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Terry Oggel <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 7 Sep 2005 11:53:01 -0400
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This has been a very interesting and (for me) informative thread. Thanks to
Steve for starting it with his question.

Bob--your "Black Jack" info provides an additional historical note, but do
the dates work?

I would add to the discussion the Dred Scott decision, which began in MO the
year of the novel (give or take--the novel putatively takes place in 1845,
and the D. Scott case began in MO in 1846). The case was finally notoriously
decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1857.  Readers in 1885 would have known
about that famous case and remembered it, and would have remembered what
happened to Missouri slaves who went to Illinois and claimed to be free.
Jim, a Missouri slave, is exercising good sense to decide not to go there.

Twain had two time periods to contend with--1885, when the novel was
published, and 1845. He had to have things happen in the novel that would be
plausible in 1885, that his readers in 1885 would think were probable back
in 1845.  Many alive then would think that they knew very well how things
had been back then.  They wouldn't have been duped by an obviously crazy

The way to get to the north was through Ohio, even in the 1840s before the
Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850.  I don't think that the early
(pre-1850) underground railroad went through Illinois--I don't know for
sure, but I think there were no "stations" on the URR in Illinois then.
(Thanks to Jim Edstrom for info about the Turner book on the URR in
Illinois--but I think, that was post-1850.)

In any event, I believe that conventional wisdom in 1845 said that the way
to get free was to go north through the state of Ohio.  That plan would have
seemed right to the novel's first readers.  And for several good factual
reasons that have been enumerated by these recent emails, it makes good
sense still.

Terry Oggel