Samuel Ringgold Ward
A Life of Struggle
by R. J. M. Blackett
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Pub Date 28 Mar 2023 | Archive Date 06 Apr 2023
The rediscovery of a pivotal figure in Black history and his importance and influence in the struggle against slavery and discrimination
Born on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Samuel Ringgold Ward (1817–c. 1869) escaped enslavement and would become a leading figure in the struggle for Black freedom, citizenship, and equality. He was extolled by his contemporary Frederick Douglass for his “depth of thought, fluency of speech, readiness of wit, logical exactness.” Until now, his story has been largely untold.
Ward, a newspaper editor, Congregational minister, and advocate for the temperance movement, was considered one of the leading orators of his time. After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 he fled to Canada, where he lectured widely to improve conditions for formerly enslaved people who had settled there. Ward then went to Britain as an agent of the Canadian Antislavery Society and published his influential book Autobiography of a Fugitive Negro. He never returned to the United States, and he died in obscurity in Jamaica.
Despite Ward’s prominent role in the abolitionist movement, his story has been lost because of the decades he spent in exile. In this book, R. J. M. Blackett brings light to Ward’s life and his important role in the struggle against slavery and discrimination, and to the personal price he paid for confronting oppression.
R. J. M. Blackett is a historian of the abolitionist movement whose books include The Captive’s Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the Politics of Slavery and Making Freedom: The Underground Railroad and the Politics of Slavery. He is Andrew Jackson Professor of History emeritus at Vanderbilt University and lives in Nashville, TN.
“Samuel Ringgold Ward’s fascinating life is emblematic of the netherworld between slavery and freedom that many Black Americans navigated during the nineteenth century. Smart and well told, Blackett’s biography gives us a truly diasporic account of the struggles of one such important figure.”—Claude A. Clegg III, author of The Price of Liberty: African Americans and the Making of Liberia
“This peripatetic former slave, abolitionist, journalist, and preacher who crossed nineteenth-century American, Canadian, British, and Jamaican borders has long eluded biographers. No longer. Through studious research, window-pane prose, and sober judgments, eminent historian R. J. M. Blackett finally grasps the fascinating Samuel Ward.”—Jeffrey R. Kerr-Ritchie, author of Rebellious Passage: The Creole Revolt and America’s Coastal Slave Trade
“Ward emerges from Richard Blackett’s superb biography as a towering presence in the international antislavery movement who never shrank from ‘troubling the waters’ in his pursuit of racial justice.”—Julie Winch, author of A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten