The Fugitives are Safe in a Free Land

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The Fugitives are Safe in a Free Land
Hammatt Billings
Page 238
Harriet Beecher Stowe. Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly. Boston: John P. Jewett & Company, 1852.
Rugy Lamont Ruggles Collection
Vault Ruggles 322 No. 2
Newberry Library

Why are these people so relieved?  This is a picture from Uncle Tom's Cabin depicting George, Eliza, and Harry’s arrival in Canada, where slavery was illegal. They are now able to live free and without fear of capture. The family was helped in their journey to freedom by Mrs. Smyth, who is seen standing on the right in this illustration. At the time of the Civil War, Canada was not an independent nation, but a colony of Great Britain. Even though Britain at times seemed ready to recognize the Confederacy, Canadians were far more sympathetic with the Union. Some Canadians even served in the northern armies.

But Canada was most significant to American slaves as a place of freedom—the final stop on the Underground Railroad, a network of abolitionists who helped runaway slaves escape the South. It is estimated that some 20,000 African Americans (one third of them free born) migrated to Canada between 1820 and 1860. Only about 20 percent of these men and women returned to the United States after the Civil War.

Initially published in multiple parts in an anti-slavery magazine between June 1851 and April 1852, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was later printed as a two-part novel and became the bestselling novel of the century. The Boston artist who made the pictures in the book, Hammatt Billings, was not just an illustrator; he was also an architect and a sculptor who created large public statues. Nonetheless, these illustrations were the artworks that made him famous.

1. Describe the people and the setting in the drawing. What do their faces and poses reveal about their emotions? How does the natural setting contribute to the feeling of safety in the scene?

2. Who do you think decides which parts of the story get an illustration?  Who would make decisions like this?  The artist or the publisher? 

Further reading:
Morgan, Jo-Ann. Uncle Tom’s Cabin as Visual Culture. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2007.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or, Life Among the Lowly. Boston: John P. Jewett & Company, 1852.

Newberry Library. "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Home Front: Daily Life in the Civil War North.

“Commemorating the Underground Railroad in Canada,” Parks Canada,

Courtesy of the Newberry Library, Chicago