The Dover Eight: Fugitive Slaves Betrayed by Black Underground Railroad Conductor

1 Posted by - January 23, 2019 - LATEST POSTS, SLAVERY

In March 1857, eight slaves from Dorchester County, Maryland, escaped following a route provided by Harriet Tubman, who also previously escaped from Dorchester County.

Tubman had told the fugitives to contact Thomas Otwell, a free black man and underground railroad conductor in Dover, Delaware. Unfortunately, instead of guiding them North to the next step of the railroad, Otwell led them to the Dover jail in expectation of collecting a $3,000 reward. However, despite the betrayal, the “Dover Eight” were able to escape the jail. All of them eventually made their way to freedom.

The slaves were discovered when a man approached Sheriff Green with the information about eight runaway slaves. The man arranged to have the slaves with him in Dover that night.

At about 4 o’clock on a Tuesday morning, the man along with the slaves appeared at the jail. While the sheriff was getting dressed, they all entered the jail and went upstairs. The eight slaves found an open room. The sheriff, knowing the group was upstairs, headed up there to dead bolt the room and seize them.

However, the sheriff found them in the entry way. He turned around and went back to retrieve his revolver, but the slaves followed him down to his room. The slaves entered the room where the sheriff’s wife and children were sleeping before he could seize his revolver.


One of the slaves reportedly became suspicious of the sheriff. The law enforcement officer quickly seized the man and, while in a struggle, the other slaves burst through a window and escaped. They made a fire scatter across the floor, which resulted in awakening the sheriff’s family. The sheriff released the slave for a split second, which allowed him to escape as well.

Six of the eight slaves were later tracked down to a house in Camden, but the officers could not enter the home because they did not have a proper warrant. Later, the six men were moved through the country by the forest woods, which was later known as the “underground railroad.” The other two escaped slaves were seen heading north right after they escaped.



  • sarah tewolde September 14, 2016 - 5:21 pm Reply

    I really enjoyed reading this piece and will be glad to share with my facebook friends

    • David Elliott September 28, 2017 - 5:59 pm Reply

      His family is still here in Canada. A lot of escaped slaves came here. Other escaped slaves travelled to Amherstburg, Ontario and Colchester, Ontario and some travelled all the way up to Nova Scotia, Canada.

  • Lawrence Brooks September 14, 2016 - 6:00 pm Reply

    bless their souls..

  • Slow Williams September 15, 2016 - 3:31 am Reply

    Treachery from our people, it’s just sad

  • Ronald Clate September 17, 2016 - 9:03 am Reply

    People need to be made aware of more of these stories and the history of slavery in our country. Things like this would,not be hidden but need to be out for all to read.

  • Jean Williams November 11, 2016 - 3:24 am Reply

    It’s like Brother Malcolm said, that the house Negro loved his white slave master more than the master loved himself.

    • R.R. April 14, 2019 - 10:19 am Reply

      Malcolm preached hatred against all white people, at least until his trip to Saudi Arabia when he changed his views and admitted that he was wrong. There were white abolitionists who risked their lives to help black slaves escape (some were murdered). Now here’s a story of a black man who betrayed runaway slaves. Instead of concluding there is great diversity in attitudes and personality, beliefs and actions among every group (whether white, black, red, yellow, etc.) you conclude that a black man betraying escaping slaves “proves” Malcolm was right? It proves Malcolm was right to change his thinking in 1964!

  • Nisha June 2, 2017 - 4:20 pm Reply

    Omg this was such a good read!

  • Rachel Melton September 29, 2017 - 8:04 am Reply

    I just moved to Delaware from NY and recently visited the new Harriet Tubman Museum. I had no idea of the rich history Delaware had with the Underground Railroad. This article was fascinating.

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