“Fire and Sword Will Do More Good”: Fugitives, Vigilance Committees, and the Making of Revolutionary Abolitionism, 1835-1859


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




Vigilance committees were urban, interracial organizations committed to protecting northern black neighborhoods from police and slave catchers, and to helping fugitive slaves along the Underground Railroad. They provided the setting in which activists, most of whom were black, female, or working-class, came into contact with thousands of fugitive slaves and learned from their experiences within the slaveholding southern United States. This dissertation examines the networks and organizational methods of the committees and shows how they helped provoke the US civil war. It further illustrates how the dialogue between fugitives and activists nurtured transcendentalist philosophy, black feminism, slave narrative writing, anti-imperialist thought, and prison abolition, among other things. In short, this project unearths the crucial role of slave resistance in Atlantic abolition, and shows the constitutive place of the Underground Railroad in crafting the black radical tradition.