Correspondence between Philip Schwarz and James Foley concerning this review.

Philip J. Schwarz. Migrants Against Slavery: Virginians and the
Nation  Charlottesville and London, England: University Press of Virginia,
2001.  xii + 250pp. Illustrations, tables, map, notes, and index. $ 38.50
(cloth), ISBN 0-8139-2008-6.

Reviewed for H-SOUTH by James C. Foley,, Department of
History, University of Mississippi.

Migrants Against Slavery in Black and White

Philip J. Schwarz, Professor of History at Virginia Commonwealth
University, is no stranger to the topic of slavery in Virginia. His two
previous books,  Twice Condemned: Slaves and the Criminal Laws of Virginia,
1705-1865 (Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1988) and  Slave Laws in Virginia
(Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1996), address the relationship of
slavery to the legal system of Virginia.  His present book examines a
different aspect of slavery, namely black and white Virginians who migrated
from the Old Dominion and slavery to the Old Northwest, other parts of the
North, and to Canada, between 1750 and 1860.

    Some Virginians successfully fled from slavery and began new lives while
others did not.  Migration was important because of its impact not only on
Virginia but also on the nation.  One need only think of Dred Scott and
Anthony Burns to realize the impact Virginia-born slaves had on antebellum
American politics and the growing sectional controversy.  There is more to
this story though than Dred Scott and Anthony Burns.  Professor Schwarz
explores the lives of Virginians, both famous and obscure, who contributed
to the national debate over slavery and anti-slavery.  What he finds is a
dual process of identity formation, one individual and one national.  As
they migrated from slavery, former Virginians, black and white, shaped a
new identity for themselves in free territory.  This process of migration
also shaped the larger national identity as the nation wrestled with its
jarring contrasts of freedom and slavery which defined the North and the

    Another theme of this book is the shifting frontier of slavery.  Schwarz
does not address the Turner thesis as directly as do David Hackett Fischer
and James C. Kelly, who argue that the frontier was a safety-valve for the
institution of slavery. [1]  Schwarz asserts that the frontier may also
have been anti-slavery, or to put it another way, a safety-valve for
freedom (my phraseology).  He offers the possibility that the expanding
free frontier, especially the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and
Illinois, may have counterbalanced an expanding slave South by offering the
enticement of freedom and a better life to fugitive slaves and free blacks
from Virginia.  Within Virginia, there were also frontiers of freedom, such
as during the Civil War when Union armies approached slaveholding districts
and offered safe refuge for fugitive slaves.

    The book is divided into two parts.  In the Introduction, Schwarz lays out
his thesis on the importance of migration from Virginia.  He cites
statistical evidence that illustrates the large numbers of Virginia-born
free persons, both white and black, who lived outside the state,
particularly in the North.  In the first three chapters, Schwarz discusses
the experiences of the fugitive slaves as a group and the impact their
migration had on Virginia and the nation.  The next four chapters discuss
individual migrants and their families and the degree of success they had
in escaping from slavery as well as the impact their departure had on
Virginia.  Schwarz discusses the lives of several Virginians: George
Boxley, a white man who fled after an aborted 1816 slave conspiracy; the
Gilliams, a free family of color who left Virginia for a better life and a
new identity; the former slaves of Samuel Gist who had to migrate to Ohio
after their emancipation and the struggles they encountered in their new
homes; and the families of Dangerfield Newby, a freed slave who wished to
liberate his enslaved family but lacked the money to do so.  In the hope of
liberating his family, Newby joined John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry but
he died in the attack.  A brief conclusion then summarizes the major
arguments of the book.

    Schwarz's study includes whites, free blacks, and fugitive slaves. He
argues that the migration of each group, out of state and away from
slavery, hurt Virginia.  By the 1850 and 1860 censuses there were several
hundred thousand such migrants.  White Virginians typically migrated from
east to west or south to north, heading toward free territory such as the
states of Ohio, Indiana, or Illinois. Some whites left because they were
opposed to slavery, some left for economic gain, while still others sought
"white land" where they would not be surrounded by blacks. Schwarz asserts
that the loss of these whites decreased the free population of the state
and thus deprived Virginia of representation in the House of
Representatives in Washington, D.C., which also reduced the political power
of the state within the nation.

