W. Thomas Mainwaring
In Abandoned Tracks, W. Thomas Mainwaring bridges the gap between scholarly and popular perceptions of the Underground Railroad. Historians have long recognized that many aspects of the Underground Railroad have been mythologized by emotion, memory, time, and wishful thinking. Mainwaring’s book is a rich, in-depth attempt to separate fact from fiction in one local area, while also contributing to a scholarly discussion of the Underground Railroad by placing Washington County, Pennsylvania, in the national context.
Just as the North was not consistent in its perspective on the Civil War and the slavery issue, the Underground Railroad had distinct regional variations. Washington County had a well-organized abolition movement, even though its members helped a comparatively small number of fugitive slaves escape, largely because of the small nearby slave population in what was then western Virginia. Its origins as a slave county make it an interesting case study of the transition from slavery to freedom and of the origins of black and white abolitionism.
Abandoned Tracks lends much to the ongoing scholarly debate about the extent, scope, and nature of the Underground Railroad. This book is written both for scholars of abolitionism and the Underground Railroad and for an audience interested in local history.
“This is a fine and unique study of the history of the Underground Railroad in a largely rural county. It is original with the added advantage of having something to say about the ways the movement developed and operated, the relationships forged between its black and white operatives, and possibly most important of all, its avoidance of the ’romantic lore’ that has surrounded what in effect was a movement to undermine one of the foundational institutions of the country. Mainwaring’s book is well written and deeply researched, and engages with major historiographical issues.” —Richard J. M. Blackett, Vanderbilt University