Marcus Rediker, professor of Atlantic History at the University of Pittsburgh and Guest Curator at the Tate Britain Museum, discusses the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s exhibition, Sailing to Freedom: Maritime Dimensions of the Underground Railroad. Self-emancipation along the Underground Railroad was not entirely by overland routes. What has been largely overlooked by historians is that a great number of enslaved persons made their way to freedom using coastal water routes along the Atlantic seaboard. Slave labor across a variety of maritime industries was common, giving enslaved African Americans the means necessary to escape by sea aboard merchant and passenger ships, or using smaller watercraft. Seaborne escapes were faster, safer, and more efficient than attempting to run away on foot. This groundbreaking exhibition expands our understanding of how freedom was achieved by sea, and what the journey looked like for many African Americans. Marcus Rediker is Distinguished Professor of Atlantic History at the University of Pittsburgh. His “histories from below” have won numerous awards, including the George Washington Book Prize, and have been translated into seventeen languages worldwide. He is co-author, with Peter Linebaugh of The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (2000) and author of The Slave Ship: A Human History (2007). He produced a prize-winning documentary film, Ghosts of Amistad, (2013) directed by Tony Buba. He is currently working as guest curator in the JMW Turner Gallery at Tate Britain and writing a book about escaping slavery by sea in antebellum America.


This program is made possible by the New Bedford Whaling Museum, the New Bedford Historical Society, and Timothy D. Walker.