This Day in History

April 27, 1860: Harriet Tubman Helped Rescue Charles Nalle

Time Periods: 1850
Themes: African American, Art & Music, Racism & Racial Identity, Slavery and Resistance

“The Altruist” by Mark Priest, 2008. Posted here with permission of the artist. Click image to learn more.

Source: Click image to learn more.

On April 27, 1860 in Troy, New York, Harriet Tubman helped rescue Charles Nalle, a fugitive from slavery.

Charles Nalle had managed to escape Virginia and travel north on the Underground Railroad. (In brutal retribution, his brothers were “sold down river,” never to be heard from again.)

The best course for someone who had escaped from slavery was to flee to Canada, because under the draconian Fugitive Slave Law, even free states were not safe for them.

But Charles, hoping to connect with [his wife] Kitty and their children, stopped in Albany, and later in Troy. There he was betrayed and grabbed in the street by a Federal Marshal.

While Nalle was being held in an upper floor of a building, Harriet Tubman — who just happened to be visiting Troy — got wind of the situation and rushed to the scene. Disguising herself as an old woman, she managed to get to Nalle, and signaled him to exit through the window. A large crowd had gathered below, and a great melee ensued, the upshot being that Charles was brought down from the window and hustled across the river to Watervliet.

But that wasn’t the denouement. Charles was re-arrested in Watervliet. Then Tubman and a crowd of African Americans and whites together also crossed the river and stormed the building where he was being held for the second time and, through gunfire, liberated him. Ultimately, money was raised to buy his freedom for $650. That was in effect his fourth liberation.

This description is excerpted from a talk about Charles Nalle by Scott Christianson, author of Freeing Charles: The Struggle to Free a Slave on the Eve of the Civil War (University of Illinois Press, 2010).