Freedom 1st Step on Mexican Soil

Did you know the Underground Railway went south to Mexico as well as north to Canada? The route was more informal, but the liberation was just as real. At least 5,000 to 10,000 enslaved Africans sought their freedom in Mexico in the 1800s. Why? In Mexico, the enslaved Africans were freed by law in 1829, several decades before the Emancipation Proclamation in the US.

The railway south was more informal and less documented. Researchers are working on unearthing any clues they can find. One source of information they’re utilizing are ads from US newspapers in the 1800s about enslaved people who had escaped from their slaveholders. The slaveholder’s ads would describe the escaped people’s clothing, identifying marks and likely destination. Mexican historical archives have confirmed the runaways’ arrival in the country of their newfound freedom.

1827 Finley Map of Mexico Image:

Enslaved people escaped from Louisiana and Texas into Mexico. Canada was too far to go. Mexican lawmakers had allowed the new Anglo-European Texas arrivals in the 1800s to continue to enslave people, even beyond the 1829 date it was banned in Mexico. However, the Mexican citizens already living there did not believe in slavery, and would help people escape south. Soon after the enslaving exception ceased in 1830, Texas declared independence in 1836, then in 1845 became a US state. The secret railroad south continued for enslaved people to seek freedom.

Researchers continue to work on this fascinating quiltwork of passages to freedom. I look forward to hearing more about this fascinating history.

¡Olé! –Rebecca

Rebecca Cuningham

11 thoughts on “Freedom 1st Step on Mexican Soil

  1. This is fascinating. I had no idea Mexico was so far ahead of the US in emancipating slaves. But then I didn’t think of it as a country with slavery. So much to learn about your continent!

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Margaret. Yes, Mexico was a country that brought enslaved Africans to work there once enslaving the indigenous population was illegal. But President Guerrero of Mexico who had African ancestry influenced the earlier emancipation in Mexico.

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      1. It’s really not yet common knowledge. But if the dedicated researchers building their careers on discovering new ways to unearth information about this succeed in their quest, it may be in 5 years.

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    1. Thanks, Diana. It’s only in the last couple years that I’ve read about it. I find it so fascinating that for the first time I’d consider going back for a PhD. One researcher in particular has such new and exciting information that she’s made her dissertation private until she publishes her book. More here when she does!

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