Following the slave rebellions of the middle 19th century, new laws were passed, making it a crime for a slave learn to read and write. The repercussions were extremely harsh for any slave caught reading or writing. Any one suspected of tutoring a slave in this regard did so at great risk to themselves. However some individuals of extreme courage defied the taboo and taught individual slaves to read and write. Some slaves like Frederick Douglass taught himself. John Berry Meacham, in St. Louis, established underground schools for the children of slaves and eventually established a freedom school, on a barge in the middle of the Mississippi. river between Missouri and Illinois. Against this backdrop of overwhelming adversity, a moment of great courage is depicted in this painting of a slave girl secretly composing a letter.