At the time, Washington wasn't just the capital of the government. It also was the capital of the slave-trading empire. He didn't just want to fight slavery. He wanted to fight it big time. One of the things that I find endearing about him is that he targeted congressmen of Southern states and other important people and enticed away their slaves. He thought that if he could make slavery very unstable in Washington, it would create a domino effect and break the institution.
The Green Mount Cemetery was one of his major meeting places. He would pick up 15 or 20 slaves at a time, hide them in a wagon, and then drive north through Harford County. They'd cross the Susquehanna River into Pennsylvania at Deer Creek or at Peach Bottom.
Later, after he was arrested, he spent two years in the Baltimore jail and penitentiary on Madison Street.
Why do you think he went out of his way to make himself almost universally disliked?
He mocked the Baltimore police and called them "poor puppies." He mocked the people he had stolen slaves from in letters that he published in the newspapers. That doesn't get you good will.
What was hanging over Torrey was tuberculosis. His mother, father and sister all died from TB before he was 4 years old. He knew he wasn't going to live to be 70. He felt that if he was going to do something that would make an impact, he'd have to do it early.
You write that one of his biggest accomplishments was co-founding a political party of abolitionist sympathizers.
Yes, the Liberty Party. I was quite surprised to find that in 1844, the Liberty Party swung the presidential election by keeping New York from going to the Whig candidate, Henry Clay. If New York had gone the other way, James Polk would have lost the election.
I was struck that Torrey forged close personal friendships with free African-Americans who also worked in the abolitionist movement. That must have been unusual in the pre-Civil War era in even the most liberal circles.
Torrey was among the first to treat blacks as equals, and that was not at all common. He stayed in their homes, he went to their churches, and he shared their dangers. That was very impressive. He walked the walk. He didn't just talk the talk.
About the book
"The Martyrdom of Abolitionist Charles Torrey" by E. Fuller Torrey was published late last year by LSU (Louisiana State University) Press. $39.95, 248 pages.