This timeline of "slave stampedes" from across the nation includes nearly 200 distinct group escapes specifically documented by newspapers from the first use of the metaphor describing a "grand stampede" from Kentucky in 1847 until its final use (also in Kentucky) in 1865. The timeline covers stampedes from Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Virginia as well as several other Southern states. And depending on the reliability of contemporary newspaper estimates, these "stampedes" may have involved nearly 12,000 freedom seekers. While outcomes are hard to come by from these newspaper reports --and though many of these stampedes were not successful-- it is still clear that thousands of people escaped to freedom while "stampeding," especially during the wartime period. Finally, there are also some antebellum "slave stampedes" listed here from Northern states --these typically describe accounts of alleged fugitive slaves fleeing Northern cities to avoid rendition under the Fugitive Slave Law.

View All Stampedes, 1847-1865 // 1840s // 1850s // 1860s

Displaying 1 - 19 of 19

On either Friday or Saturday night, May 7-8, 1847, between 20 to 25 enslaved people escaped from different plantations in Kenton county, Kentucky. Their enslavers offered a $4,000 reward for their recapture. 

Start Date:
Friday, May 7, 1847
Numbers:
25
Starting Point:
Outcomes:
Unknown

In mid-May 1847, five to six enslaved people fled from Maysville, Kentucky across the Ohio River to free soil. The Covington, Kentucky Register pointed the finger at members of the Northern Methodist Church. A "distinguished preacher of that denomination" was reportedly seen at the very house where five enslaved people escaped, and around the same time.

Start Date:
Thursday, May 20, 1847
Numbers:
10
Starting Point:
Outcomes:
Unknown

On April 15, 1848, 77 freedom seekers fled Washington, D.C. with the assistance of two white abolitionists. The boat they were traveling in, The Pearl, was overtaken by slaveholders and the whole party recaptured  and brought back to Washington on April 18, 1848. Although it was not referred to as a "stampede" at the time, four years later, when President Millard Fillmore pardoned the two abolitionists involved in the escape, a Georgia editor proclaimed it "the great slave stampede."

Start Date:
Saturday, April 15, 1848
Numbers:
77
Outcomes:
Recapture/Death

On Saturday night, August 5, 1848, a group ranging in number from 50 to 80 enslaved people fled from near Lexington, Kentucky. Accompanying the group was a white man named Patrick Doyle. The freedom seekers were overtaken and recaptured after a violent confrontation. Reports later emerged suggesting that Doyle had instigated the escape with the plan to betray the freedom seekers and pocket the reward.

Start Date:
Saturday, August 5, 1848
Numbers:
80
Starting Point:
Outcomes:
Legal Action, Violence, Recapture/Death

On Tuesday night, September 5, 1848, a group of 12 to 20 enslaved people fled from two slaveholders in Baltimore county, Maryland. Six were claimed by slaveholder J.T.H. Worthington. According to reports, the group succeeded in crossing into Pennsylvania, despite being pursued by white Marylanders.

Start Date:
Tuesday, September 5, 1848
Numbers:
20
Starting Point:
Outcomes:
Unknown

Armed with free passes, "about forty" enslaved people were planning a stampede from Woodford county, Kentucky on Saturday night, October 7, 1848. But the plot was discovered when one enslaved person confessed, and the escape "frustrated" before it could begin. 

Start Date:
Saturday, October 7, 1848
Numbers:
40
Starting Point:
Outcomes:
Recapture/Death

Throughout late October 1848, multiple "stampedes" occurred from near Maysville, Kentucky. One "stampede" saw "some four or five" enslaved people escape, evidently heading for Ripley, Ohio, and "several others" were also missing. Meanwhile, three enslaved people from neighboring Montgomery county were captured near Ripley before they were able to cross the Ohio river. 

Start Date:
Saturday, October 28, 1848
Numbers:
10
Starting Point:
Outcomes:
Unknown

In mid-November 1848, a group of seven freedom seekers passed through Cleveland en route to Canada. Reports do not specify where the escapees originated from, though they likely escaped from Kentucky.

