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Publisher's Summary

The dramatic story of fugitive slaves and the antislavery activists who defied the law to help them reach freedom. They are little known to history: Sydney Howard Gay, an abolitionist newspaper editor; Louis Napoleon, a furniture polisher; Charles B. Ray, a black minister. At great risk they operated the Underground Railroad in New York, a city whose businesses, banks, and politics were deeply enmeshed in the slave economy.

In secret coordination with black dockworkers who alerted them to the arrival of fugitives and with counterparts in Norfolk, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Albany, and Syracuse, underground-railroad operatives in New York helped more than 3,000 fugitive slaves reach freedom between 1830 and 1860. Their defiance of the notorious Fugitive Slave Law inflamed the South. White and black, educated and illiterate, they were heroic figures in the ongoing struggle between slavery and freedom. Making brilliant use of fresh evidence - including the meticulous record of slave rescues secretly kept by Gay - Eric Foner elevates the underground railroad from folklore to sweeping history.

©2015 Original material published by arrangement with W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. (P)2015 HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books

Critic Reviews

"A masterwork [by] the preeminent historian of the Civil War era." ( Boston Globe)

"JD Jackson offers a solid, easy-on-the-ears narration of this reexamination of the Underground Railroad." (AudioFile)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Lincoln Rocky

Very informative and interesting. I would recommend this book to anyone I know who might be interested in the history of the United States.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Excellent

Book exceeded my expectations. Detailed history of the Underground Railroad and its networks. I highly recommend this most important book.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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fascinating book

This book by Eric Foner is full of surprises & revelations, it took the scales off my eyes regarding the underground railroad, on the one hand how small & balkanized it was, on the other how many dedicated, brave, money-starved idealists were involved in the work. It shows how few, when compared to the millions of slaves, were the successful escapes from the south, and how concentrated the escapes were in border states (and the rescues in the adjacent border states of the north. His focus on primary materials centered in New York City gives the whole thing an evidence that is not common in the usual, HS level treatments of the underground railroad. The book does get bogged down in a few spots by too much detail, but it is well-narrated & a good read for most of the way. Highly recommended (as are all of the Foner books available on Audible).

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Superb history

Excellent history that filled in many gaps in my knowledge. Superbly written, beautifully read. As more and more detailed information is assembled and published about the history of slavery in this country, American history itself comes into greater focus. I would know like to learn more about how the Underground Railroad functioned here in the Midwest.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A great look at an important period

Would you listen to Gateway to Freedom again? Why?

Yes. I think there were a lot of details that I'd like to know more about.

What did you like best about this story?

I had accepted the conventional wisdom which said that the Underground Railroad was really a white-run charity project. Foner reverses that point of view and clearly shows how much of liberation was run by black Americans. And of course he DESTROYS the myth of "states rights" as the causus belli for the Civil War. The South in fact wanted a strong federal government to enforce fugitive slave laws to stop Northern attempts to deprive them of their so-called property.

Which scene was your favorite?

I think all of the stories about the incredible lengths to which the black anti-slavery societies went to free individual slaves, from hiding them, to raising money to purchase their freedom, to the vast communication network that kept them in the know about the movements of fugitives.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Hard to stay awake....

I have no doubt that extensive research lies behind this book. I do not doubt its accuracy. It is filled with details about the growth of antislavery organizations, but as the book clearly states the Underground Railroad was in reality an "umbrella association" of independent, sometimes competing groups which very much relied on the efforts of single individuals. It was not controlled from the top. The book focuses upon the antislavery proponents that lived in New York. This is partially explained by the fact that New York was home to the North's largest free black community, but New York plays such a prominent role that this should be indicated in the title. In addition the Underground Railroad was not hidden; everyone knew of it. The title is misleading, and it implies that you will be given a more exciting story than what is delivered.

The book description goes on to say that "...the city s underground-railroad agents helped more than 3,000 fugitive slaves reach freedom between 1830 and 1860. Until now, their stories have remained largely unknown..." The central focus of this book is not the plight of these fugitives. Their stories are primarily collected in one chapter, chapter seven, near the book's end. No, the main focus is instead a plethora of historical details of the growth of the movement, its weak organization, its factional divisions, its agents, funding and slavery’s ties with business. Relevant laws and to what extent they were actually enforced, court proceedings and supportive publications are covered in detail. The book is rather dry.

The book lacks structure. It would be easier to remember all the laws, fugitive cases, leaders and controversies if the text had been better organized into a more cohesive structure. The details become a jumble in my head. There are quotes that are of little importance and other superfluous information too. Better editing please.

So the Underground Railroad saved about 3 to 4000 fugitives, the numbers being extremely hard to verify, but the slave population was 4 million in the South. 0.1 % benefited. Of course it was still important, but it was weakly organized and depended to a very large extent on the efforts of private individuals. All of this is good to know.

The narration of the audiobook, by J. D. Jackson, was clear and easy to follow, as long as I didn't fall asleep.

5 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Dreadfully Boring

Bought this book for my Early American History Course. I could barely get through the audiobook, I cannot begin to imagine how awful the actual text is. Two stars because the information is good and I'm biased in that I generally am uninterested in Civil War era history.

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Excellent historical review

The narrator is excellent with clear crisp diction.
The account old Underground railroad its participants methods and means of action are quite well done.

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its good if youre into that.

I fell asleep a lot to it and had to re-listen to it twice. The guys voice isnt boring, the writing is though.

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Good but narrow focus

The book is about the Underground Rail Road in NYC specifically, not the rail road as a whole. extremely informational and the reading was very nice. just not what I had originally expected.

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  • apf102
  • 04-07-15

A thorough and interesting read

Full of fascinating personal stories. Occasionally a little dense in terms of the political intrigues but a remarkable work nonetheless.