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Militant Abolitionists Rescue a Fugitive Enslaved Man in Troy, New York

Militant black and white abolitionists organized opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act. In 1859 Harriet Tubman, a former enslaved person and leader of the underground railroad, played a central role in rescuing Charles Nalle. Nalle, who had run away from Virginia and was caught in Troy, New York, where he was ordered to return home under the conditions of the Act. Defying police and a judge, Tubman and others snatched Nalle from his captors and delivered him to safety. Nalle's lawyer, Martin Townsend, tells how it happened.

When Nalle was brought to Commissioner Beach's office into the street, Harriet Tubman, who had been standing with the excited crowd, Nalle, and running one of her arms around his manacled arm, held onto him without even loosening her hold through the more than half-hour's the dock, where Nalle's liberation was accomplished.  In the melee, she was repeatedly beaten over the head with policemen's clubs, but she never for a moment released her hold.  

True, she had strong and earnest helpers in her struggle, some of whom had white faces as well as human hearts...But she exposed herself o the fury of sympathizers with slavery, without fear, and suffered their blows without flinching.  Harriet crossed the river with the crowd, in the ferry boat, and when the men who led the assault upon the door of Judge Stewart's office were stricken down, Harriet and a number of other colored women rushed over their bodies, brought Nalle out, and putting him on the first wagon passing, started him for the West.  

Source | Martin Townsend, quoted in Sara Bradford, ed., Harriet, the Moses of Her People (New York: Geo. R. Lockwood & Son, 1886).
Creator | Martin Townsend
Item Type | Book (excerpt)
Cite This document | Martin Townsend, “Militant Abolitionists Rescue a Fugitive Enslaved Man in Troy, New York,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 2, 2023,

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