Start Date:
Wednesday, November 1, 1848
Numbers:
7
Starting Point:
Outcomes:
Unknown

On Saturday night, December 16, 1848, two enslaved people, a man and a woman, escaped from their enslaver in Maysville, Kentucky. Reports suspected that "several others have left the city and county."

Start Date:
Saturday, December 16, 1848
Numbers:
5
Starting Point:
Outcomes:
Unknown

Around the beginning of September 1849, a group of freedom seekers, heavily armed "with bowie-knives, dirks, &c.," fled from Jefferson county, Virginia, heading north towards Pennsylvania. Two miles north of Wolfsville, Maryland, the group was overtaken by slave catchers. A violent confrontation ensued, and it "required a strong force" to re-enslave the freedom seekers. 

Start Date:
Saturday, September 1, 1849
Numbers:
10
Starting Point:
Outcomes:
Violence, Recapture/Death

On Sunday, September 9, 1849, a group of eight freedom seekers attempted to cross the Ohio river on a skiff. But the small boat capsized, and four of the freedom seekers were tragically drowned. The other four cried for help, were brought ashore by a passer-by, who ushered them to jail and back into slavery. 

Start Date:
Sunday, September 9, 1849
Numbers:
8
Starting Point:
Outcomes:
Recapture/Death

Around the weekend of September 8-9, 1849, multiple escapes occurred throughout Hardin county, Kentucky, in what reports called a "stampede." Two enslaved people escaped from a camp meeting near Rough Creek, and it is unclear if they were recaptured. Then on Sunday, September 9, four freedom seekers escaped from three different slaveholders, but were eventually recaptured.

Start Date:
Sunday, September 9, 1849
Numbers:
9
Starting Point:
Outcomes:
Violence, Recapture/Death, Mixed

On Saturday night, September 15, 1849, around 10 to 12 enslaved people escaped from multiple slaveholders near Winchester, Virginia. After a violent encounter, six were recaptured, while the fate of the remaining freedom seekers is unknown. 

Start Date:
Saturday, September 15, 1849
Numbers:
12
Starting Point:
Outcomes:
Violence, Recapture/Death, Mixed

On Saturday, October 14, 1849, around six enslaved people escaped from Centreville, Maryland, heading southeast across Caroline county to Delaware, and from there to New Jersey. 

Start Date:
Sunday, October 14, 1849
Numbers:
6
Starting Point:
Outcomes:
Unknown

In October 1848, the Underground Railroad through Delaware was as busy as ever. Reports of numerous "stampedes" indicated that upwards of 100 freedom seekers may have escaped from Maryland, through Delaware, in their pursuit of freedom during the span of a few weeks. A Wilmington, Delaware paper noted the escape of 16 freedom seekers (eight from Maryland, and eight from Kent county, Delaware), who crossed the Wilmington bridge to Delaware.

Start Date:
Monday, October 15, 1849
Numbers:
100
Starting Point:
Outcomes:
Unknown

On Saturday night, October 27, 1849, a group of six enslaved people escaped from St. Louis for "parts unknown," according to the local newspaper. The flight came in the wake of a series of recent group escapes, leading many in the city to suspect "that they have been stampeded."  This appears to be the very first newspaper reference to a slave stampede from Missouri.

Start Date:
Saturday, October 27, 1849
Numbers:
6
Starting Point:
Outcomes:
Mixed

In early November 1849, somewhere between 35 and 50 enslaved people around Canton in Lewis County, Missouri, led by a woman named Lin and a man known as Miller's John, planned a stampede for freedom but were betrayed and cornered before they could cross the Mississippi River.  There was a violent shootout that left at least one dead and resulted in dozens of newspaper articles across the nation.

Start Date:
Friday, November 2, 1849
Numbers:
50
Starting Point:
Outcomes:
Recapture/Death

On Friday night, November 23, 1849, eight enslaved people escaped from Jefferson county, Virginia. The next night, six freedom seekers left the farms and residences of four different enslavers near Martinsburg, Virginia. 

Start Date:
Friday, November 23, 1849
Numbers:
14
Starting Point:
Outcomes:
Unknown

Sometime in early December 1849, five freedom seekers escaped from Talbot county, Maryland. 

Start Date:
Saturday, December 1, 1849
Numbers:
5
Starting Point:
Outcomes:
Unknown