Autobiography of a Fugitive Negro: His Anti-Slavery Labours in the United States, Canada, & England.

ard, Samuel Ringgold

Publication date: 1855


Grade Level  9.6


This text is part of a Unit on the Civil War. More specifically on the causes of the Civil War section of the unit. This is an excerpt from an autobiography of a fugitive slave, who escaped the United States for fear of his life.

Because it is from the point of view of an African American, it should aid with ensuring there are multiple perspectives represented in the classroom, and consequently with the aim of all of the students being represented whenever possible.

The content of the text is Samuel R. Ward, an escaped slave who has been living free in the North, recalling the reason why he chose to flee the United States not long after the Fugitive Slave law was enacted. It relates to history not only because it is a primary source document, but because it gives insight into how something as impersonal as a law effected actual people, and how they made decisions in their lives. It would also suffice to help students comprehend how historian know what they know, through evidence.


There is nothing highlighted and a list would have to be given for new vocabulary. Because this is a primary source and not a textbook, the concepts will be analyzed in class either through discussion or activities. The ideas are expressed clearly, but the writing style is a bit old-fashioned. It should not be so old-fashioned that it will be too difficult to decode.  Again, as it is a primary source there are no learning aids, but that can be developed separately if need be. The text is available online and therefore the format can be changed.  An example of why I might need to make changes would be to change the font for a dyslexic student.


Use in Class

This is primarily for grade level readers, in 11th grade. The students in mind for this reading, however, would be primarily African American students. This is because they need to have more representation in the classroom.

This book would be introduced in the classroom with an excerpt read out loud in a classroom activity. This would be to normalize representation from different perspectives and to emphasize the effects of the Fugitive Slave Law. Some edits would be made for language that would not be appropriate today. There is no language which would be considered inappropriate at the time it was written. It would also be on a list of possible readings for independent reading assignments. For students who choose this, they will read the book in its entirety, outside of class. They must annotate the text, which can be printed, and then write a summary and reflection.

Unit Focus

History/ Civil War


Ward, S. R. (1855). Autobiography of a Fugitive Negro. London: JOHN SNOW, 35, PATERNOSTER ROW.

Excerpt From Book

 In the summer of 1851, business called me to travel in various parts of the country. I visited numerous districts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana,

as well as Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Smarting as we were under the recently passed Fugitive Law–and irritations being inflamed and aggravated by the dragging of some poor victim of it from some Northern town to the South and to slavery, every month or so–of course this law became the theme of most I said and wrote. In October, Mrs. Ward accompanied me in a tour through Ohio. We were about finishing that tour, when we saw in the papers an account of the Gorsuch case, in Christiana, Pennsylvania. That was a case in which the Reverend Mr. Gorsuch went armed to the house of a Negro, in the suburbs of the town named, in search of a slave who had escaped from him. The owner of the house denied him admittance. Several Negroes, armed, stood ready inside the house to defend it against the reverend slave-catcher and his party–the latter declaring his slave was in that house, avowing his determination to have him, if he went to h–ll after him; and, intending to intimidate the Negroes, fired upon the house with a rifle. Fortunately none of the besieged party were killed; but, they returned Mr. Gorsuch’s fire, and he dropped a corpse!

        The authorities arraigned these poor Negroes for murder. They seemed determined to have their blood. Upon reading this, I handed the paper

containing the account to my wife; and we concluded that resistance was fruitless, that the country was hopelessly given to the execution of this barbarous enactment, and that it were vain to hope for the reformation of such a country. At the same time, my secular prospects became exceedingly involved and embarrassed; and willing as I might be to be one of a forlorn hope in the assault upon slavery’s citadel, I had no reasonable prospect of doing so, consistently with my duty to my family. The anti-slavery cause does not, cannot, find bread and education for one’s children. We then jointly determined to wind up our affairs, and go to Canada; and, with the remnant of what might be left to us, purchase a little hut and garden, and pass the remainder of our days in peace, in a free British country.



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