Terms like “slave stampede” or “stampede of slaves” began appearing in American newspapers in the late 1840s, as a way to describe larger groups of Black freedom seekers moving together toward liberation, sometimes armed and ready to defend themselves.  Both Northern and Southern newspapers tended to portray these group escapes as powerful forms of mobile insurrections. The term spread quickly during the fugitive crisis of the 1850s, and eventually became a staple of the sectional debate.  This website contains over 1,000 newspaper articles and hundreds of other primary sources detailing nearly 200 attempted stampedes mainly from across the Upper South between 1847 and 1865.  Our initial focus (2018-23) has been on eastern Missouri and the numerous group escapes that occurred across the Missouri borderlands.  In our second phase (2022-25), we will be focusing on similar antebellum era and wartime stampedes from across Kentucky and its borderlands. Slave stampedes are not well known today and clearly have been underestimated as a concept for classroom study and historic preservation.  Yet the recurring specter of large group escapes should be regarded as one of the more potent Black-led contributions to the destruction of American slavery. 

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Partially colorized image of an 1857 slave stampede

Slave Stampedes, 1847 - 1865

Project Founder Deanda Johnson on Slave Stampedes