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Abel Brown: Forgotten Hero of the Underground Railroad

Abel Brown: Forgotten Hero of the Underground Railroad

I’ve been researching the Underground Railroad for more than 30 years. Probably my most important discovery, at least to those who are hardcore UGRR researchers was my accidental rediscovery of Rev. Abel Brown.

You could say I discovered him like Columbus discovered America—there had been many voyages from Europe to America long before he made his “discovery.” It’s also possible another historian had “rediscovered” him about the same time, Stanley Harrold, whose work I highly esteem.

What makes it memorable for me is that I wasn’t looking for him.

In fact, Abel Brown was a well-known radical abolitionist during his time who not only contributed letters and articles to The Liberator and other abolitionist publications but published his own newspaper, the Toscin of Liberty, later the Albany Patriot, in association with another radical abolitionist of his time, Charles T. Torrey. 

I learned of him in the Patriot, also largely forgotten and which the New York State Library found after a two-month search in a misplaced box in their storage warehouse. It was a two-year roll of a weekly tabloid browning with the years. It was much larger than modern newspapers.

In one of the issues was a request from the widow an abolitionist named Rev. Abel Brown. It was asking for letters and other memorabilia about Brown who had passed in 1844, which she could use for the memoir she was planning.

Albany Patriot, December 2, 1846

This led to my discovery in 1998 of that very memoir later published in 1849, which I found on the shelves in the state university library in Albany.

It was a great find for my research of the UGRR in northeast New York because it not only identified the leading UGRR participants in the region but provided great insight into the area’s antislavery movement.

I learned of Brown’s many efforts in the abolition movement, including actual slave rescues he had made crossing the Mason-Dixon line, something only a daring few attempted.*

I had never heard of him, but to my surprise, the state’s foremost abolitionist historians had never heard of him either.

Following the publication of my book, The Underground Railroad in the Adirondack Region by McFarland and Co, they agreed to republish the memoir, which I annotated and included other material.

Abel Brown Abolitionist is the fascinating story of a man whose tireless efforts to end slavery led to his early death at the age of 34. The introduction includes the eerie story of how I accidentally discovered his grave.

* Notably: Torrey, John Fairfield, John Parker, Richard Dillingham, Seth Concklin, Calvin Fairbank, Delia Webster, Elijah Anderson, William L. Chaplin, Harriet Tubman, Laura Haviland, Jonathan Walker, Captains Daniel Drayton and Alfred Fountain, and John Brown, who escorted 19 slaves from Missouri to freedom in Canada, a distance of about 1,000 miles — despite a battle along the way in Kansas with a posse of 80 federal marshals, which came to be known as “The Battle of the Spurs.”


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