Fugitive slave Law and Legal Definition

A fugitive slave was a slave who had escaped his/her enslaver (his/her master) often with the intention of traveling to a place where the state of his/her enslavement was either illegal or not enforced. The Underground Railroad existed to guide fugitive slaves on the road to freedom. In the meantime, the Fugitive Slave Law or Fugitive Slave Act was passed by the United States Congress in 1850 as part of the compromise of 1850 between Southern slaveholding interests and Northern Free-Soilers and abolitionists. According to the Fugitive Slave Law any person who found an escaped slave was required by law to return the slave to his owner. Many northerners disliked this law and did not follow it.

Most fugitive slaves traveled alone. Slaves who traveled in groups were more likely to be found, as it was much harder to conceal a group from fugitive slave catchers than it was a single person. The majority of fugitive slaves tried to find their freedom in either a free Northern territory or a foreign country, usually Canada or Mexico.