In a world based on slavery, freedom and family were often in conflict. Leaving Monticello meant leaving loved ones. The few instances of people running away in quest of permanent freedom were young unmarried men, and they rarely succeeded. In their daily struggle against slavery’s indignities, most of Monticello’s African Americans resisted slavery in other ways. Their day-to-day resistance, marked by ingenuity and cooperation, helped to moderate harsh working conditions and preserve customary rights.
Struggles against slavery did not end for families who found freedom before 1865. Members of the Fossett family in both Ohio and Virginia forged free papers and harbored fugitive slaves in their houses. Thomas and Jemima Woodson’s family in Ohio paid a heavy price for participation in the Underground Railroad. Two of their sons were beaten to death for assisting runaway slaves and refusing to reveal their hiding places.
Schools and churches were important sites of resistance to the institution of slavery. Within these independent institutions on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, African Americans worked to strengthen education and organized efforts to purchase or bring people out of slavery. Joseph Fossett’s son Jesse Fossett and others left one Cincinnati church and founded another because the old church’s members “fellowshipped” with slaveholders. Betty Brown’s Freeman grandchildren in Washington, DC, were organizers and speakers at events to raise money to free slaves. At one fundraiser Edwin Freeman spoke “on slavery and freedom.”
The descendants who faced artillery fire on the battlefield in the Civil War would have agreed with John Freeman Shorter, who wrote to President Lincoln in 1864: “We came to fight for liberty, justice & equality. These are gifts we prize more highly than gold.”