Reverse Underground Railroad

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The Reverse Underground Railroad is the term used for the pre-American Civil War practice of kidnapping free blacks from free states and transporting them into the slave states for sale as slaves. The name is a reference to the Underground Railroad, the informal network of abolitionists and sympathizers who helped to smuggle escaped slaves to freedom, generally in Canada.


From 1811-1829, Martha "Patty" Cannon was the leader of a gang that kidnapped slaves and free blacks from the Delmarva Peninsula of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia and transported and sold them to plantation owners located further south. She was indicted for four murders in 1829 and died in prison while awaiting trial, purportedly a suicide via poison.

In the 1820s-1830s, John A. Murrell, who led an outlaw gang in western Tennessee, was once caught with a freed slave living on his property. His tactics were to kidnap slaves from their plantations, promise them their freedom, and instead, sell them back to other slave owners. In 1834, Murrell was sentenced to ten years in the Tennessee State Penitentiary for slave-stealing.

John Hart Crenshaw was a large landowner, salt maker, and slave trader, from the 1820s-1850s, based out of Gallatin County, Illinois. Although Illinois was a free state, Crenshaw leased the salt works in nearby Equality, Illinois from the U.S. Government, which permitted the use of slaves for the arduous labor of hauling and boiling brackish water, from local salt springs, to produce salt. Due to Crenshaw's keeping and "breeding" of slaves and kidnapping of free blacks, who were then pressed into slavery, his house became popularly known as The Old Slave House and is alleged to be haunted.

See also[edit]


  • Collins, Winfield Hazlitt. The domestic slave trade of the southern states. Broadway Publishing Company, 1904.
  • Giles, Ted. Patty Cannon: Woman of Mystery. Easton Publishing Company, 1965.
  • Henry, Hollow Meadoes. The police control of the slave in South Carolina. Vanderbilt University, 1914.
  • Musgrave, Jon. Slaves, Salt, Sex and Mr. Crenshaw: The Real Story of the Old Slave House and America's Reverse Underground R. R., 2004.
  • Penick, James L. The great western land pirate: John A. Murrell in legend and history. University of Missouri Press, 1981.
  • Phares, Ross. Reverend Devil: Master Criminal of the Old South. Publisher Pelican Publishing, 1941.
  • Stewart, Virgil A. The history of Virgil A. Stewart: and his adventure in capturing and exposing the great "western land pirate" and his gang... Harper and Brothers, 1836.
  • Wellman, Paul L. Spawn of Evil. Doubleday and Company, 1964.
  • Wilson, Carol. Freedom at Risk: The Kidnapping of Free Blacks in America, 1780-1865. University Press of Kentucky, 1994.

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