Overview. During the summer of 2018, the National Park Service (NPS) and its Network to Freedom program began a cooperative agreement with the House Divided Project at Dickinson College designed to investigate the concept of “slave stampedes” with a focus on Eastern Missouri and escapes from there into the greater Missouri borderland.  This website, launched at the end of 2020, represents the completion of the first phase of this initiative and includes an online report accompanied by various resources, such as interactive maps, videos, and an underlying database of sources.  These are now freely available resources for sharing under a Creative Commons license.  They are designed to help spark further classroom and site-based discussions and more expansive scholarly research into this national phenomenon.

Origins and Definition. The term “slave stampede” or “stampede of slaves” began appearing in American newspapers in the late 1840s, but spread quickly during the fugitive crisis of the 1850s, and eventually became a staple of sectional debate, especially after John Brown’s raids in 1858 and 1859 and throughout the Civil War era.  Participants and observers seemed to use the concept in diverse ways: sometimes to describe serial escapes by individuals or pairs, sometimes to describe either spontaneous or planned small group escapes of 3 or more people, and yet most often to define a special type of mass escape involving a dozen or more, often armed, bands of enslaved people heading defiantly toward freedom.  The term thus represented for them something deeper than a vague or localized reference to group flight, but rather became weighted down with obvious revolutionary meaning.  It seems clear that modern-day teachers and scholars should consider trying to situate the idea of slave stampedes more consciously within the taxonomy of American slave resistance, probably somewhere between “day-to-day resistance” and “servile insurrection.” 

Our Team


Matthew Pinsker (House Divided) is a Professor of History and Pohanka Chair for Civil War History at Dickinson College, where he also serves as Director of the House Divided Project. Pinsker graduated from Harvard College and received a D.Phil. degree in Modern History from the University of Oxford.  He has held visiting fellowships with the New America Foundation in Washington, DC, the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, PA, and the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. He is the author of two books and numerous articles on Abraham Lincoln and various topics in the Civil War era and the history of slavery.  Pinsker will serve as principal investigator (PI) for the slave stampedes project.

Deanda Johnson (National Park Service), PhD, is currently the Midwest Regional Coordinator for the National Park Service Network to Freedom Program in Omaha, Nebraska. She joined the program in 2010. In this capacity, she works with local, state, and federal entities, as well as other interested parties to preserve, promote, and educate the public about the history of the Underground Railroad. Previously, Johnson was the Coordinator of the African American Research and Service Institute at Ohio University where she was involved with the “The African American Presence in the Ohio River Valley Oral History Project.” At the university, she also served as a visiting instructor in the Department of African American Studies. She received her BA from University of California, San Diego and her MA and PhD in American Studies from the College of William & Mary.  Johnson will serve as the agreement technical representative (ATR) for the slave stampedes project.

Dickinson staff

Technical experts from Dickinson’s Academic Technology division include Drupal specialists Todd Bryant and Ryan Burke, GIS specialist Jim Ciarrocca, and academic computing director, Pat Pehlman.  Senior researchers include independent historian Rick Beard, local educator and author Todd Mealy, and House Divided Project co-founder, John Osborne.

Dickinson students

The following Dickinson College undergraduates contributed to this project in various capacities, working as interns and contractors during our multi-year effort.

  • Sarah Aillon, '19
  • Amanda Donoghue, '19
  • Dana Marecheau, '20
  • Liz McCreary, '22
  • Jocelyn Reyes, '19
  • Naji Thompson, '19
  • Cooper Wingert, '20

Participating NPS Sites

Lincoln National Home (Springfield, IL) –principal contact: Tim Townsend, NPS Historian

Gateway Arch (St. Louis, MO) –principal contact: Bob Moore, NPS Historian

Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site (St. Louis, MO) --principal contact: Nathan Wilson, superintendent

Ste. Genevieve National Historic Park (Ste. Genevieve, MO) --principal contact: Chris Collins, Superintendent


Richard J.M. Blackett (Vanderbilt) is the Andrew Jackson Professor of History at Vanderbilt University. He is the author, most recently, of The Captive’s Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law and the Politics of Freedom (2018) and Making Freedom: The Underground Railroad and the Politics of Freedom (2013). He teaches courses on 19th century U.S. history and the history of the Caribbean. During the academic year, 2013-14, he was Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford University.

Roy E. Finkenbine (University of Detroit Mercy) is professor of history and co-chair for the History Department at University of Detroit Mercy. He teaches courses in African American history, modern Africa, slave resistance, the Civil War era, and the Underground Railroad, and serves as Director of the Black Abolitionist Archive. He received a Ph.D. from Bowling Green State University in 1982 and joined the Detroit Mercy faculty in 1996.  He is also the author of Sources of the African-American Past (1st ed., 1997; 2nd ed., 2004), as well as a dozen articles and book chapters on the black abolitionists and the Underground Railroad.

Diane Mutti-Burke (University of Missouri / Kansas City) is an associate professor of history at UMKC who teaches courses on the Civil War, the U.S. South, U.S. Women’s History, and 19th century U.S. social history.  She received her BA from Dartmouth College, and an MA and PhD from Emory University.  Mutti Burke’s award-winning first book On Slavery’s Border: Missouri’s Small-Slaveholding Households, 1815-1865 (University of Georgia Press, 2010) is a bottom-up examination of how slavery and slaveholding were influenced by both the geography and the scale of the slaveholding enterprise.

Lea VanderVelde (University of Iowa College of Law) is the Josephine R. Witte Professor of Law at the University of Iowa College of Law. She writes in the fields of employment law, property law, 19th century legal history, and constitutional law.  Her latest book is Redemption Songs: Suing for Freedom before Dred Scott (Oxford University Press, 2014) is based upon the discovery of almost 300 freedom suits brought by slaves in the St. Louis courts. She is also the author of Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery’s Frontier (Oxford University Press, 2009) which is a full-scale biography of Harriet, the hidden protagonist in the infamous Supreme Court decision, Dred Scott v. Sandford. In 2011 she was the Guggenheim fellow in Constitutional Studies.