A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Protection for the Fugitive


The Fugitive Slave Act, passed by Congress as part of the Compromise of 1850, requires all citizens to assist in the recovery of fugitive slaves. The bill also denies a fugitive slave’s right to a jury trial and deputizes special commissioners, who will be paid $5 for each alleged fugitive slave he captures (and $10 if the alleged fugitive is returned to slavery). Not all citizens, however, are interested in upholding this particular law. After several fugitive slaves, including Shadrach Minkins and Anthony Burns, are captured in Boston, some townspeople take action to prevent any additional fugitives from being returned to slavery.


Selection from the Massachusetts Historical Society: “Diagram to show the drill the Anti-Man-Hunting League,” created by Henry I. Bowditch, circa 1854-1859.
Selection from the Library of Congress: "Protection to the Fugitive,” published on broadside: Anti-slavery hymns for the New England anti-slavery convention, Wednesday and Thursday, May 25th and 26th, 1859.

Questions to Consider


  1. What do the letters and numbers stand for on the diagram?
  2. Who are the "fugitives" to be protected in the song?


  1. Who was Henry Bowditch? What was his connection to the Anti-Man-Hunting League? What Boston events prompted the creation of the League? How do the League's activities relate to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850?
  2. Why was Massachusetts a refuge for "fugitives"? Who was responsible for organizing this antislavery convention? What role did women play in organizing antislavery activities? What role did African Americans play?


  1. Why would the Anti-Man-Hunting League create a document like this? What would they use it for? How would the diagram help members achieve their goals?
  2. Why would antislavery advocates create songs as a method of spreading their message? What advantage might songs have over other recruiting or propaganda tools? How does the theme of "Protection to the Fugitive" compare to other songs published on the broadside?


  1. Who was the intended audience for the Diagram? Who was not meant to see the Diagram?
  2. What was the purpose of the antislavery convention of May 1859? Who attended such conventions, and why?


  1. What do these two documents tell us about the tactics of antislavery activists in the mid-nineteenth century? How do they reflect larger changes in the antislavery movement in general?
  2. What other tactics did antislavery activists use to persuade others to their cause? Can you find examples of other documents or objects used as propaganda tools held by the Massachusetts Historical Society or the Library of Congress?