Who Helped In The Underground Railroad Scholar?

He operated with the assistance of white abolitionists, many of whom were Quakers. White and black activists such as Levi Coffin, Thomas Garrett, Calvin Fairbank, Charles Torrey, Harriet Tubman and Still were genuine heroes of the Underground Railroad.

Who were important people involved in the Underground Railroad?

  • 1) Isaac Hopper. 2) John Brown. 3) Harriet Tubman. 4) Thomas Garrett. 5) William Still. 6) Levi Coffin. 7) Elijah Anderson. 8) Thaddeus Stevens.

Who helped people in the Underground Railroad?

The Underground Railroad had many notable participants, including John Fairfield in Ohio, the son of a slaveholding family, who made many daring rescues, Levi Coffin, a Quaker who assisted more than 3,000 slaves, and Harriet Tubman, who made 19 trips into the South and escorted over 300 slaves to freedom.

Who helped Harriet Tubman with the Underground Railroad?

Fugitive Slave Act She often drugged babies and young children to prevent slave catchers from hearing their cries. Over the next ten years, Harriet befriended other abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass, Thomas Garrett and Martha Coffin Wright, and established her own Underground Railroad network.

Who is the leader of the Underground Railroad?

Harriet Tubman (1822-1913), a renowned leader in the Underground Railroad movement, established the Home for the Aged in 1908. Born into slavery in Dorchester County, Maryland, Tubman gained her freedom in 1849 when she escaped to Philadelphia.

What did Frederick Douglass do?

Frederick Douglass was an escaped slave who became a prominent activist, author and public speaker. He became a leader in the abolitionist movement, which sought to end the practice of slavery, before and during the Civil War.

What was William Still’s role in the Underground Railroad?

He became an active agent on the Underground Railroad, assisting fugitive Africans who came to Philadelphia. With the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Still was appointed chairman of the society’s revived Vigilance Committee that aided and supported fugitive Africans.

Was William Lloyd Garrison involved in the Underground Railroad?

Aboard the Underground Railroad– Harriet Beecher Stowe House–Maine. This National Historic Landmark was the home of William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), one of the most articulate and influential advocates of the abolitionist movement in the United States, from 1864 until his death.

Who was the father of the Underground Railroad?

William Still (1821-1902), known as “the Father of the Underground Railroad,” assisted nearly 1,000 freedom seekers as they fled enslavement along the eastern branch of the Underground Railroad. Inspired by his own family’s story, he kept detailed, written records about the people who passed through the PASS offices.

Who were the pilots of the Underground Railroad?

Using the terminology of the railroad, those who went south to find enslaved people seeking freedom were called “pilots.” Those who guided enslaved people to safety and freedom were “conductors.” The enslaved people were “passengers.” People’s homes or businesses, where fugitive passengers and conductors could safely

Who was Frederick Douglass father?

Born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, a slave, in Tuckahoe, Talbot County, Maryland. Mother is a slave, Harriet Bailey, and father is a white man, rumored to be his master, Aaron Anthony. He had three older siblings, Perry, Sarah, and Eliza.

What is the Fourth of July to a Negro?

Frederick Douglass: “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” (July 5, 1852) In this famous speech, Douglass says: “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.

What was Frederick Douglass famous quote?

“ Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” “I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.”

Key People

Between 1830 and 1850, Stephen Myers rose to prominence as the most significant leader of a local underground railroad organization that spanned the United States and the world. Other notable persons came and left during this time period, but Myers remained in Albany the entire time. Stephen Myers is without a doubt responsible for assisting thousands of people to travel via Albany on the subterranean railroad to locations west, north, and east. First, in the early 1840s, he relied on his personal resources and those of the Northern Star Association, which he chaired and was responsible for publishing the publication of his journal.

Some people considered the Albany branch of the underground railroad to be the best-run section of the railroad in the entire state when it was under his direction.

Throughout his life, he worked as a grocer and a steamboat steward, but it was in 1842 that he began his journalistic career.

He was a strong advocate for anti-slavery activism as well as for the rights of African Americans in the United States.

