Samuel Green was an African-American self-emancipated abolitionist who was jailed in 1857 for possessing a copy of the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Samuel Green was born around 1802 in East New Market, Maryland. Not much is known about his parents except that his mother was an enslaved woman. He was an enslaved field hand in Dorchester County, Maryland, and was owned by Henry Nicholas.
Green was married to Catherine, who was also called “Kitty”, and they had two children: Samuel Jr., born in 1829, and Susan, who was born in 1832. When his enslaver, Henry Nicholas, died in 1832, the same year his second child was born, a provision in his will stipulated that Green should be freed after five more years of servitude.
After his master’s passing, Green pursued a career as a blacksmith. This allowed him to generate extra income and save money outside of his regular work hours. In addition, he worked as a farmer and served as a lay minister in his local church. As time passed, Green’s reputation continued to grow in both the African-American and white communities of Dorchester County.
After a year of hard work, Green was able to purchase his freedom and liberate himself from the remaining four years of servitude. However, his wife and their children were sold to a man named Ezekiel Richardson before he could buy them from their owner. They remained with Richardson until 1842 when Green finally managed to buy his wife’s freedom for $100, which is equivalent to $3,668 in 2023. After securing her freedom, Green and his wife settled in the East New Market area on a piece of land that had been deeded to him by the Mt. Zion Methodist Church, where he served as a trustee and worker.
Green had tried, but was unsuccessful in purchasing the freedom of his children, Samuel Jr. and Susan. They were more valuable because they had more years of work ahead of them. As a result, his children remained enslaved, but they continued to live with their parents until 1847 when Richardson sold them to a man named Dr. James Muse.
After the sale of his children, Green abandoned his futile attempts to buy back his children and instead turned his attention to finding ways to help them escape to freedom. Consequently, he became an enthusiastic participant in the Underground Railroad, a group of abolitionists dedicated to helping enslaved individuals flee to safety.
Green provided shelter for Harriet Tubman and people fleeing slavery. He was a suspected operator, but he was held in high esteem by the white community so he was able to operate freely for some time.
Green’s work in the Underground Railroad was not without risks. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made it illegal to assist runaway slaves, and those who were caught helping them could face fines and imprisonment. Despite the risks, Green continued to work tirelessly to help slaves escape to freedom.
In 1854, Samuel Green eventually helped his son, Sam Jr., escape to Canada through the Underground Railroad. However, before he could assist his daughter Susan, who was already married and had two children, Muse sold her to a slaveholder in Missouri, permanently separating her from her family.
In addition to helping his son escape to Canada, Green assisted in the escape of his son’s friends and provided aid to the Dover Eight during their flight from Bucktown, Maryland.
Green’s involvement in the escape of the Dover eight did not go unnoticed by authorities. He was suspected to have been involved in the incident, and Sheriff Robert Bell searched his house after his return from his trip to visit his son in Canada. Among other documents, Bell found a letter from Green’s son, Samuel, who lived in Canada, a map of Canada, railroad schedules, and the book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (1852) by Harriet Beecher Stowe. At the time, it was illegal to possess or distribute literature advocating for the abolition of slavery, and Green was arrested and charged with violating this law.
Unable to find direct evidence of Green’s involvement in the Underground Railroad, the prosecutor argued that “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was intended to incite insurrection. As a result, Green was convicted of the felony charge of possessing “a certain abolition pamphlet called ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’… calculated to create discontent amongst the colored population.” On May 14, 1857, the court sentenced him to ten years at the Maryland Penitentiary in Baltimore. It was highly unusual for someone to be convicted and sentenced for possessing an anti-slavery book.
After serving five years, Green was granted a pardon by the governor on the condition that he leave the state within 60 days.
When he was freed, Green and his wife made their way to Canada to reunite with their son, making several stops along the way to give speeches as guest speakers at events organized by abolitionists. During these speeches, they talked about the horrors of slavery and stressed the significance of abolition.
After the American Civil War ended in 1865, Green and his wife relocated back to Maryland and settled in Dorchester County, resuming their previous lives. Green later became involved in the Centenary Biblical Institute, which was located in Baltimore and trained young men for the ministry. Eventually, the institute grew and became known as Morgan State University. Around 1874, Green and his wife moved to Baltimore, presumably to dedicate more time to the Institute.
On February 28th, 1877, Samuel Green passed away at the age of 75 or 76 due to kidney inflammation. His final resting place is at the South Baltimore Cemetery, which is the oldest African-American cemetery in Baltimore.