Interactive Map Shows Slave Escapes during U.S. Civil War
Four million people attempted to escape slavery during the U.S. Civil War, migrating across an area the size of continental Europe. Their movements are among the least well-studied in American history, Edward Ayers, a historian at the University of Richmond in Virginia, told the Chronicle of Higher Education. To get a better view of those history-making runaways, Ayers and his colleagues created an online map that shows the locations and dates of escapes, conscription into the Union Army and other emancipation events between 1861 and 1865.
The map, called Visualizing Emancipation, shows interesting patterns in the events of the time. A time-lapse animation shows emancipations were rarer at first, then became more common in 1862. Near the end of the Civil War, their numbers dropped again, as slavery became illegal in most states.
People tended to escape less frequently in the cold winter months, but picked up their activity in June and July.
The map also shows African Americans cooperated with the Union Army in later years, but not at first, indicating trust grew between the groups with time, said Scott Nesbit, another University of Richmond historian who worked with Ayers on the map.
To build the database for the map, Ayers, Nesbit and a team of undergraduates scoured newspapers, personal papers, runaway slave notices, returned-slave notices and other documents. The researchers want users to add events they find, using the "Share your event" tab.
If it was difficult for historians to discern some of these emancipation patterns before the Visualizing Emancipation app, things probably seemed even more uncertain to the people involved. "If emancipation was a process, it must have seemed a chaotic, directionless one to many caught up in it," according to the website.
Source: Chronicle of Higher Education