Wisconsin Historical Society Press
Finding Freedom: The Untold Story of Joshua Glover, Runaway Slave
By Ruby West Jackson & Walter T. McDonald
176 pages, 20 b/w photos and maps, 5.5 x 8.5"; E-book also availableBuy
"Shall a man be dragged back to Slavery from our Free Soil, without an open trial of his right to Liberty?" -Handbill circulated in Milwaukee on March 11, 1854
In "Finding Freedom," Ruby West Jackson and Walter T. McDonald provide readers with the first narrative account of the life of Joshua Glover, the runaway slave who was famously broken out of jail by thousands of Wisconsin abolitionists in 1854. Employing original research, the authors chronicle Glover's days as a slave in St. Louis, his violent capture and thrilling escape in Milwaukee, his journey on the Underground Railroad, and his 33 years of freedom in rural Canada.
While Jackson and McDonald demonstrate how the catalytic "Glover incident" captured national attention - pitting the proud state of Wisconsin against the Supreme Court and adding fuel to the pre-Civil War fire - their primary focus is on the ordinary citizens, both black and white, with whom Joshua Glover interacted. A bittersweet story of bravery and compassion, "Finding Freedom" provides the first full picture of the man for whom so many fought, and around whom so much history was made.
NEW AUDIO BOOK: the audio edition of "Finding Freedom" as read by Jim Fleming on Wisconsin Public Radio's program Chapter A Day is now available!
To receive a review copy or press release, to schedule an author event, or for more information contact the WHS Press Marketing Department: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ruby West Jackson is involved in many historical groups throughout Wisconsin, including Old World Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Historical Society and the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Jackson worked as an activist, educator and political consultant until her retirement and now devotes her time to promoting African American history and preservation. Other publications include "Wisconsin Heritage," a brochure on African American tourism, published by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, which she helped research and write, as well as various dramatic sketches performed for dedications, festivals and conferences. Jackson also appeared on the Wisconsin Public Television documentary about Joshua Glover, "Stand the Storm." She currently works as substitute teacher in Madison while operating her own business as a costumed interpreter of pioneer black women in Wisconsin.
Dr. Walter T. McDonald was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York After serving in WWII, McDonald became a clinical psychologist, which he practiced for 40 years. Since his retirement, he has divided his time between consulting in forensic psychology and working with various Underground Railroad activities
Jackson and McDonald have collaborated for the past 30 years on various projects, most recently the mapping of Underground Railroad routes in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Historical Society Press: What motivated you to write about Joshua Glover?
Ruby Jackson: Having strong black teachers, who were themselves educated by Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois, as well as having a great-grandmother who was a slave, instilled an early sense of the value of black history.
WHS Press: What did you know about Glover before you started this project?
RJ: While I was employed as an African American history coordinator by the Wisconsin Historical Society, I was loaned to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism to research and write a brochure about heritage tourism sites in Wisconsin. I first learned about Joshua Glover when conducting research for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism to develop a brochure called "Heritage Tourism." Information about him was found in the bowels of the Racine Heritage Museum. Most of the emphasis was on the abolitionists who had freed him and the court cases that ensued.
Walter McDonald: Absolutely nothing until Ruby asked me 10 or more years ago whether I would like to write a book with her about Glover.
WHS Press: What kind of detective work was involved with your research?
RJ/WM: It was a case of finding someone who had been dead a long time, about whom almost nothing was known except that he was the incidental subject of a famous court case. In general, there was very little literature about individual slaves. The work that did exist was primarily about abolitionists and their involvement in assisting slaves who had runaway from their masters. This left us with the task of locating Glover in Canada. We made two trips there: the first yielded nothing. After we located him in Canada in their 1871 census index, we made our second trip. It was then that we learned Glover had the good sense to become employed by a man who kept meticulous diaries, enabling us to reconstruct his life in Canada. A black history researcher in Toronto, who was also a docent at the historic inn where Glover had been employed, was also an enormous help in providing additional material.
WHS Press: What did you find most fascinating or surprising about Glover?
RJ/WM: We were gratified to be able to reveal the complexities of the life of an ordinary former slave. The opportunity for such detail is not easily obtained in slave literature, which typically, after brief mention of the slave, goes on to emphasize the white movers and shakers. We were very impressed with Glover's courage and resolve in the difficulties and problems he faced both during his brief captivity and his more than 30 years of life in Canada.
WHS Press: How did you navigate doing research in both the U.S. and Canada?
RJ/WM: We made only two visits to Canada. Thanks to the miracle of email and the presence of the researcher in Canada who had become our friend, we were able to locate ample Canadian material. In the U.S., we made two trips to St. Louis, where Glover had left the service of his owner, as well as to a museum in Lynchburg, Virginia, which had been the home of Glover's former owner, and to various archival facilities in Wisconsin, including Racine, Burlington, Waukesha and Elkhorn. We also made use of the excellent facilities in the archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
WHS Press: How did you work as a team on this project?
