Joshua Glover

Mural of Joshua Glover in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
(Courtesy Wisconsin Department of Transportation)
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.

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 fro someone to teach him how to read and write . As a slave, he could be beaten or even killed for no reason at all.
Slave Auction Block in St. Louis
(Wikimedia Commons)

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 Master Garland’s slave for two years. Joshua did many things around Garland’s farm. He hand-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!

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 free state 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.

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.
Slavers Used Broadsides Like This
One to Alert People about Escapes
(Wikimedia Commons)

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.

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 railroad at all. It was a system of homes abolitionists used to help escaped slaves make their way to freedom.

Sherman Booth
(WHS Collections)
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.

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.