  • He writes on temperance, the rights of African Americans, the necessity of abolishing slavery, and a variety of other topics in its pages.
  • It is from Garland Penn’s book The Afro-American Press and Its Editors that the photograph of Stephen Meyers that is used to accompany this text was taken.
  • Several pieces of information on him may also be found in the notes offered to one of the essays made by him that was published in The Black Abolitionist Papers, volume 3, edited by C.
  • The Albany Evening Times published an article on Monday, February 14, 1870, in the evening.
  • This man, who was the oldest and most renowned of our colored inhabitants, passed away in the early hours of yesterday morning, at the age of eighty-one.
  • Myers has been eventful, since he has lived through the majority of the most important epochs in the history of our country.
  • He also worked as a steward on certain North River steamboats for a period of time during the early part of the twentieth century, which was a very significant role in those days.
  • He was a well-known figure among his race, having worked as an agent for the “Underground Railroad” before the war.
  • Years ago, he was THE representation of them in their dealings with the leaders of this state.
  • Mr.
  • Mr.

Mr. Myers was a devout Christian who died as a witness to the religion that he had lived. Wednesday afternoon’s burial will take place at the A M. E. Church on Hamilton Street.

Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad is a term used to describe the efforts of “conductors” and “station masters” who assisted slave “passengers” in their attempts to escape from slavery. The name “runaway” was not used until the late 1830s, despite the fact that runaways had plagued the distinctive institution of the South from its inception. Theoretically, the runaway slaves were assisted from one location to another until they reached their intended objective in the northern United States or Canadian provinces.

  1. Twenty-six fugitives were claimed to have travelled through Albany, New York, in 1842, according to an abolitionist journal.
  2. When publications in the North, such as the New York Times, defined the Underground Railroad as “planned arrangements formed in various portions of the county, to aid fugitives escape slavery,” the name “Underground Railroad” became widely accepted.
  3. Although estimates vary, it is likely that less than one or two thousand slaves fled from the South to the North per year during the thirty years preceding the Civil War, either on their own initiative or with the help of friendly whites and/or free blacks.
  4. Well, the Underground Railroad was neither a highly structured system with clearly defined routes and stations to help escape slaves nor a system that endured for a long period of time, as has been suggested by historians.
  5. In the early years, vigilance committees were successful, but they soon began to dissolve, only to be reformed in subsequent years.
  6. The assistance provided to them was sometimes fleeting and irregular, and the whites and blacks who did give assistance frequently worried being discovered and realizing that they were in fact lawbreakers who would face harsh punishment.

General Studies

Some studies of race and slavery, like those of the Underground Railroad, do not cleanly fall into any of the categories discussed in this section. Larry Gara (Gara 1961) was the first historian to raise the question of how much of the material about the Underground Railroad was myth and how much was fact. Gara believed that the notion of the Underground Railroad was more significant than the actuality of the railroad itself. Gara stated that it was a political propaganda campaign to spread the false notion that abolitionists were assisting slaves fleeing the southern states.

  1. A few studies are devoted to the Underground Railroad itself, and a few are devoted to the Underground Railroad itself (Calarco, et al.
  2. One volume, Bentley 1997, examines the subject via the lens of a dual biography of Thomas Garrett and William Still.
  3. These books, which frequently place an emphasis on racial collaboration, investigate the politics of the 1850s as well as the influence of fugitive slaves on the onset of the Civil War in the United States.
  4. One of the most telling indicators of where we are right now is the recent release of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, a best-selling novel that has become a cultural touchstone.
  5. Freuhling and Smith 1993 investigate the myth of tunnels to freedom in Ohio.

In addition, the issue is mentioned in a number of broad historical works, with some of them delving into it in depth. Whitney 2007, for example, has a significant amount of information about the Underground Railroad and is considered to be one of the greatest of these.

