Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

A Journey from Slavery to Freedom

A Brief Biography of Joshua Glover

Joshua Glover: A Journey From Slavery to Freedom | Wisconsin Historical Society

Note: This is a grade-level appropriate biographical essay about a significant figure from Wisconsin's past and was originally part of the "Essays for the Elementary Student" series.

Being born into slavery meant you would be a slave for the rest of your life. Would you be happy to live the life of a slave? What would you do? Would you try to escape? That's what Joshua Glover did. He would live free or die trying. 

Glover Escapes

EnlargeA mural depicting Joshua Glover escaping. He is running from dogs on his left, and appears to be going toward a man on a horse in the right side of the mural.

Mural of Joshua Glover

Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Sometime between 1810 and 1830, Joshua was born in the United States of America. At some point in the past, Joshua’s ancestors were taken from their African homeland and sold into slavery. In 1850, there were over 3 million black slaves in the southern United States. Slavery had existed for hundreds of years. As a slave, Joshua had no rights. It was against the law for anyone to teach him how to read and write. He could be beaten or even killed for no reason at all.

On New Year’s Day in 1850, Joshua’s first master sold him to a man named Benammi Stone Garland. He was from St. Louis, Missouri. Joshua was Garland’s slave for two years. Joshua did many things around Garland’s farm. He split logs into rails and put fences around the pastures. He tended the farm animals. Joshua also worked in the fields and orchards, planting and harvesting crops. Then one night in 1852, he escaped.

EnlargeArtist's interpretation of the capture of Joshua Glover from book illustration.

The Capture of Joshua Glover

The Fugitive Slave Act allowed escaped slaves such as Joshua to be captured and returned to their masters.

No one knows exactly how Joshua escaped or what paths he took. What we do know is that he headed north to Wisconsin. Wisconsin was a freestate where there was no slavery. It must have taken weeks to get from St. Louis to Racine, Wisconsin on foot. Soon after he arrived, Joshua got a job, found a place to live, made some friends and settled down. He was finally free.

The Fugitive Slave Act

But a law called the “Fugitive Slave Act” wouldn’t let him be. The Fugitive Slave Act allowed for escaped slaves to be recaptured and taken back south.

In March 1854, slave catchers found out where Joshua was living. Led by Benammi Garland, they surprised Joshua in his cabin at night. After a short fight, they threw him in the back of a wagon. They drove through the foggy night to Milwaukee, where they put Joshua in jail. They planned to take him back to St. Louis in the morning, but they never got the chance.

The Underground Railroad

EnlargeA portrait photograph of Sherman Booth.

Sherman Booth

Sherman Booth led a group of abolitionists who transported Joshua Glover through the Underground Railroad.

Abolitionists led by a man named Sherman Booth stormed the jail the next morning. They battered down the door to Joshua’s cell and put him in a buggy. He was on his way to freedom. He spent over a month traveling from safe house to safe house along the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad wasn’t a real railroad. It was a system of homes abolitionists used to help escaped slaves make their way to freedom.

Joshua spent many nights in fear that he would be captured again. Many men and women risked everything they had to defy the Fugitive Slave Act and keep Joshua safe. After nearly 40 days on the run, Joshua was put aboard a steamer headed to Canada. He was finally free.

Joshua lived the rest of his life in Canada as a free man. He did what free men and women around the world do. He found a job. He found a place to live. He made friends. He got married. He lived the life he chose for himself.

Reading Level Correlations

  • Level U (5th Grade)

Learn More

Read more about Joshua Glover and other fugitives on the Underground Railroad in "Freedom Train North: Stories of the Underground Railroad in Wisconsin" available now from the Wisconsin Historical Society Press.

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