Mexican Canaan: Fugitive Slaves in Mexico

Thursday, January 7, 2016: 4:10 PM
Grand Hall C (Hyatt Regency Atlanta)
Mekala Audain, The College of New Jersey
Historians understand the runaway slave experience as slave escape to the northern United States or Canada. However, in the mid-1850s, Texas slaveholders estimated that 4,000 slave fugitives had escaped south to Mexico. This paper examines fugitive slaves from Texas who escaped to Coahuila and Nuevo León, provinces in northeastern Mexico. Specifically, I look at how Texas slaveholders responded to runaways’ presence in this region and the ways in which Mexican policies protected or threatened these former slaves’ freedom. I argue that while federal Mexican law provided a legal safe haven for slave fugitives, Coahuila and Nuevo León political leaders desired to align with white Texans, which jeopardized the freedom that fugitive slaves sought in these Mexican states. In conclusion, this project sheds new light on the fugitive slave experience and Mexicans’ role in the enslaved African Americans’ quest for liberty in the nineteenth century.