Cover image for Subversives : antislavery community in Washington, D.C., 1828-1865


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E445.D6 H27 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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While many scholars have examined the slavery disputes in the halls of Congress, Subversives is the first history of practical abolitionism in the streets, homes, and places of business of the nation's capital. Historian Stanley Harrold looks beyond resolutions, platforms, and debates to describe how desperate African Americans - both free and slave - and sympathetic whites engaged in a dangerous day-to-day campaign to drive the peculiar institution out of Washington, D.C., and the Chesapeake region. That slavery was both vulnerable and vicious in Washington is at the heart of Harrold's study. As economic changes caused slavery's decline in the Chesapeake and masters dismembered slave families by selling them South, local African Americans sought and received the support of a small number of whites eager to strike a blow against slavery in a strategic and very symbolic setting. Together they formed a subversive community that flourished in and about the city from the late 1820s through the mid-1860s. Risking beatings, mob violence, imprisonment, and death, these men and women distributed abolitionist literature, purchased the freedom of slaves, sued to prevent families from being

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Choice Review

This important book narrates the activities of white northerners and black southerners to eradicate all aspects of slavery in the District of Columbia and its environs. Described by Harrold (South Carolina State Univ.) as a "subversive antislavery community," this biracial group of men and women--journalists, politicians, teachers, ministers, and rank-and-file Americans--operated in Washington and its vicinity from 1828 until 1865 despite the wrath and power of slaveholders. They engaged in a variety of activities, clandestine as well as public. Schooling was offered to young black women, the freedom of some slaves was purchased, and the legal system was used to defend the rights of African Americans. Especially important was the assistance given to runaway slaves. Harrold asserts that the work of these men and women, together with that of abolitionists in the North, was instrumental in promoting the Civil War. Although this association of whites and blacks was marred by a combination of white paternalism and racism, it stands as a positive example of biracial cooperation. This well-researched and well-written work, complemented by an annotated list of sources, is a welcome addition to the ranks of antislavery studies. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. All levels and collections. L. B. Gimelli emeritus, Eastern Michigan University