The reverse underground railroad—the black market underworld in which legally free people were kidnapped and traded as slaves—has been thrust into the public spotlight with the recent release of the critically acclaimed film 12 Years a Slave.
This practice, which has since been largely forgotten, is one of slavery’s darkest secrets.
Dr. Richard Bell will tell the story of the trials of five free black boys kidnapped from Philadelphia in 1825 who were packed off in convoy to the Cotton Kingdom for sale as slaves, only to escape, return and join a manhunt to bring their former captors to justice. In this lecture, Bell will examine the reasons why abduction for sale had become rampant in Philadelphia by 1825. He will also discuss these boys' experience of kidnapping and forced migration, and the extraordinary efforts of leading Philadelphians, both black and white, to secure their liberation.
Bell is Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, College Park. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University and his BA from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of We Shall Be No More: Suicide and Self-Government in the Newly United States (2012) and the co-editor of Buried Lives: Incarcerated in Early America (2012). He is currently at work on a new book-length micro-history about kidnapping and the domestic slave trade.