The Fugitives from Injustice, in Boston

Children's Literature

Background Notes

As part of their campaign, abolitionists compiled and published books of readings aimed at schoolchildren and youth. Readers commonly used in the schools contained passages of poetry to be memorized and recited. This is a short antislavery poem designed to be recited in antislavery society meetings and in schools with sympathetic teachers; it relates the experiences of fugitive slaves.

Transcription of Primary Source

They came through perils, only known
To those, who, guided by the ray
Of one bright star to lands unknown,
Find unimagined dangers thrown
Around their paths, and, day by day,
Start as they seem to hear the bay
Of blood−hounds following their track,
Urged on by men more fierce than they,
And listen for the murderous shot,—
But death, e’en such a death, is not
Fear’d, as they fear the coming day,
May see them borne to bondage back.

Such dangers and such fears were pass’d,
They stood amid kind friends at last.
Nor only friends—or there was one,
A woman, who long since had thrown
Her fetters off—and dream’d no more,
Of meeting those she loved before;
But she had found the one most dear,
Her mother to her arms was given!
And warmly, almost wildly, she
Pour’d forth her soul−felt thanks to heaven.

There were four others,—men, still young,
Whose spirits, past endurance stung
By countless, nameless wrongs,—at length
Trusted that He, who gave a star
To guide their way, would give them strength
To gain a home and freedom far
Beyond the reach of their control,
Who fetter body, heart and soul.

Then hundreds gather’d round, to hear
The tale of trials each could tell,
And one spoke of a wife and child
In bondage with him,—lov’d so well,
He risk’d his life, and theirs to gain
Freedom from the galling chain.
And gratefully of one he told;
Who promised, in a vessel’s hold,
To carry them conceal’d away—
His wife and child in safety there
He placed, and hasten’d to prepare
For joining them another day.
But when again he reach’d the shore,
The ship he sought was seen no more,
T’was sailing far away!
And he—he would not pause to tell
Of grief, and fear, and doubt that fell
Upon his heart,—nor how their spell
He broke, with courage nought could quell
For he had caught a ray
Of Hope, with speechless rapture fraught,
Had heard the wife, the child he sought,
Were in Toronto safe—and he
With them, please Heaven, ere long would be.

That mother, then, and daughter, told
Their tales,—nor could restrain
Their fervent gratitude and joy
That they had met again,
Had met amid the kind, the free,
And, more than all—at liberty.

An old man rose—his crown was bald,
But locks, by time and sorrow bleach’d,
In snow−white curls, on either side
Down, even to his shoulders reach’d.
He too had been a slave, and long
Had borne unmurmuringly the wrong,
The lengthen’d task, the wanton blow,
And much that only slaves can know;
But e’en in his degraded lot,
He found one bright, one happy spot,
Found flowers upon his pathway strewn—
A wife and children were his own!
His own,— alas! How vain the trust,
Which the confiding slave reposes
On those who trample in the dust,
The laws of kindred and of love,
Of men on earth, and Heaven above,—
How vain such trust, each day discloses!

Of change, of poignant grief he told,
They sold his wife—one child they sold,
And left him only one;
And oh, how closely did his heart,
(With all beside thus forced to part,)
Cling round that much lov’d son!
He was a gentle, noble boy,
And soon with deep, but fearful joy,
His father mark’d his spirit high,
And stronger, stronger grew the tie,
Which their lone spirits bound,—
It soften’d e’en the deep regret
For those they never could forget,
And in their sadden’d lot were yet,
Bright gleams of pleasure found.

Pleasure, that soon was swept away,—
For, from his arms the boy they tore,
He too was sold—and on that day,
Enjoyment, even hope was o’er,
There was not left a single ray,
To light the gloom of bondage more.

And then he vow’d to break his chain,
Or, should the attempt be made in vain,
Even the threaten’d death would be
Prefer’d to life in slavery.
The first attempt did fail, and all
They’d threatened, was endured,—save death,
The bloody lash just ceased to fall,
In time to spare the failing breath.
But added, tortures moved him never
From his firm purpose,—and when strength
Return’d, he strove again to sever
His soul−felt fetters, and at length
Toil, danger, fear were past, and he
Stood thankfully among the free.

“Since then,” he added, “many a year
Has pass’d—I could not happy be,
For memory dwelt on them so dear,
For ever, ever lost to me.
Yet I have been resign’d and calm,
No worldly hopes or fears come o’er me,
For grief like mine earth has no balm
And light from Heaven was beaming o’er me.
But feelings that I fancied slept
Forever have awaken’d—I
With spirit deeply moved, have wept,

In thankfulness,—and sympathy
With those this day has reunited;
But while I share their grateful joy,
I think how all my hopes were blighted,
When parted from my noble boy.
My boy! Oh, could I meet him now,
But place my hand upon his brow,
And say, ‘dear John you’re mine,’—and know
No tyrant’s will could bid us part,
What perfect happiness would flow
Upon my desolated heart.”

The old man ceased, bet ere was past
The echo of the words he’d spoken,
The breathless silence gathering there,
By words that thrill’d each heart was broken,—
“Father, MY FATHER!”—it was he,
So loved, so mourn’d,—his long lost son,
Who rush’d into his arms,—among
Those welcome strangers, he was one.

Let Fancy—no, to paint the rest,
The o’erflowing feeling of each breast,
Her brightest, richest hues would fail,—
Go list when——tells the tale,
With quivering lip, and moisten’d eye,
With noble, deep, and gen’rous feeling,
To ever tender sympathy,
With matchless eloquence appealing;
Listen, and feel, however lowly
The pathway of the slave may be,
No clouds of earth can shut out wholly,
The light of Love, and Liberty.

Then higher raise your beacon fires,
His northward way to guide and cheer,
Teach southern despots that their dark
Heaven−daring laws are powerless here;
Here—where with fervency are breathed
From countless spirits players to Heaven,
That turning from their guilt−mark’d course,
They may repent, and be forgiven.

Curator Notes

Exact Title: 
The Anti−Slavery Offering and Picknick; A Collection of Speeches, Poems, Dialogues, Songs for Schools and A.S. Meetings
Susan Wilson
H.W. Williams
Place of Publication: 
Old Sturbridge Village