  • Bentley, Judith, “Dear Friend”: Thomas Garrett and William Still, Collaborators on the Underground Railroad (Dear Friend: Thomas Garrett and William Still, Collaborators on the Underground Railroad). Cobble Hill Books published the book in 1997 in New York. a dual biography of Thomas Garrett, a white Quaker who lived in the slave state of Delaware, and William Still, a free black who resided in Philadelphia, who worked together as companions on the Underground Railroad to assist slaves in their journey north, where they may subsequently be free It is written with young readers in mind. Making Freedom: The Underground Railroad and the Politics of Slavery is a book written by Richard M. Blackett. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, published a book in 2013 titled DOI:10.5149/9781469608785 Blackett When the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed, runaway slaves were denied legal protection if they were recaptured. Those who were successful in their quest for freedom, as well as those who helped them on their journey, are the subjects of Making Freedom, by R. J. M. Blacked. The author examines how the Underground Railroad battled against enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law in this book. In this book, Tom Calarco, Cynthia Vogel, Kathryn Grover, Rae Hallstrom, Sharron L. Pope, and Melissa Waddy-Chibodeaux discuss a number of runaway slaves and how they were assisted by free blacks, fellow slaves, and foreigners who traveled to the south to urge them to flee. The Underground Railroad’s Stops and Stations: A Geographical Guide Greenwood Publishing Group, Santa Barbara, California, 2011. A picture is painted by the writers of where the Underground Railroad was located and how it functioned, as well as the routes and itineraries it followed, as well as the connections it made between the different stops. This book by Byron D. Fruehling and Robert H. Smith delineates prospective runaway slave routes by pinpointing the rivers, canals, and railways that were occasionally utilized by fleeing slaves
  • Fruehling and Robert H. Smith. “Subterranean Hideaways of the Underground Railroad in Ohio: An Architectural, Archaeological, and Historical Critique of Local Traditions” is the title of the paper. It is written in the style of the Underground Railroad. (Summer–autumn 1993): 98–117. Ohio History102 (Summer–autumn 1993): 98–117. It is the purpose of this article to dispel some of the misconceptions and illusions surrounding the Underground Railroad
  • Larry Gara’s essay. The Liberty Line: The Legend of the Underground Railroad is a documentary film about the Underground Railroad. The University of Kentucky Press published this book in 1961. The romantic epic of the Underground Railroad is firmly ingrained in the ethos of the United States, providing a story of hope, deliverance, and liberation for those who were oppressed. Among the topics covered in this work are the legendary character of stories, as well as the aspects of reality and fiction that have transpired in the course of narrating its history
  • Hudson, J. Blaine The Underground Railroad: An Illustrated Encyclopedia McFarland & Company, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2006. By the time the Civil War broke out in 1861, the Underground Railroad had recruited members, established stations and routes, and developed a code language to communicate with one another. The people, ideas, events, and places associated with the interconnected histories of fugitive slaves, the African American struggle for equality, and the American antislavery movement are covered in this encyclopedia, which spans from the abolitionist movement to the Zionville Baptist Missionary Church. The University Press of Florida, in Gainesville, published a book in 2018. The collection looks with topics such as escaped slaves in the antebellum South, the Underground Railroad in the Northern colonies and states, and black expectations and racism in the early years of Ontario’s existence. A distinct point of view is provided by Pease, Jane H., and William H. Pease, who focus on geography and escaped slaves. Black Utopia: Negro Communal Experiments in the United States of America The State Historical Society of Wisconsin published this book in 1963 in Madison. Following the adoption of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850, Canada became a popular destination for fugitive slaves and other fugitives. Horatio T. Strother’s overview of several villages in Canada West (Ontario) contains information about fugitives’ living and working conditions as well as information about their churches, schools, and businesses as well as their ideals and views. Connecticut was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, Connecticut, 1962. It follows the history of the Underground Railroad in one state, from its beginnings through its structure and functioning. It was discovered that the author had looked into published materials as well as oral tradition passed down by relatives of Underground operatives. The paths from entrance sites such as the New Haven harbor and the New York state line, via significant crossroads such as Brooklyn and Farmington, are examined by T. Stephen Whitman in his book, The Road to the Sea. Challenging Slavery in the Chesapeake: Black and White Resistance to Human Bondage, 1775–1865 is a book about the fight against slavery in the Chesapeake. The Maryland Historical Society published a book in 2007 titled Maryland Historical Society. There is a significant amount of information about the Underground Railroad in this comprehensive study, including the anti-slavery fervor of certain Marylanders, the ships used to carry slaves out of bondage, and the labor of Harriet Tubman, among other things. Aspects of the author’s research include the help offered to fleeing slaves and fugitive whites in Baltimore, as well as the amazing escape of Frederick Douglass.
See also:  Who Established The Underground Railroad? (Perfect answer)

