Patty Cannon And The Anti-Underground Railroad That Sent African Americans To Slavery

Who was Patty Cannon? She was the woman who ran a reverse-Underground Railroad. And what did the reverse-Underground Railroad do? Well, before the Civil War and the freeing of the slaves, the Underground Railroad - led in part by Harriet Tubman - helped hundreds of slaves reach freedom. The reverse-Underground Railroad did exactly the opposite - it allowed for the kidnapping of free Black men and women from the northern areas of the United States and the selling of them back into slavery in the south.

The people who participated in this scheme - Patty Cannon being one of the ringleaders - profited greatly off of the deals that they made. Cannon also robbed slave catchers and committed a number of murders during her involvement with the Cannon-Johnson gang of Maryland. Patty Cannon's underground-dealings eventually led to her arrest in 1829; however, she reportedly killed herself in jail before she could actually be put on trial for her crimes.

Patty Cannon was born sometime around 1760, and though there is not much record of her childhood, it is known that her father was of British nobility. She eventually married Jesse Cannon in what is now the state of Delaware, and had at least one child, a daughter, whose second husband, Joe Johnson, participated in many of Cannon's criminal exploits.


  • She Sent Out Her Own Slave To Lure Free Black Men Onto A Slave Ship

    A big part of Patty Cannon's "business" enterprise involved capturing free Black men and women and selling them into slavery. One of the ways that she did this was with the help of her own slave, a boy named Cyrus James. She reportedly raised him and taught him to follow her exact orders - no matter how dubious. James and her other conspirators would tell the freed men that they had work for them, and would then lead them to a ship moored on a local dock. However, once the freed men got onboard the ship, they were officially captives and would be trapped below the deck until they could be secretly stashed away at Cannon's house and, ultimately, sold at one of the many slave auctions in the south.

  • She Sold Formerly Free Men And Women As Slaves In The South

    Patty Cannon's main source of wealth was in the slave trade. She captured free Black men and women from the streets of Delaware, Maryland, and even Pennsylvania, and sold them into slavery in the south. This was a particularly egregious crime in the north, especially considering the efforts being made by the real-Underground Railroad to help slaves escape to freedom in the northern region of the United States.

  • She Slowly Poisoned Her Husband To Death

    Patty Cannon married her husband, Jessie, when she was only 16. He worked as a mechanic in Delaware where they raised their children (however, the number of children they had is debatable - some sources state that they had at least one, while others claim they had two). By association, Jessie was a witness to many of Patty's evil deeds, though he apparently never tried to stop her from committing them. Then in 1826 he died suddenly, Patty later admitting that she had given him poison.

  • Her Attic Was Set Up As A Prison

    The attic of Patty Cannon's son-in-law's tavern had an iron prison cell in it, ready and waiting to house captured men and women. A raid was eventually conducted after neighbors complained to the authorities, and, after storming the tavern, the police found 21 people crammed into the attic, with some chained to the walls. Some reports even described dead bodies being found in the basement of the structure, but this was not confirmed.

  • Four Bodies Were Found Buried On Her Delaware Farm

    Patty Cannon not only kidnapped free Black men, women, and children, but she killed them as well. However, this is where the stories begin to differ: some say that the bodies were found on her Delaware farm, while others claim that the bodies were located near her son-in-law's tavern, and others even claim that the bodies were actually found on someone else's farm entirely. What is known, though, is that four bodies were found in Delaware, and she was responsible for each of their deaths. One was an adult, and the other three were children.

  • She Confessed To Killing Two Dozen People

    After being arrested in Delaware when four bodies were discovered buried on her farm, Patty Cannon admitted to killing - and helping to kill - upwards of two dozen people with her bare hands. Most were free Black men and women whom she planned to sell in the southern United States, but three of them were children and one a white slave trader, whom she had also robbed. Despite her deeds, Cannon was never put on trial - she died before that could happen.