Joshua Glover | Wisconsin Historical Society

Classroom Material

Joshua Glover

The Man who Made a New Life for Himself

Joshua Glover | Wisconsin Historical Society
A mural depicting Joshua Glover escaping. He is running from dogs on his left, and appears to be going toward a man on a horse in the right side of the mural.

Joshua Glover

Mural from Wisconsin Department of Transportation

EnlargeSlave Auction Block in St. Louis

Enslaved Persons Auction Block in St. Louis


Note: This is a grade-level appropriate biographical essay about a significant figure from Wisconsin's past.

Being born into slavery meant you would be enslaved for the rest of your life. What would you do? Would you try to escape? That's what Joshua Glover did. He would live free or die trying. 

In 1850, there were more than three million enslaved black men, women, and children in the southern United States. Slavery had existed in the United States for hundreds of years.

Between 1810 and 1820, Joshua was born in the United States of America. At some point in the past, Joshua’s ancestors were taken from their African homeland and sold into slavery. As an enslaved person, Joshua had no rights. It was against the law for someone to teach him how to read and write. He could be beaten or even killed for no reason at all.

On New Year’s Day in 1850, Joshua's enslaver sold him to a man named Benammi Stone Garland from St. Louis, Missouri. Joshua was forced into hard labor on Garland's farm. He hand-split logs into rails and built fences around the pastures. He tended the farm animals and worked in the fields and orchards. Then one night in 1852, he escaped!

No one knows exactly how Joshua escaped or what paths he took. We do know that he headed north to Wisconsin. Wisconsin was a free state where there was no slavery. It took weeks to get from St. Louis, Missouri, to Racine, Wisconsin, on foot. In Wisconsin, Joshua got a job, found a place to live, made some friends, and settled down. He thought he was finally free. But a law called the Fugitive Slave Act threatened that freedom. The Fugitive Slave Act allowed for formerly enslaved persons to be recaptured and taken back south.

Slave Broadside

"Escaped" Broadside

Enslavers used broadsides like this one to alert people about escapes.

In March 1854, slave catchers found out where Joshua was living. Led by Benammi Garland, they surprised Joshua in his cabin at night. After a short fight, they threw him in the back of a wagon. They drove through the foggy night to Milwaukee, where they put Joshua in jail. They planned to take him back to St. Louis the next morning, but they never got the chance.

Abolitionists (people opposed to slavery) led by Sherman Booth stormed the jail the next morning. They battered the door to Joshua's cell and put him in a buggy to help him escape. He spent over a month moving from safe house to safe house along the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad wasn't a railroad at all. It was a system of homes and people that helped freedom seekers as they made their way to safety. Many men and women risked everything they had to defy the Fugitive Slave Act and keep Joshua safe.

EnlargeA portrait photograph of Sherman Booth.

Sherman Booth

Sherman Booth led a group of abolitionists who moved Joshua Glover through the Underground Railroad. View the original source document: WHI 9485

Joshua spent many nights fearing that he would be enslaved again. After nearly forty days on the run, Joshua was put aboard a steamboat headed to Canada. He was finally free!

Joshua lived the rest of his life in Canada as a free man. He did what free men and women around the world do. He found a job. He found a place to live and he made friends. He got married. Joshua lived the life he chose for himself.


 Reading Level Correlations

  • Level W (6th Grade)