RJ/WM: Primarily by encouraging the other not to give up on the occasions when promising leads turned into dead ends. We also ran up sizable phone bills between Madison and Racine as we discussed our latest finds. While we visited many places in tandem, we also divided our work into individual assignments.
WHS Press: Who are some of the interesting side characters in the story?
RJ/WM: It is difficult to choose because we discovered so many interesting people. Chief among the group would be the Milwaukee committee of colored abolitionists who held a public protest program following passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. Among individuals, we would list Benammi Stone Garland for his single-minded pursuit of what he believed was his stolen property, Nelson Turner, the former slave who betrayed Glover for personal reasons, the abolitionists A.P. Dutton and Sherman Booth, who risked their liberty and their careers to help Glover, Martha Glover and John Messenger, both of whom remained too enigmatic and about whom we would still like to know more, and Thomas and William Montgomery, without whose diaries and journals we would have had a much less complete story.
WHS Press: What do you hope readers take away from this book?
RJ/WM: Above all, the knowledge that slaves were not just anonymous tillers and toilers but individual human beings. Also, that the Underground Railroad didn't end at the Ohio River, but was a factor in antislavery efforts further west as well.
WHS Press: How is Glover's story relevant or important today?
RJ/WM: Glover's story is another reminder that unless evil is actively opposed by people of good will, it will flourish unchallenged and unchecked.
"'Finding Freedom' puts flesh on the bones of one of the most dramatic episodes in Wisconsin history. Using a wealth of sources never before brought to light, the authors establish both the broad cultural context of Joshua Glover's rescue and the intimate details of his daily life in sweet freedom." —John Gurda, author of "The Making of Milwaukee"
"'Finding Freedom' is both universal and specific, for it simultaneously tells of the yearnings and risks taken by every freedom seeker — and of the unique aspects of Joshua Glover's exciting life story. Readers of every age and depth of historical knowledge will experience 'Ah, ha!' moments as they learn of Glover's adventures and how surprisingly interconnected these are with better-known people, places, and events in American history. This book is a most significant addition to the existing body of work on the Underground Railroad." —Glennette Tilley Turner, author of "The Underground Railroad in Illinois and Running for Our Lives"
"Joshua Glover has finally received his historical due! In previous accounts of his dramatic rescue, Glover seems less a flesh-and-blood human being than a case study of the operation of the Fugitive Slave Law and the Underground Railroad. Ruby West Jackson and Walter T. McDonald have succeeded in providing us with the most comprehensive and life-like reconstruction possible of 'Old Josh' the man and his times. This is a fascinating work of history." —John D. Buenker, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Wisconsin-Parkside
"This much needed story has been wonderfully researched and is a well-written documentation of the workings and successes of the Underground Railroad. The work of these authors provides an invaluable piece of research to the history of Wisconsin and America." —Clayborn Benson, Executive Director, Wisconsin Black Historical Society
"A variety of historical accounts acknowledge this important episode in Wisconsin's history, but this fine book offers a detailed case study. 'Finding Freedom' broadens our understanding of Glover's life and the abolitionists who assisted him by tracing his steps backward to the auction block in the slave state of Missouri and forward to Etobicoke, Canada, where Glover lived as a free man." —Joe William Trotter, Jr., Mellon Professor of History, Carnegie Mellon University, and author of "Black Milwaukee: The Making of an Industrial Proletariat, 1915-45"
This book feature by Bobby Tanzilo appeared on OnMilwaukee.com on November 3, 2007
"Finding Freedom" trails runaway slave Joshua Glover
Particularly alert Milwaukeeans will notice that Glover Street intersects with Booth Street, which high above the Commerce Street development boom.
Read Ruby West Jackson and Walter T. McDonald's book "Finding Freedom: The Untold Story of Joshua Glover, Runaway Slave," and you'll immediately recognize the significance of that crossroads.
Glover, who escaped from slavery in Missouri and was arrested in Racine, was busted out of the Milwaukee court house jail in March 1854 thanks in good part to the work of Brew City abolitionist Sherman Booth.
Despite the fact that Glover's story is so often discussed in these parts, "Finding Freedom" is the first in-depth look at the story. It was published in hardcover by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press in May.
"Prior to our efforts all available accounts of Joshua Glover focused exclusively on the court trials of the abolitionists associated with his release from jail," says McDonald.
"Joshua Glover himself was disposed of with some variation of the phrase, '...and he escaped to Canada.' There have been no books we are aware of written primarily about Joshua Glover. Our account of our search is contained in the section of the book, 'The Search for Joshua Glover.' To best of our knowledge, no other book contains as complete an account of Joshua Glover's life."
Indeed, in a 135 heavily footnoted pages, Jackson and McDonald recount the details of Glover's purchase in St. Louis by Benammi S. Garland, his escape and his arrival in Racine. Glover's capture and the events at the Milwaukee court house are finely detailed, as is the story of his route from the court house melee to his eventual escape to Canada.
