Beacons of Liberty

International Free Soil and the Fight for Racial Justice in Antebellum America

Adolphe Jean-Baptiste Bayot, The Arrival in Canada, engraved for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Available for pre-order Spring 2021

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A history of the American anti-slavery movement told through stories of harrowing escape, political grandstanding, and mass migration. 


Beacons of Liberty shows how debates over citizenship, equality, and national character in the 19th-century U.S. unfolded on an international stage.

Tracing stories of escape, capture, resettlement, and life abroad, Beacons of Liberty illuminates the profound influence that free soil abroad had on ideas about emancipation, freedom, and national identity in the 19th-century United States.

Beacons of Liberty introduces readers to the world of the nineteenth-century anti-slavery movement as its participants would have experienced it: as a struggle for freedom unfolding on an international stage.

Before the Civil War, free African Americans and fugitive slaves crossed international borders to places like Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean in search of freedom and equality. Beacons of Liberty tells the story of how these bold migrants catalyzed contentious debates over citizenship, racial justice, and national character in the United States.


Blending fresh historical analysis with incredible stories of escape and rebellion, Beacons of Liberty illuminates how the shifting geography of slavery and freedom beyond U.S. borders helped shape the hopes and expectations of black radicals, white politicians, and fiery reformers engaged in the American anti-slavery movement. Featuring perspectives from activists and risk-takers like Mary Ann Shadd, Martin Delany, and James C. Brown, Beacons of Liberty highlights the critical role that international free soil played in the long and arduous fight for emancipation and racial justice in the United States.

Cracked Concrete Wall

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© 2020 by Elena K. Abbott. All rights reserved.