    The departure of these migrants also lessened the opposition to slavery
within Virginia. This is particularly true with regard to George Boxley,
whom many white Virginians suspected of lending a helping hand to an 1816
slave conspiracy.  Boxley escaped from Virginia and the law and fled to
Ohio and Indiana, where he assisted runaway slaves and taught children the
principles of abolitionism.  His distance from Virginia, though, rendered
him ineffective in the struggle against slavery.

    Free blacks were another important group of migrants.  The number of free
blacks in Virginia doubled between 1810 and 1860.  Many free blacks
remained within the state, yet some chose to leave.  A number of free
blacks believed that their "political and civic status would not improve in
the Old Dominion" (p. 69). Free black migrants sought "black land,"
farmland for themselves away from whites, but they often ran into
land-hungry white settlers who did not want them in the area.  Free blacks
also left Virginia because of declining economic opportunity, hostility
from whites (especially after the Nat Turner revolt in 1831), as well as
the 1806 law that forbade freed slaves from remaining within Virginia for
more than one year after their manumission.  Many free blacks though
settled in Ohio and Pennsylvania, including the former slaves of Samuel
Gist.  The former Gist slaves encountered racial  hostility from their new
white neighbors in Ohio and racial discrimination from their Virginia
trustees.  Schwarz notes the problem of dependency that the former Gist
slaves faced. White trustees, such as William Fanning Wickham, saw
themselves as benevolent paternalists, whose duty it was to care for their
charges and make decisions for them because they believed the freed slaves
incapable of managing their own affairs.  Those former Gist slaves who
remained on these settlements continued to face dependency at the hands of
their Virginia trustees, while those who left the settlements for jobs
elsewhere in Ohio gained a measure of independence.

    Schwarz hypothesizes that had they stayed in Virginia, free blacks may have
pressed to retain their rights, but at the cost of a subordinate
socioeconomic status as well as the risk of physical violence. A good
example of a free person of color (Schwarz's term) who believed he would
fare better outside Virginia was George T. Gilliam.  Born of a white father
and a black mother, Gilliam was one-fourth black but appeared to be
white.  In Virginia, the law considered him to be black.  He owned land,
slaves, and enjoyed connections to the local gentry through his
father.  Following the Nat Turner revolt in 1831, Gilliam moved to
Pennsylvania, and then to Illinois, and eventually to Missouri.  When he
left Virginia, he left his black identity behind and began passing as a
white man, something he could not do in Virginia.  His children also
entered white society, particularly those of his second wife, who was
white.  To his children of this latter union, George Gilliam was a
respected white doctor and abolitionist.  This belief was the product of a
conscious effort by Gilliam to limit the number of people who knew of his
African-American roots.  To achieve this passing into white society, George
Gilliam had to leave Virginia.

    Virginia slaves who wished to run away from their masters had two
advantages lacked by slaves in states further south. First, Virginia was
the oldest slave society in America, which gave slaves a tradition of
running away as well as knowledge about how best to accomplish their
goal.  Free blacks, especially sailors, and an active Underground Railroad
operation within the state helped spirit slaves out of Virginia.  Second,
Virginia's geography was an important factor.  Virginia was near northern
states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio. It is no surprise then that those two
states had the highest percentage of accused runaway slaves between 1850
and 1860. Natural geographic features, such as rivers, also offered slaves,
particularly in urban areas such as Richmond, a water route to free cities
such as Philadelphia and New York.

