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Road to Freedom and the Civil War

Black and white photograph taken by Tod Ainslie of the interior of the engine room in Harpers Ferry Virginia

October 4, 2018 - December 30, 2018

This exhibit begins at the beginning of the slave journey, with a photo of a slave pen. These pens were holding pens on the properties of the slave traders.  Two photos show the homes of the slaves who actually lived and worked on the different plantations..  One of these photos contrasts a slave home with the mansion of the wealthy slave trader (later President) Andrew Jackson.

The slave traders shipped their slaves both north and south to their new lives along the route of the Natchez Trace.   The photo of this primitive trail,  worn deeply into the ground  by the thousands who walked its path, captures the route they took.  The least lucky slaves were shipped into the deep south, to live lives too often marked by severe hardship.  The photo of their dilapidated living quarters in Louisiana shows how flimsily  built they were.  The second photo in this section shows the Windsor Ruins, now consisting only of its haunting stone pillars, all that is left of the original plantation's grand mansion.

In the early years of slavery, one of the only known places a slave in the south could escape  to was the "Negro Fort" in Florida.  One photo in this section shows the empty fields and earthworks where the Fort originally stood along the river.  The other photo shows a violated grave  in the centre of the trees which are standing over the unmarked, sunken graves of the slaves and the others who had died in the Negro Fort.

Many slaves were shipped north as well, and through the efforts of both black and white abolitionists, some made their escape via the Underground Railway. One way station on the Ohio Railway is shown in the photo of the John Parker home, a former slave who had bought his freedom.  He collected the escaped slaves in his home by the river. Two photos show their path through the trees up from the river. Parker sent them up the hill to the Reverend Rankin's  modest home. The photo of his small home on the hill shows the stone pathway the fugitive slaves reached after coming up the treed path from the river. (The river lies in the background,  bathed in light.) A smaller photo shows the back of this Rankin home.

John Parker and Harriet Tubman were conductors on the Railroad who went into the south to collect fugitive slaves and bring them north.  Tubman worked mostly on the New York branch of the Railway, using the home of  the white abolitionist (and Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln), William Seward, as a way station. The first photo in this section is Seward's mansion. The next photo is of his basement, a favourite way station of the fugitive slaves.  Also included in this section are photos of Harriet Tubman's home as well as the church she attended, funded and was buried out of.

Many slaves headed north on the Underground Railroad to Canada and settled in "the Promised Land".  One of the most prominent was Josiah Henson, whose plight had (it is argued) inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe's character Tom in Uncle Tom's Cabin.  The first photo in this section shows the exterior of his home in the Dawn Settlement near Chatham and the next one shows its interior.  Contrasting to these photos are two photos of the small slave cabin ("Uncle Tom's cabin") in Maryland from which he had escaped.

Another Canadian settlement of fugitive slaves was in North Buxton, Ontario, where they  not only built homes (one photo shows one home exterior and another its interior) but also had such a good school with such a good reputation that surrounding white families sent their children to it as well.  One photo shows the exterior of this school house, and another its interior.
Photograph and details of Tod Ainslie's Road to Freedom exhibition

One of the most famous abolitionists who worked through Kansas, Ohio and New York was the peripatetic John Brown, whose last and favourite home was in North Elba, NY.  One photo shows its exterior and the other its interior.  It was from this home that he forayed out to the anti-slavery causes that consumed him.  He travelled to Kansas during the time the slave traders were attempting to make it a slave state.  When he fell ill after one of the battles, he recuperated in the home of another abolitionist, his brother-in-law Samuel Adair, the interior of which is pictured in one photo, showing the actual bed and furniture John Brown used.

On his return to North Elba, he planned the takeover of the armoury at Harper's Ferry, in the hopes of starting a slave rebellion in the south.  One photo in this section shows the log house in Maryland that he and his fellow conspirators hid out and planned this raid.   However, the raid on Harpers Ferry did not work out as planned, and they had to retreat to a defensive position, taking some of the village people as hostages.  They holed up in the Fire Pump House (one photo shows its exterior another its interior), where they were eventually taken prisoner.  Another photo shows Hog's Alley where the enraged citizenry shot at them, keeping them cornered until they were captured.  They were then taken to the courthouse in Charles Town, Virginia  (photo included in this section) to be tried, convicted and later hanged for treason. John Brown was buried in the grounds of his favourite home in North Elba (photo also included).

Many historians believe that two of the seminal causes of the Civil War were the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin and the activities of John Brown, both of which created public awareness about the evils of slavery.   During the Civil War that ensued, the South had dominated in the beginning; however, a turning point came at Antietam where the North won a decisive enough victory that  Lincoln was emboldened to bring forward his Proclamation of Emancipation.  Three photos of the battle sites at Antietam end this exhibit.  

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Join creator and performer Maja Bannerman and Vox Violins for an evening performance.

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Community Yoga Series

Join Shine On Yoga for a FREE community yoga class.

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