A significant number of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Virginians migrated north and west with the intent of extricating themselves from a slave society. All sought some kind of freedom: whites who left the Old Dominion to escape from slavery refused to live any longer as slave owners or as participants in a society grounded in bondage; fugitive slaves attempted to liberate themselves; free African Americans searched for greater opportunity.

In Migrants against Slavery Philip J. Schwarz suggests that antislavery migrant Virginians, both the famous--such as fugitive Anthony Burns and abolitionist Edward Coles--and the lesser known, deserve closer scrutiny. Their migration and its aftermath, he argues, intensified the national controversy over human bondage, playing a larger role than previous historians have realized in shaping American identity and in Americans' effort to define the meaning of freedom.