African American History Timeline: 1840 to 1849

Portrait of Sojourner Truth knitting.
Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The North American 19th-century Black activist movement picked up steam during the 1830s. In the decade that followed, freed African Americans continued to lock arms with White activists to fight against enslavement. 


  • The territory of Texas makes it unlawful to trade enslaved people. The state also considers it illegal for enslaved African Americans to carry weapons without permission. 
  • "Black Codes" are established in South Carolina. Under these codes, enslaved African Americans are unable to gather in groups, earn money, grow crops independently, learn to read and own high-quality clothing. 


  • After a long legal battle, the U.S. Supreme Court finds that Africans aboard the Amistad ship are now free. 
  • Residents of Texas are given the responsibility of catching freedom seekers and then, alerting local law enforcement. 


  • The U.S. Supreme Court rules that states do not need to offer assistance to recapturing freedom seekers in the case, Prigg v. Pennsylvania. 
  • Georgia lawmakers declare that they will not consider freed African Americans as citizens.


  • Sojourner Truth and William Wells Brown become prominent speakers on the anti-enslavement lecturing circuit. 
  • New York, Vermont, and Ohio pass personal liberty laws in response to the Prigg v. Pennsylvania ruling. 
  • Henry Highland Garnet speaks at the National Negro Convention and delivers "Address to the Slaves."


  • Beginning in 1844 through 1865, North American 19th-century Black activist William Still assists at least sixty enslaved African Americans escape bondage every month. As a result, Still becomes known as the "Father of the Underground Railroad."
  • Connecticut also passes a personal liberty law. 
  • North Carolina pass a law declaring it will not recognize freed African Americans as citizens. 
  • Oregon prohibits enslavement within the state. 


  • Texas enters the United States as a state that allowed enslavement. 
  • Frederick Douglass publishes "The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass." The narrative is a bestseller and is reprinted nine times in its first three years of publication. The narrative is also translated into French and Dutch.
  • North American 19th-century Black activist and writer Frances Watkins publishes her first collection of poetry, "Forest Leaves." 
  • Macon Bolling Allen becomes the first African American to be admitted to the bar and is allowed to practice law in Massachusetts. 
  • William Henry Lane, also known as Master Juba, is considered the first famous African American performer. 


  • Missouri allows interstate trading of enslaved people. 


  • Douglass begins publishing The North Star in Rochester, NY. The publication is a result of his division with North American 19th-century Black activist William Lloyd Garrison's news publication The Liberator.
  • The state of Missouri prohibit freed African Americans from receiving an education. 
  •  Robert Morris Sr. becomes the first African American attorney to file a lawsuit. 
  • Activists in the state of Missouri file a lawsuit to help Dred Scott become free. 
  • David Jones Peck graduates from Rush Medical College in Chicago, becoming the first African American to graduate from a medical school in the United States. 


  • Douglass along with 30 other men attend the Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY. Douglass is the only African American man present and publicly supports Elizabeth Cady Stanton's stance on women's suffrage. 
  • Several anti-enslavement organizations work together to create the Free Soil Party. The group opposes the expansion of enslavement into western territories. The Republic Party will eventually be born from the Free Soil Party. 
  • Following states such as New York, Connecticut, Vermont, and Ohio, Rhode Island also passes a personal liberty law.
  • The first lawsuit challenging "separate but equal" laws is fought in Boston. The case, Robert v. Boston is filed by Benjamin Roberts files a school desegregation lawsuit for his daughter, Sarah, who was unable to register for public school in Boston. The lawsuit was unsuccessful and was used to support the "separate but equal" argument in the Plessy v. Ferguson case of 1896. 
  • Like Missouri, South Carolina ends laws placing restraints on interstate trading of enslaved people.


  • The California Gold Rush begins. As a result, an estimated 4,000 African Americans will migrate to California to participate in the Gold Rush. 
  • Britain recognizes Liberia as a sovereign state. Joseph Jenkins, formerly of Virginia, becomes Liberia's first president. 
  • The Virginia legislature passes a law allowing an enslaved African American to be freed by will or deed. 
  • Like states such as South Carolina and Missouri, Kentucky lifts restraints on the interstate trade of enslaved people. 
  • Harriet Tubman ends her enslavement by successfully escaping to the North. Tubman then begins to help other enslaved people reach freedom through the Underground Railroad. 
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Lewis, Femi. "African American History Timeline: 1840 to 1849." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Lewis, Femi. (2023, April 5). African American History Timeline: 1840 to 1849. Retrieved from Lewis, Femi. "African American History Timeline: 1840 to 1849." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).