Books: Non-Fiction

South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War

Book — Non-fiction. By Alice L. Baumgartner. 2020. 384 pages.
The story of why Mexico abolished slavery and how its increasingly radical antislavery policies fueled the sectional crisis in the United States.
Time Periods: Early 19th Century: 1800 - 1849
Themes: Immigration, Laws & Citizen Rights, World History/Global Studies

In South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War, author Alice L. Baumgartner says Mexico in the 19th century is rarely given credit for its role in providing a safe haven for those who had escaped slavery, and is often regarded as “a place defined by poverty and political instability and violence.”

Book cover showing enslaved resistanceIn a 2021 interview on NPR’s All Things Considered, Baumgarner says,

This history is to me most surprising because it shows us the side of Mexico as a place that actually was contributing to global debates about slavery and freedom.

The NPR report continues,

From the 1830s up to emancipation, she estimates 3,000 to 5,000 enslaved people fled south and crossed over to free Mexican soil. That is far fewer than the estimated 30,000 to 100,000 enslaved people who crossed the Mason-Dixon line to reach free northern states and Canada.

But from the vantage of an East Texas plantation, liberty was a lot closer in Mexico.

Enslaved sailors and stowaways from New Orleans and Galveston, Texas, jumped ship in Mexican ports. Slaves drove wagons of cotton to market in Brownsville, Texas, and then slipped across the muddy river to Matamoros, Mexico. But their main mode of transportation was on horseback traversing the vast, feral stretches of South Texas down to the border. [Continue to read more.]

ISBN: 9781541617766 | Basic Books

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