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The Underground Railroad

At the time of slavery, the Underground Railroad was a network of routes, locations, and individuals that assisted enslaved persons in the American South in their attempts to flee to freedom in the northern states. Subjects History of the United States, Social StudiesImage

Home of Levi Coffin

Levi Coffin’s residence in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he lived as an American Quaker and abolitionist. This was a station on the Underground Railroad, a network of routes, locations, and individuals that assisted enslaved persons in escaping to the North during the Civil War. Cincinnati Museum Center provided the photography. “> During the age of slavery, the Underground Railroad was a network of routes, locations, and individuals that assisted enslaved persons in the American South in escaping to the North, according to the Underground Railroad Museum.

Although it was not a real railroad, it fulfilled the same function as one: it carried passengers across large distances.

The people who worked for the Underground Railroad were driven by a passion for justice and a desire to see slavery abolished—a drive that was so strong that they risked their lives and jeopardized their own freedom in order to assist enslaved people in escaping from bondage and staying safe while traveling the Underground Railroad.

  1. As the network expanded, the railroad metaphor became more prevalent.
  2. In recent years, academic research has revealed that the vast majority of persons who engaged in the Underground Railroad did it on their own, rather than as part of a larger organization.
  3. According to historical tales of the railroad, conductors frequently pretended to be enslaved persons in order to smuggle runaways out of plantation prisons and train stations.
  4. Often, the conductors and passengers traveled 16–19 kilometers (10–20 miles) between each safehouse stop, which was a long distance in this day and age.
  5. Patrols on the lookout for enslaved persons were usually on their tails, chasing them down.
  6. Historians who study the railroad, on the other hand, find it difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction.
  7. Eric Foner is one of the historians that belongs to this group.
  8. Despite this, the Underground Railroad was at the center of the abolitionist struggle during the nineteenth century.
  9. Levi Coffin’s residence in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he lived as an American Quaker and abolitionist.
  10. Cincinnati Museum Center provided the photography.
  11. Person who is owned by another person or group of people is referred to as an enslaved person.

Slavery is a noun that refers to the act of owning another human being or being owned by another human being (also known as servitude). Abolitionists utilized this nounsystem between 1800 and 1865 to aid enslaved African Americans in their attempts to flee to free states.

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The Secret History of the Underground Railroad

Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race was the title of a series published by De Bow’s Review, a leading Southern periodical, a decade before the Civil War. The series was deemed necessary by the editors because it had “direct and practical bearing” on 3 million people whose worth as property totaled approximately $2 billion. When it comes to African Americans’ supposed laziness (“deficiency of red blood in the pulmonary and arterial systems”), love of dancing (“profuse distribution of nervous matter to the stomach, liver, and genital organs”), and extreme aversion to being whipped (“skin.

  • However, it was Cartwright’s discovery of a previously undiscovered medical illness, which he coined “Drapetomania, or the sickness that causes Negroes to flee,” that grabbed the most attention from readers.
  • Despite the fact that only a few thousand individuals, at most, fled slavery each year—nearly all of them from states bordering the free North—their migration was seen by many Southern whites as a portent of a greater calamity.
  • How long do you think it will take until the entire cloth begins to unravel?
  • Rather, it was intentionally supported and helped by a well-organized network that was both large and diabolical in scope.
  • The word “Underground Railroad” brings up pictures of trapdoors, flickering lamps, and moonlit routes through the woods in the minds of most people today, just as it did in the minds of most Americans in the 1840s and 1850s.
  • At least until recently, scholars paid relatively little attention to the story, which is remarkable considering how prominent it is in the national consciousness.
  • The Underground Railroad was widely believed to be a statewide conspiracy with “conductors,” “agents,” and “depots,” but was it really a fiction of popular imagination conjured up from a succession of isolated, unconnected escapes?
  • Which historians you trust in will determine the solutions.