    Despite those advantages, Schwarz notes that most slaves remained in
Virginia before the Civil War.  It was one thing to wish for freedom.  It
was something else to obtain it.  Fugitive slaves had to find the right
route to freedom, establish good communications with those who would aid
their escape, and take advantage of special opportunities, such as war,
transportation improvements, and changes in the laws of northern states.  A
number of slaves followed family members to freedom.  Some slaves, however,
fled alone, leaving behind their loved ones.  Wishing to reunite their
families was a powerful motive for both fugitives and freed slaves.

    Fugitive slaves presented a very real problem to their slaveholders and to
the nation.  A fugitive slave represented an economic loss to the
slaveholder, a legal problem for the owner and Virginia, which in turn
involved other states, and an act of self-will by the slave.  The slave
thus displayed agency and humanity when he or she ran away, a troubling
development for a slaveholder.  The slaves' actions revealed the impact
fugitives could have on the "national drama concerning race and slavery -
an impact out of all proportion to their numbers" (p. 40).  The problem of
runaways led Virginia and other southern states to pressure the federal
government to pass fugitive slave laws in 1793 and 1850.  Northern
resistance to these laws only heightened the fears of slaveholders, who
worried that fugitive slaves might be lost forever.  As a result, sectional
tensions over the issue of slavery rose appreciably after 1850 as two
sections, one free and one slave, yet both American, stood facing one
another. The efforts of fugitive slaves to forge new identities apart from
slavery compelled the nation to examine its own split identity.

    Philip Schwarz has written a clear, convincing account of the important
role these migrants against slavery played in the history of Virginia and
the nation.  The book cuts across disciplinary and methodological lines as
Schwarz utilizes sources for legal and political history, as well as social
and family history.  This book is thoroughly researched with court and
legal records, tax records, census records, as well as family papers and
histories.  Schwarz also mines existing scholarship from monographs,
articles, theses, dissertations, and conference papers to complement his
primary research.  This book would make an excellent choice not only for
courses in southern history or the history of slavery, but also for a
course on historical methods.

    Having praised the book, I do have a few quibbles.  First, there is no map
of Virginia in the book.  For a study that makes geography an important
factor in explaining why Virginians migrated against slavery, this seems a
curious omission.  A map with county names and important topographical
features that illustrates the distances and terrain that slaves would have
encountered would be a welcome addition.  Second, Schwarz mentions the lack
of evidence to explain white migration against slavery.  "We cannot
regularly determine exactly which of the migrants from Virginia to free
soil acted by conviction rather than by necessity or interest" (p.
8).  This lack of specific evidence applies most particularly to
nonslaveholding whites, who often left few records of their lives.  One
solution that might help overcome this dilemma is one which Schwarz
mentions only briefly.  Residents of the northwestern counties of Virginia
took advantage of the Union Army's occupation in 1861 to vote to secede
from Virginia and form the state of West Virginia, which entered the Union
in 1863.  Perhaps there are newspaper editorials or letters of the
principals behind this secessionist movement which would shed light on the
motives for this wartime migration against slavery.  These two quibbles
aside, this is a fine book which every student of the antebellum South and
slavery ought to read.

[1] David Hackett Fischer and James C. Kelly.  Bound Away: Virginia and
the Westward Movement.  Charlottesville and London, England: University
Press of Virginia, 2000.

Philip J. Schwarz's reply to James C. Foley's review of Schwarz, Migrants
Against Slavery: Virginians and the Nation.

    I would like to thank James Foley for his comprehensive and thoughtful
review of my book. Mr. Foley recognizes the hybrid nature of  Migrants
Against Slavery. It is part Virginia history and part U.S. history (and to
a lesser extent, Canadian history). The reviewer has correctly noticed the
massive movement of Virginians to other states and territories. When David
Hackett Fischer and James C. Kelly wrote about this migration in Away, I'm
Bound Away (Richmond: Virginia Historical Society, 1993), their catalog of
a 1993-1994 Virginia Historical Society exhibit on Virginians' movement to
the west, they could not help but notice that an unexpectedly large
proportion -- roughly 50 percent -- of ex-Virginians settled in free rather
than slave states.

