Island and Ned Shores, who had several aliases." (Quoted from David Ruggles: A Radical Black Abolitionist and the Underground Railroad in New York City, by Graham Russell Gao Hodges).

However, with the 1850 "Fugitive Slave Act," any person in the vicinity could be asked to aid in slave catching, and would then be required to help or face steep penalties, including jail time. The act complicated matters for the freedom seekers, and for those trying to aid them on the journey.

The images below depict the Fugitive Slave Act in action.

"Operations of the fugitive-slave law." Courtesy of The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs. New York Public Library Digital Collections.
A political cartoon titled "Effects of the Fugitive Slave Law". It depicts four escaped slaves being recaptured by armed white men. Below are excerpts from the Bible and the Declaration of Independence that were used to argue against the law. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.