One historian (white) questioned surviving abolitionists (most of whom were also white) a decade after the Civil War and documented a “great and complicated network” of agents, 3,211 of whom he identified by name, as well as a “great and intricate network” of agents (nearly all of them white).

  • “I escaped without the assistance.
  • C.
  • “I have freed myself in the manner of a man.” In many cases, the Underground Railroad was not concealed at all.
  • The journal of a white New Yorker who assisted hundreds of runaway slaves in the 1850s was found by an undergraduate student in Foner’s department at Columbia University while working on her final thesis some years ago, and this discovery served as the inspiration for his current book.
  • One of the book’s most surprising revelations is that, according to the book’s subtitle, the Underground Railroad was not always secret at all.
  • The New York State Vigilance Committee, established in 1850, the year of the infamous Fugitive Slave Act, officially declared its objective to “welcome, with open arms, the panting fugitive.” Local newspapers published stories about Jermain W.

Bazaars with the slogan “Buy for the sake of the slave” provided donated luxury items and handcrafted knickknacks just before the winter holidays, and bake sales in support of the Underground Railroad, no matter how unlikely it may seem, became popular fund-raisers in Northern towns and cities.

  1. Political leaders, especially those who had taken vows to protect the Constitution — including the section ordering the return of runaways to their proper masters — blatantly failed to carry out their obligations.
  2. Judge William Jay, a son of the first chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, made the decision to disregard fugitive slave laws and contributed money to aid runaway slaves who managed to flee.
  3. One overlooked historical irony is that, up until the eve of Southern secession in 1860, states’ rights were cited as frequently by Northern abolitionists as they were by Southern slaveholders, a fact that is worth noting.
  4. It was not recognized for its abolitionist passion, in contrast to places like as Boston and Philadelphia, which had deep-rooted reformer traditions—­as well as communities in upstate New York such as Buffalo and Syracuse.

Even before the city’s final bondsmen were released, in 1827, its economy had become deeply intertwined with that of the South, as evidenced by a gloating editorial in the De Bow newspaper, published shortly before the Civil War, claiming the city was “nearly as reliant on Southern slavery as Charleston.” New York banks lent money to plantation owners to acquire slaves, while New York merchants made their fortunes off the sale of slave-grown cotton and sugar.

  • Besides properly recapturing escapees, slave catchers prowled the streets of Manhattan, and they frequently illegally kidnapped free blacks—particularly children—in order to sell them into Southern bondage.
  • The story begins in 1846, when a man called George Kirk slipped away aboard a ship sailing from Savannah to New York, only to be discovered by the captain and shackled while awaiting return to his owner.
  • The successful fugitive was escorted out of court by a phalanx of local African Americans who were on the lookout for him.
  • In this case, the same court found other legal grounds on which to free Kirk, who rolled out triumphantly in a carriage and made his way to the safety of Boston in short order this time.
  • In addition to being descended from prominent Puritans, Sydney Howard Gay married a wealthy (and radical) Quaker heiress.
  • Co-conspirator Louis Napoleon, who is thought to be the freeborn son of a Jewish New Yorker and an African American slave, was employed as an office porter in Gay’s office.
  • Gay was the one who, between 1855 and 1856, maintained the “Record of Fugitives,” which the undergraduate discovered in the Columbia University archives and which chronicled more than 200 escapes.


One first-person narrative starts, “I ate one meal a day for eight years.” “It has been sold three times, and it is expected to be sold a fourth time.

Undoubtedly, a countrywide network existed, with its actions sometimes shrouded in secrecy.

Its routes and timetables were continually changing as well.

As with Gay and Napoleon’s collaboration, its operations frequently brought together people from all walks of life, including the affluent and the poor, black and white.

Among others who decamped to Savannah were a light-skinned guy who set himself up in a first-class hotel, went around town in a magnificent new suit of clothes, and insouciantly purchased a steamship ticket to New York from Savannah.

At the height of the Civil War, the number of such fugitives was still a small proportion of the overall population.

