The Underground Railroad Escape to Freedom
The Underground Railroad • What was it? • An informal network of secret routes and safe houses • Used by 19th century Black slaves in the United States to escape to free states (or as far north as Canada) • A network of people would helped fugitive slaves escape • Not run by any single organization or person • It consisted of many individuals -- many whites but predominantly black • Estimate - the South lost between 50,000 and 100,000 slaves between 1810 and 1850.
Underground Railroad Terms • “Underground Railroad” – The System used to help slaves escape • “Stations" and “Depots” - The homes and businesses where fugitives would rest and eat • “Stationmasters” – People who ran the Stations and Depots • “Stockholders” – People who contributed money or goods • “Conductor” – People responsible for moving fugitives from one station to the next. • “Passengers” and “Cargo” – The fugitive slaves who traveled the Underground Railroad • “Bounty Hunters” – Those who set out to capture fugitive slaves
Organizing the Railroad • The Railroad began towards the end of the 18th century. • 1786 George Washington complained about how one of his runaway slaves was helped by a "society of Quakers, formed for such purposes.“ • The system grew, and around 1831 it was dubbed "The Underground Railroad," after the then emerging steam railroads.
Running Away • Running away was a very difficult step in starting on the Underground Railroad. • The first step was to escape from the slaveholder. • For many slaves, this meant relying on his or her own resources. • Sometimes a "conductor," posing as a slave, would enter a plantation and then guide the runaways northward. • The fugitives would move at night. • 10 and 20 miles to the next “station” • They would rest and eat, hiding in barns and other out-of-the-way places. • While they waited, a message would be sent to the next station to alert its “stationmaster”.
The Fugitive Slave Act • Trying to stop the “Underground Railroad” • In 1850 Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law • The law stated that in future any federal marshal who did not arrest an alleged runaway slave could be fined $1,000 • People suspected of being a runaway slave could be arrested without warrant and turned over to a claimant on nothing more than his sworn testimony of ownership • Any person aiding a runaway slave by providing shelter, food or any other form of assistance was liable to six months' imprisonment and a $1,000 fine • Officers capturing a fugitive slave were entitled to a fee and this encouraged some officers to kidnap free Negroes and sell them to slave-owners
Starting A New Life • Organizations provided food, lodging and money, and helped the fugitives settle into a community • Helped them find jobs and provided letters of recommendation to obtain new jobs
Famous Underground Railroad Workers • William Still • Gerrit Smith • Salmon Chase • David Ruggle • Thomas Garrett • William Purvis • Jane Grey Swisshelm • William Wells Brown • Frederick Douglass • Henry David Thoreau • Lucretia Mott • Charles Langston • Levi Coffin • Susan B. Anthony.
Railroad Quilts • Monkey Wrench - Prepare the tools you’ll need for the long journey • Bear’s Paw Take a mountain trail, out of view. Follow the path made by bear tracks; they can lead you to water and food. • Log Cabin A secret symbol that could be drawn on the ground indicating that a person is safe to talk to. It also advises seeking shelter
Railroad Quilts • Flying Geese Points to a direction to follow, such as where geese would fly during spring migration. • Drunkard’s Path Create a zig-zag path, do not walk in a straight line, to avoid pursuers in this area. • Star Follow the North Star. Worked in conjunction with the popular song, “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” a reference to the Big Dipper constellation.