To read it is to be transported back in time to a world that seems unfathomable to modern Americans. As a reader, it's interesting to see how even abolitionists who put their work, reputation and freedom on the line to free the slaves viewed those they worked to help.
But, McDonald says, judging the main players in the story was not the focus of their work.
"A careful reader will note that we made some judgment calls. We tried to keep these to a minimum because we were more concerned with producing a compelling, accurate narrative than with writing a polemic. We also wanted to keep the focus on Joshua Glover as the central character.
"We also hoped our book would inform readers that abolitionists, as much creatures of their time as we are of ours, were still able 150 years ago to rise above some of their feelings to 'do the right thing' even thought they were violating a law that could jail them and fine them a year's income or more."
Work on the book began about a decade ago, McDonald recalls, when Jackson became interested in the story.
"In the late '90s Ruby was employed by Wisconsin Historical Society as their African American History Coordinator. As part of that position she was loaned to the tourism department to research and write an African American-oriented tourism brochure.
"In the course of her research for the booklet, which was published in the late '90s, she discovered Joshua Glover in what she called, 'the bowels of Racine Heritage Museum.' Intrigued by the information, and aware that I was close to retiring, she asked if I would like to write a book about him with her."
McDonald says that the project was a true collaboration that involved two people working diligently to gather materials and then discussing them.
"We did our research both together and separately," he says. "I generally did the typing of first drafts on the computer, following a discussion between us and Ruby would return it to me with her edits. This continued until we were mutually as satisfied as possible and then we would move to another section."
The result is a fascinating and extremely readable story that is so lucidly narrated that it would be great even for young adult readers. A selection of illustrations -- often from the WHS collections -- helps to further conjure this Milwaukee story for modern readers.
This book feature by Gregory Stanford appeared in the "Milwaukee Journal Sentinel" on May 12, 2007
Detailing the Joshua Glover saga
What a thrilling tale of yesteryear the Joshua Glover saga is.
It's about his flight from hell - that is, from slavery in St. Louis to freedom in Racine. It's about his fiendish recapture, his liberation by a throng of God-fearing Wisconsin residents in downtown Milwaukee and his flight to a new Promised Land in Canada. It's about legal battles that culminated with a historic standoff between the top courts of the state and the nation.
A new book, "Finding Freedom: The Untold Story of Joshua Glover, Runaway Slave," captures this drama. The authors are historian Ruby West Jackson and forensic psychologist Walter McDonald, both of Wisconsin.
The book connects a whole bunch of dots that make the Glover saga more understandable.
These days, amid the blather of talk radio - where the loudest voices are regularly putting down black people and progressive ideas, as if yearning for the conservative mores of the 19th century - it's easy to forget those mores were actually progressive in Wisconsin.
Credit the Easterners who settled here as part of America's Westward Ho movement and who brought with them abolitionist sentiment.
One of them was Sherman Booth, a Milwaukee newspaper editor and a Yale Law School grad who had helped the Africans aboard the slave ship "Amistad" learn English so they could defend themselves in court. The Africans had been the cargo, but the cargo rebelled and captured the ship.
Led by Booth, thousands of residents from Milwaukee and Racine gathered on March 11, 1854, at Courthouse Square, now Cathedral Square, and stormed the jail holding Glover and freed him.
The authors tie that incident to the founding of the Republican Party a few months later in Ripon, saying that "the events centering around and subsequent to his (Glover's) capture were powerful catalysts to its creation."
True, with the party's archconservative message and anti-black edge today, it's tough to remember that the GOP started out progressive and that its radical wing, which may have been strongest in Wisconsin, even advocated full rights for black people.
The authors filled in some big blanks in the Glover saga with facts painstakingly unearthed in a dozen years of research.
A prize finding, Jackson says in an interview, was a meeting that took place among the colored citizens of Milwaukee in 1850, in which they vowed to defy the federal Fugitive Slave Act, which required the return of runaway slaves to their masters, by rescuing recaptured slaves by any available means.
In the traditional telling, Glover emerged in Racine, where he worked a couple of years before a U.S. marshal apprehended him. And after his rescue, he was spirited off to Waukesha, where he took the Underground Railroad - a series of safe houses - to Canada.
The authors located where Glover settled down in Canada. They found a Joshua Glover in an 1871 Canadian census in Etobicoke, about 10 miles west of Toronto, McDonald recalls in an interview.
They stumbled onto a local researcher who was pulling on the other end of the rope of Glover's life. She was documenting the fugitive slaves who settled in the area. She had the name of Joshua Glover, but didn't know whence he came.
The book is part of a project to commemorate the Glover saga with a monument at Cathedral Square, which the National Park Service has designated an official site on the Underground Railroad.
This piece of history, when the citizenry struck a blow for human rights, deserves to be preserved to inspire the state to draw from its progressive roots.