It not only played a role in precipitating the political crisis of the 1850s, but it also galvanized millions of sympathetic white Northerners to join a noble fight against Southern slave­holders, whether they had personally assisted fugitive slaves, shopped at abolitionist bake sales, or simply enjoyed reading about slave escapes in books and newspapers.

  • More than anything else, it trained millions of enslaved Americans to gain their freedom at a moment’s notice if necessary.
  • Within a few months, a large number of Union soldiers and sailors successfully transformed themselves into Underground Railroad operatives in the heart of the South, sheltering fugitives who rushed in large numbers to the Yankees’ encampments to escape capture.
  • Cartwright’s most horrific nightmares.
  • On one of the Union’s railway lines, an abolitionist discovered that the volume of wartime traffic was at an all-time high—­except on one of them.
  • The number of solo travelers is quite limited.” And it’s possible that New Yorkers were surprised to open their eyes in early 1864.

The accompanying essay, on the other hand, soon put their worries at ease. It proposed a plan to construct Manhattan’s first subway line, which would travel northward up Broadway from the Battery to Central Park. It was never built.

Myths About the Underground Railroad

When it comes to teaching African-American Studies today, one of the great delights is the satisfaction that comes from being able to restore to the historical record “lost” events and the persons whose sacrifices and bravery enabled those events to take place, never to be lost again. Among our ancestors’ long and dreadful history of human bondage is the Underground Railroad, which has garnered more recent attention from teachers, students, museum curators, and the tourism industry than any other institution from the black past.

  • Nevertheless, in the effort to convey the narrative of this magnificent institution, fiction and lore have occasionally taken precedence over historical truth.
  • The sacrifices and valor of our forefathers and foremothers, as well as their allies, are made all the more noble, heroic, and striking as a result.
  • I think this is a common misconception among students.
  • As described by Wilbur H.
  • Running slaves, frequently in groups of up to several families, were said to have been directed at night on their desperate journey to freedom by the traditional “Drinking Gourd,” which was the slaves’ secret name for the North Star.
See also:  Who Killed The People On The Underground Railroad? (Solution)

The Railroad in Lore

Following is a brief list of some of the most frequent myths regarding the Underground Railroad, which includes the following examples: 1. It was administered by well-intentioned white abolitionists, many of whom were Quakers. 2. The Underground Railroad was active throughout the southern United States. Most runaway slaves who managed to make their way north took refuge in secret quarters hidden in attics or cellars, while many more managed to escape through tunnels. Fourteenth, slaves made so-called “freedom quilts,” which they displayed outside their homes’ windows to signal fugitives to the whereabouts of safe houses and safe ways north to freedom.


When slaves heard the spiritual “Steal Away,” they knew Harriet Tubman was on her way to town, or that an ideal opportunity to run was approaching.

scholars like Larry Gara, who wrote The Liberty Line: The Legend of the Underground Railroad and Blight, among other works, have worked tirelessly to address all of these problems, and I’ll outline the proper answers based on their work, and the work of others, at the conclusion of this piece.

First, a brief overview of the Underground Railroad’s history:

A Meme Is Born

As Blight correctly points out, the railroad has proven to be one of the most “enduring and popular strands in the fabric of America’s national historical memory.” Since the end of the nineteenth century, many Americans, particularly in New England and the Midwest, have either made up legends about the deeds of their ancestors or simply repeated stories that they have heard about their forebears.

It’s worth taking a look at the history of the phrase “Underground Railroad” before diving into those tales, though.

Tice Davids was a Kentucky slave who managed to escape to Ohio in 1831, and it is possible that the phrase “Underground Railroad” was invented as a result of his successful escape.

According to Blight, he is believed to have said that Davids had vanished as though “the nigger must have gone off on an underground railroad.” This is a fantastic narrative — one that would be worthy of Richard Pryor — but it is improbable, given that train lines were non-existent at the time.

