01/07/2014 11:08 AM
BATON ROUGE – During his brief yet remarkable career, abolitionist Charles Torrey
– called the “father of the Underground Railroad” by his peers – assisted almost 400
slaves in gaining their freedom. A Yale graduate and an ordained minister, Torrey
set up a well-organized route for escaped slaves traveling from Washington and Baltimore
to Philadelphia and Albany.
Arrested in Baltimore in 1844 for his activities, Torrey spent two years in prison
before he succumbed to tuberculosis. By then, other abolitionists widely recognized
and celebrated Torrey’s exploits: running wagonloads of slaves northward in the night,
dodging slave catchers and sheriffs, and involving members of Congress in his schemes.
Nonetheless, the historiography of abolitionism has largely overlooked Torrey’s fascinating
and compelling story until now. “The Martyrdom of Abolitionist Charles Torrey” is
available from LSU Press.
According to author E. Fuller Torrey, a distant relative, Charles Torrey pushed the
abolitionist movement to become more political and active. He helped advance the faction
that challenged the leadership of William Lloyd Garrison, provoking an irreversible
schism in the movement and making Torrey and Garrison bitter enemies. Torrey played
an important role in the formation of the Liberty Party and in the emergence of political
abolitionism. Not satisfied with the slow pace of change, he also pioneered aggressive
abolitionism by personally freeing slaves, likely liberating more than any other person.
In doing so, he inspired many others, including John Brown, who cited Torrey as one
of his role models.
E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., is the executive director of the Stanley Medical Research
Institute and a professor of psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University of the
Health Sciences. He is the author or coauthor of 20 books, including “The Roots of
Treason,” which was honored by the National Book Critics Circle.
Posted on Tuesday, January 7, 2014