Hughes (b. 1827 - d. ?)
MSA SC 5496-7980
Fled from Slavery, Dorchester County, Maryland, 1857
Denard Hughes successfully escaped from Dorchester County on about March 8, 1857. He had been owned by Pritchett Meredith, a prosperous farmer in Bucktown, who held at least 14 African-Americans in bondage.1 Meredith and his Methodist wife were attendees of “Airy’s meeting-house,” which did not keep Hughes from describing him as "the hardest man around." Denard was a part of the "Dover Eight", a group of fugitives that became the primary concern of slave holders and abolitionists alike.2 As with most who tried to escape in large groups, their journey was fraught with complications.
As early as March 11, Meredith had placed an advertisement in the Baltimore Sun, offering $600 for Hughes and another of his slaves named Tom Elliott. He suspected, perhaps correctly, that the two men would try to meet with Elliott's uncle Moses Pinket, who lived in Wilmington.3 Once in Delaware, the group was forwarded to a free black man named Thomas Otwell, who had been considered a trusted accomplice by Harriet Tubman. Under the auspices of safely sheltering them, Otwell instead betrayed the runaways, directing them to the Dover jail with hopes of collecting the estimated $3000 reward. There the group became suspicious, and made a dramatic escape from the gun-toting sheriff. One of Hughes' associates Henry Predeaux allegedly shoveled hot embers in the sheriff's direction while the others made out of a broken window.4
Despite the shameful deception by Otwell, the "Dover Eight" were successful largely due to assistance from prominent Underground Railroad figures. Thomas Garrett was intimately involved, relating the troubling details to William Still as they arranged for agents to shepherd the group to free soil. With the help of William Brinkley, Hughes was able to make it to Philadelphia with at least four of his seven fellow accomplices.5 It is known that he was safely directed to Canada, although there is little documentation about his later life there. Denard Hughes would ultimately settle in St. Catharine's, Ontario, where a sizeable fugitive community had developed. Interestingly, it was here that Hughes was recruited by Harriet Tubman to assist John Brown in his ambitious strike against slavery in Virginia. Along with Eastern Shore natives Thomas Elliott, Joe Bailey, and Peter Pennington, among others, Tubman had initially organized a legitimate force to support Brown. The Canadian contingent ultimately decided not to join him in the ill-fated 1859 mission.6 However, even their consideration of Brown's plan was evidence of just how fervently Hughes and fellow fugitives opposed the institution.
1. Ancestry.com. 1850 United States Federal Census, Slave Schedule, Dorchester County, MD, District 1, p. 16.
1860 United States Federal Census, Slave Schedule, Dorchester County,
District 7, p. 7 - p.
2. William Still. Underground Rail Road: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters, etc. Philadelphia, PA: Porter & Coales, Publishers, 1872, pp. 72-74.
3. "$600 Reward," Baltimore Sun, 13 March 1857.
4. Still, p. 73.
6. Kate Clifford Larson. Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 2004, pp. 158-161.
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