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University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth (North Dartmouth, MA 02747-2300)
Timothy D. Walker (Project Director: March 2012 to August 2014)

Landmarks of American History and Culture
Education Programs

$179,986 (approved)
$175,087 (awarded)

Grant period:
10/1/2012 – 12/31/2013

Sailing to Freedom: New Bedford and the Underground Railroad

Two one-week workshops for eighty school teachers on abolitionism in its maritime context in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Two one-week workshops for eighty school teachers on abolitionism in its maritime context in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The program examines New Bedford as a locus for abolitionism and the Underground Railroad, treating the city as a lens through which to view great challenges facing nineteenth-century America. During this period, New Bedford became one of America's most cosmopolitan cities, as well as a preeminent whaling port. While its maritime trade drew diverse populations of immigrants, it also transported to freedom fugitive African Americans in ship cargo holds. With its significant Quaker population, New Bedford emerged as a hub of both reform society and abolitionist activity. As Kathryn Grover captures in her book, The Fugitive's Gibraltar: Escaping Slaves and Abolitionism in New Bedford, Massachusetts, New Bedford was "not so much a stop along the Underground Railroad, but rather a terminus--a community where ex-slaves knew they could settle and prosper." Project director Timothy Walker (University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth), a maritime and slave trade historian, has assembled a diverse faculty, including historians Grover, John Stauffer (Harvard University), and Jeffrey Bolster (University of New Hampshire), and local poet laureate Everett Hoagland. Each day, experts connect lectures and discussions with close studies of original documents, objects, and architecture. For example, after lectures on New Bedford's early history and the maritime trade, teachers examine rare maritime guides, captains' logs, and mariners' scrimshaw sculpture. On another day, Len Travers (University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth) trains participants to work with primary documents and material objects as historical evidence. Primary readings include census data, fugitive slave narratives, and the speeches and letters of Frederick Douglass; secondary readings include works by several of the visiting scholars, such as Jeffrey Bolster's Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail.