Free and enslaved blacks, as well as sympathetic whites, assisted runaway slaves by offering refuge, advice and legal assistance. Accomplices risked ostracism, imprisonment and death. Fugitive slave laws required all citizens to report runaways to authorities. People who "enticed" slaves to escape or aided fugitive could receive years in prison.
Anyone suspected of enticing a slave to flee could be prosecuted. The story of Ann Matthews, a white women from Baltimore jailed for encouraging her neighbor's slave to escape, reveals the aggressiveness of Maryland's pro-slavery sentiments. Matthews received a ten-year prison sentence in 1848, even though Margaret, the slave she allegedly encouraged, never attempted to run away. Detractors in the community wrote to Governor Philip Francis Thomas that Matthews was "a perfect pest" and "a terror." However, the jury sympathized with Matthews, recommending that she be pardoned because she was "no abolitionist or in any way hostile to the Institution of Slavery." Matthews was pardoned, but died three years later.
The fear of separation from friends and family was a common motivation to attempt to escape. Abraham Brogden, a free black, worked in Anne Arundel County near his enslaved wife, Cinderella. The Brogdens fled together in 1848, fearing that Cinderella would be sold to a distant master to settle new owner's debts. Their attempt failed and Abraham was sentenced to the Maryland Penitentiary, while Cinderella was sold outside Maryland. Sympathetic Annapolis residents wrote that Abraham's "crime was in endeavoring to set his wife at liberty." Sadly, Cinderella passed away before Abraham was pardoned in 1853.
Discover more at slavery.msa.maryland.gov