Slaves Fled to Mexico

Here is something to consider that could apply to your family’s history. Everyone is aware that slaves from the Southern States had tried for years to escape their harsh lifestyle. Especially in the 1850s and into the early 1860s slaves in the US took the underground railroad (system of hideaways-safe houses) north into free states and into Canada for safety. Being in another country like Canada, the escaping slave was less likely to be recaptured by their former owner.

However, lesser-known is a similar path existed to the southwest into Mexico. Slavery was abolished in Mexico in 1829 by Mexican President Vicente Guerrero, who was of mixed descent, including African heritage. So these escaping slaves from America saw Mexico as a good place to travel to.

It is estimated that between 8,000 to 10,000 slaves escaped across the Rio Grande River border into Mexico in the 1850s. Of course, just crossing the river was not a guarantee. Many people in Mexico helped the former slaves travel further south as much as possible because they feared slave catchers, from the US, would cross into Mexico and try to retrieve them.

Fugitive slaves got to Mexico in many different ways. Some went on foot, while others rode horses or went aboard ferries bound for Mexican ports. There were stories of enslaved people who crossed the Rio Grande River by floating on bales of cotton.

Mexico would not return escaped slaves to the U.S. Mexico refused to sign any treaty to return escaped slaves, insisting that all enslaved people were free when they set foot on Mexican soil.

Today’s modern ‘Texas Rangers’ was born out of an organization of men that were slave hunters,” bounty hunters trying to retrieve enslaved property that crossed the Rio Grande for slave owners and would get paid according to how far into Mexico the slaves were found.

It is known that many escaping slaves during the 1830s-1850s went into Florida and lived and intermarried with the Indians (Seminoles). In 1852, Seminole groups that included runaway slaves successfully petitioned the Mexican government for land. That land still belongs to their descendants and they still live there to this day in Mexico – those of Indian and African heritage.

So if there were former African slaves in your family tree that can not be accounted for, escaping to Mexico and recreating a new life there may be the answer.

Photos: Escaping former slaves

Related Blogs:

Surnames of Former Slaves

Resources for African-American Genealogy

African-American Documents

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