Virtual Field Trip of Underground Railroad in New Bedford, MA

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People of color in New Bedford

Finally, the city was home to a large population of color. In 1850, people of color were 6.3 percent of the city's population, a greater proportion than prevailed in Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia. Between 1850 and 1855, when the threat of capture after the Fugitive Slave Law had diminished the black population of many citites, New Bedford's actually grew, from 6.3 to 7.5 percent of the total population. And fully 30 percent of New Bedford's people of African descent in 1850 were born in the South, compared to 15 percent of New York's black population and 16 percent of Boston's at the time. This African-American community was active in antislavery reform since at least the 1820s. It founded the city's antislavery society in the fall of 1833. When Frederick Douglass arrived in 1838 he found New Bedford's people of color "much more spirited than I had supposed they would be. I found among them a determination to protect each other from the blood-thirsty kidnapper, at all hazards." In 1855 he wrote: "No colored man is really free in a slaveholding state. He wears the badge of bondage while nominally free, and is often subjected to hardships to which the slave is a stranger; but here in New Bedford, it was my good fortune to see a pretty near approach to freedom on the part of the colored people."

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