LifestyleBlack History Month


How the rescue of Joshua Glover in Wisconsin helped speed up the end of slavery

Posted at 7:00 AM, Feb 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-02 08:01:01-05

A decade before the end of slavery Wisconsin was leading the way for equal rights in America.

That struggle is marked today by a simple sign in the corner of Cathedral Square.

It honors the site of a great rebellion and the remarkable story of an escaped slave named Joshua Glover.


Milwaukee historian George Gonis said this was the site of Milwaukee's old courthouse on March 11, 1854.

That courthouse was the site of a protest that would help sow the seeds of the end of slavery.

Joshua Glover was a fugitive slave from Missouri who by 1851 made it to Racine.

Glover lived and worked there until March 1854 when he was arrested, to be sent back south.

According to Gonis, Milwaukee's anti-slavery allies put up a fight.


"5,000 people gathered, that was about 1/4 to 1/3 of the entire Milwaukee population. Think about that, no phones, no cars, and in a matter of hours 5,000 people gather here to free Joshua Glover," Gonis said.

A newspaper article picks up the story from here: "Saturday morning, the excitement commenced," the story goes.

George Gonis said it was nothing short of remarkable.

The crowd demanded Glover's freedom. When the jailers would not comply, they did it themselves.

"A skillful application of a pickaxe or two, and a few stout hands effected an entrance into the jail," the newspaper article reads.

Glover was found and freed, bound for Canada on the Underground Railroad.

Historian Clayborn Benson called this moment a major blow to the federal Fugitive Slave Act, which required escaped slaves to be returned.

Wisconsin was the first state to tell the federal government "no."

"Other states snuck and did, did it at night time, did it out the back door. Wisconsin is the only one that stood out front," Benson said.

For a number of reasons, white Wisconsin settlers stood firm with African-Americans against slavery.

"Religious reasons, political reasons, in terms of republican party philosophy," Benson said. "Many of them felt the sting of slavery in their family from years back in Europe."

"They were pro franchise for African-Americans, they were pro equal justice for African-Americans and most of them were highly critical of racial names and epithets," George Gonis said.

To put it simply, they were allies who helped set the nation on the road to abolishing slavery.

Something to honor and remember as America works again toward a more perfect union.

"I'm not saying we need another monument, I'm simply saying we should use it as a method of educating and inspiring people to work together," Clayborn Benson said. "Because it wasn't just Black people who got Glover out of jail."

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