    As written, however, the reviewer's statement that white "Virginians
typically migrated from east to west or south to north, heading toward free
territory such as the states of Ohio, Indiana, or Illinois" is open to the
mistaken impression that those former Old Dominion residents traveled only
to free states. As James Foley knows, about the same proportion relocated
in slave states, indicating that Old Dominion residents had to decide not
only whether to leave their homes but also if they would to go a free or
slave state.

    Mr. Foley notices my concern with missing explanatory evidence about
migrants' motives. It was fortunate that I was able to find the evidence I
did in the stories of several individuals and groups. There is clearly more
evidence that could be mined from numerous manuscript collections -- a
research task that was only partly possible for me. There are also recently
published studies such as Stephen Vincent's  Southern Seed, Northern Soil:
African-American Farm Communities in the Midwest, 1765-190 (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1999) that are adding to our understanding of
migrants' motives.

    I appreciate the reviewer's suggestion that one could investigate the
motives of West Virginian statehood advocates during the Civil War as an
example of antislavery migration -- albeit migration of a different sort
than I studied.

    I included no map of Virginia. I relied on a 1998 road atlas as my source
concerning locations and distances involved in people's escapes from
slavery. That seemed good enough for me. But readers would undoubtedly
benefit from maps in the book itself (other than the 19th-century map of
southwestern Ohio that I did include.)

    I must point out that the reviewer's statement that "following the Nat
Turner revolt in 1831, [George T.] Gilliam moved to Pennsylvania, and then
to Illinois, and eventually to Missouri" is geographically correct but errs
concerning the timing I suggested for Gilliam's departure from Virginia. As
I indicated on p. 105 and p. 213 n. 6, Gilliam and his family probably
moved out of their native state in spring 1831, perhaps motivated by the
April passage and June implementation of a Virginia law against gatherings
of free and enslaved African Americans to be taught to read or write. This
timing -- several months before Nat Turner's Rebellion -- may therefore
have been quite important.

    Fascination with one's subject is an obvious necessity for anyone who
embarks on a long course of research. The many migrants against slavery
never failed to hold my attention for some years. I thank James Foley for
finding some of that fascination in my book.

Philip J. Schwarz
Department of History
Virginia Commonwealth University

I appreciate the thoughtful reply of Professor Philip Schwarz to my review.
He is correct when he writes that approximately half of all Virginians
migrated to other slave states. In my review of the book I had originally
included some statistical evidence which documented this movement, but it
seemed awkward and unwieldy and thus it was deleted. Having said that, the
review limits itself to migration to free states.

With regard to George Gilliam and his family, Professor Schwarz is quite
correct. My review pointed out that a number of free blacks left Virginia
in the wake of Nat Turner's revolt, and I erred when I included Gilliam in
this group. Gilliam and his family left as restrictions on free blacks
grew, a trend that only gained momentum after August of 1831.

I appreciate Professor Schwarz's comments about a map of Virginia. I would
simply reiterate that if a second edition of this fine book comes off the
presses, I would push for a map to be included. I find that many college
students today are not as knowledgeable when it comes to geography as were
previous generations. The inclusion of a map would help them locate towns,
counties, and important topographical features, such as rivers and
mountains. I also think that the inclusion of a map will broaden the appeal
of this book to scholars who are not specialists in Virginia history.

Finally, I hope Professor Schwarz continues his research in white migration
from slavery. The secession of the western Virginia counties in 1861, into
what became West Virginia in 1863, is an important and relatively
unexplored topic. What were the most important factors in this secession
movement? Opposition to slavery? Long-standing grievances against eastern
planters? The proximity of Union troops? If it is the latter, we might see
an interesting parallel with what occurred as the Union Army moved into the
slaveholding regions of the South. In those cases, slaves fled their
plantations in large numbers in the search for freedom. Perhaps white
Virginians in the western counties did something similar. I hope Professor
Schwarz can answer these questions for us. I look forward to reading more
from him about this exciting topic.

James Foley
University of Mississippi