Skip to main content
Skip to main content

Richard J. Bell

Profile picture

Professor, History

(301) 405-7051

2136 Francis Scott Key Hall
Get Directions

Research Expertise

18th Century
19th Century
Slavery
United States

Curriculum Vitae

Richard Bell received his PhD from Harvard University and his BA from the University of Cambridge. His research interests focus on American history between 1750 and 1877 and he welcomes enquiries from graduate students working in this period. Visit his website. Download his CV.

Bell’s most recent book is Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped Into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home. Published by Simon & Schuster in 2019, it was the recipient of the NEH Public Scholar Award and a finalist for the George Washington Prize and the Harriet Tubman PrizeStolen is the true story of five boys who were kidnapped in the North and smuggled into slavery in the Deep South—and their daring attempt to escape and bring their captors to justice. In Philadelphia in 1825, these five young, free Black boys fell into the clutches of the most fearsome gang of kidnappers and slavers in the United States. Lured onto a small ship with the promise of food and pay, they were instead met with blindfolds, ropes, and knives. Over four long months, their kidnappers drove them overland into the Cotton Kingdom to be sold as slaves. Determined to resist, the boys formed a tight brotherhood as they struggled to free themselves and find their way home. Their ordeal—an odyssey that took them from the Philadelphia waterfront to the marshes of Mississippi and then onward still—shines a glaring spotlight on the Reverse Underground Railroad, a black-market network of human traffickers and slave traders who stole away thousands of legally free African Americans from their families in order to fuel slavery’s rapid expansion in the decades before the Civil War.

Bell has also published two other books. The first, a monograph titled We Shall Be No More: Suicide and Self-Government in the Newly United States, examines the role that discourse regarding self-destruction played in the cultural formation of the early republic. The second work, Buried Lives: Incarcerated in Early America, a co-edited volume of essays centered on the experience of incarcerated subjects and citizens in early America, is the product of a conference organized at the McNeil Center. He is also the author of a dozen book chapters and journal articles.

Bell is presently an Andrew Carnegie Fellow (2021-2023) has held research fellowships at more than two dozen libraries and institutes. Since coming to College Park in 2006 he has served as the Mellon Fellow in American History at Cambridge University, the National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow at the American Antiquarian Society, a Mayer Fellow at the Huntington Library, a Research Fellow at the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Abolition and Resistance at Yale University and as a Resident Fellow at the John W Kluge at the Library of Congress. He is also a frequent lecturer on the C-Span television network and at the Smithsonian Institution. 

Bell is the recipient of more than a dozen teaching awards, including the University System of Maryland Board of Regents Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching, the highest honor for teaching faculty in the Maryland state system. He is also one of the conveners of the Washington Area Early American Seminar, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Maryland Center for History and Culture, an elected member of the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society. On campus, Bell serves as Chair of the UMD United Kingdom Fellowships Committee and as a member of The 1856 Project. He lives in University Park, MD, with his wife and two daughters.

Books

Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped Into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019).

We Shall Be No More: Suicide and Self-Government in the Newly United States (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012). 

Co-editor with Michele Lise Tarter, Buried Lives: Incarcerated in Early America (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012). 

Articles (Peer Reviewed)

“Counterfeit Kin: Kidnappers of Color, the Reverse Underground Railroad, and the Origins of Practical Abolition” Journal of the Early Republic 38, no. 2 (2018), 199-230.

“The Moral Thermometer: Rush, Republicanism, and Suicide,” Early American Studies 15, no. 2 (2017), 308-331.

“’Thence to Patty Cannon’s’: Gender, Family, and the Reverse Underground Railroad,” Slavery & Abolition 37, no. 1 (2016): 661-679.

“The Great Jugular Vein of Slavery: New Histories of the Domestic Slave Trade,” History Compass 11, no. 12 (2013): 1150-1164.

“Slave Suicide, Abolition and the Problem of Resistance,” Slavery & Abolition 33, no. 4 (2012): 525-549.Nominated for Arthur Miller Centre Prize, 2013.

“In Werther’s Thrall: Suicide and the Power of Sentimental Reading in Early National America,” Early American Literature 46, no. 1 (2011): 93-120. Winner of Nineteenth-Century Studies Association's Emerging Scholar Award, 2012.

“The Double Guilt of Dueling: The Stain of Suicide in Anti-Dueling Rhetoric in the Early Republic,” Journal of the Early Republic 29, no. 3 (2009): 383-410.

“‘Our People die well’: Death-bed Scenes in John Wesley’s Arminian Magazine,” Mortality 10, no. 3 (2005): 210-223.

Chapters in Books

“Border State, Border War: Fighting for Freedom and Slavery in Antebellum Maryland” in The Civil War in Maryland Reconsidered, ed. Charles W. Mitchell and Jean H. Baker (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2021). Winner of the Joseph L. Arnold Prize, Baltimore City Historical Society, 2021.

With Maria Teresa Brancaccio, Alexander Kästner, & David Lederer, “The Humane Society in Eighteenth-Century Europe and the newly United States” in The Sea: Maritime Worlds in the Early Modern Period, ed. Sünne Juterczenka (Cologne, Germany: Böhlau, 2021): 703-731.

With Michele Lise Tarter, “Introduction” in Buried Lives: Incarcerated in Early America, ed. Michele Lise Tarter and Richard Bell (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012): 1-32.

“Weeping for Werther: Suicide, Sympathy and the Reading Revolution in Early America” in The History of Reading: International Perspectives, c.1500-1990, ed. W. R. Owens and Shafquat Towheed (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011): 48-63.

“John Pierce’s Pitch Pipe: Music and Myth-construction in Early National Celebrations,” in New England Celebrates: Spectacle, Commemoration, and Festivity, ed. Peter Benes (Boston: Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, 2000): 83-104.

 

Publications

Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped Into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home

Learn about Richard Bell's book "Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped Into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home."

History

Lead: Richard J. Bell
Dates:

Richard Bell's book, "Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped Into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home" tells the gripping and true story about five boys who were kidnapped in the North and smuggled into slavery in the Deep South—and their daring attempt to escape and bring their captors to justice.