Item No: #363211 The Under-ground Railroad. W. M. Mitchell, William.
The Under-ground Railroad
The Under-ground Railroad
The Under-ground Railroad
The Under-ground Railroad

1860 Account of the Underground Railroad by an African American Writer

The Under-ground Railroad

Notes: The first book on the Underground Railroad, published only in England while the fabled escape route for enslaved Americans was still active. William Mitchell was the son of an enslaved man and a Native American woman in North Carolina. According to the introduction by W. H. Bonner, a British abolitionist who encouraged Mitchell to write the book during a speaking tour of the United Kingdom, at a young age he was apprenticed to a plantation owner and toiled alongside enslaved workers for many years.

The author helped escaped slaves reach Canada from Ohio between 1842 and 1855. The bulk of his book is comprised of anecdotes about people he encountered while working for the railroad, including a formerly enslaved woman who died from frostbite while protecting her three children and a former slave, John Mason, who brought Mitchell "in 19 months, 265 human beings, whom he had been instrumental in redeeming from Slavery." Mitchell recounts Mason's capture in Kentucky while on a slave rescue mission. Mason attacked his pursuers and suffered serious injuries. He was sold down the river to New Orleans. Within 18 months he was back in Canada.

Michell estimated that 60,000 enslaved people escaped into Canada on the Underground Railroad (modern scholars estimate the number was perhaps 40,000). In the late 1850s, he also moved to Toronto and served as a minister to African American congregations. The final section of his book discusses the lives of these Canadian immigrants. The final appendix argues for a boycott of Southern cotton, despite the significant economic impact that would have on British cotton mills and related industries.

The Under-ground Railroad is scarce; the last copy at auction sold in 2005. A second edition also appeared in 1860, with the somewhat more descriptive title (with the hyphen removed): "The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom", which is also quite scarce.

16mo. xv, [blank], 3–172, xi. Frontispiece portrait of author. Additional title-page imprints: Manchester: William Bremner and Birmingham: Hudson & Son.

Edition + Condition: First edition (first printing). Original brown cloth with a large black title label on the front board. Speckled edges. Cloth at top of spine chipped and a bit frayed; gilt stamping on title label dimmed; corners bumped. Internally solid. A very good copy of an important antebellum African American book.

Publication: London: William Tweedie, 1860.

Item No: #363211

Price: $25,000