  • The fleeing slave from Washington, D.C., who was tortured and forced to testify that he had been taken north, where “the railroad extended underground all the way to Boston,” according to one report from 1839, was captured.
  • constructed from Mason and Dixon’s to the Canada line, upon which fugitives from slavery might come pouring into this province” is the first time the term appears.
  • 14, 1842, in the Liberator, a date that may be supported by others who claim that abolitionist Charles T.
  • Torrey.

Myth Battles Counter-Myth

Historically, the appeal of romance and fantasy in stories of the Underground Railroad can be traced back to the latter decades of the nineteenth century, when the South was winning the battle of popular memory over what the Civil War was all about — burying Lost Cause mythology deep in the national psyche and eventually propelling the racist Woodrow Wilson into the White House. Many white Northerners attempted to retain a heroic version of their history in the face of a dominant Southern interpretation of the significance of the Civil War, and they found a handy weapon in the stories of the Underground Railroad to accomplish this goal.

Immediately following the fall of Reconstruction in 1876, which was frequently attributed to purportedly uneducated or corrupt black people, the story of the struggle for independence was transformed into a tale of noble, selfless white efforts on behalf of a poor and nameless “inferior” race.

Siebert questioned practically everyone who was still alive who had any recollection of the network and even flew to Canada to interview former slaves who had traced their own pathways from the South to freedom as part of his investigation.

In the words of David Blight, Siebert “crafted a popular tale of largely white conductors assisting nameless blacks on their journey to freedom.”

Truth Reveals Unheralded Heroism

That’s a little amount of history; what about those urban legends? The answers are as follows: It cannot be overstated that the Underground Railroad and the abolitionist movement itself were possibly the first examples in American history of a truly multiracial alliance, and the role played by the Quakers in its success cannot be overstated. Despite this, it was primarily controlled by free Northern African Americans, particularly in its early years, with the most notable exception being the famous Philadelphian William Still, who served as its president.

  • The Underground Railroad was made possible by the efforts of white and black activists such as Levi Coffin, Thomas Garrett, Calvin Fairbank, Charles Torrey, Harriet Tubman and Still, all of whom were true heroes.
  • Because of the adoption of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, the railroad’s growth did not take place until after that year.
  • After all, it was against the law to help slaves in their attempts to emancipate themselves.
  • Being an abolitionist or a conductor on the Underground Railroad, according to the historian Donald Yacovone, “was about as popular and hazardous as being a member of the Communist Party in 1955,” he said in an email to me.
  • The Underground Railroad was predominantly a phenomena of the Northern United States.
  • For the most part, fugitive slaves were left on their own until they were able to cross the Ohio River or the Mason-Dixon Line and thereby reach a Free State.
  • For fugitives in the North, well-established routes and conductors existed, as did some informal networks that could transport fugitives from places such as the abolitionists’ office or houses in Philadelphia to other locations north and west.

(where slavery remained legal until 1862), as well as in a few locations throughout the Upper South, some organized support was available.


I’m afraid there aren’t many.

Furthermore, few dwellings in the North were equipped with secret corridors or hidden rooms where slaves might be hidden.

What about freedom quilts?

The only time a slave family had the resources to sew a quilt was to shelter themselves from the cold, not to relay information about alleged passages on the Underground Railroad that they had never visited.

As we will discover in a future column, the danger of treachery about individual escapes and collective rebellions was much too large for escape plans to be publicly shared.5.

No one has a definitive answer.

According to Elizabeth Pierce, an administrator at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, the figure might be as high as 100,000, but that appears to be an overstatement.

We may put these numbers into context by noting that there were 3.9 million slaves and only 488,070 free Negroes in 1860 (with more than half of them still living in the South), whereas there were 434,495 free Negroes in 1850 (with more than half still living in the South).

The fact that only 101 fleeing slaves ever produced book-length “slave narratives” describing their servitude until the conclusion of the Civil War is also significant to keep in mind while thinking about this topic.

However, just a few of them made it to safety.

How did the fugitive get away?

John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger, as summarized by Blight, “80 percent of these fugitives were young guys in their teens and twenties who absconded alone on the majority of occasions.

Because of their household and child-rearing duties, young slave women were significantly less likely to flee than older slave women.

Lyford in 1896 reported that he could not recall “any fugitives ever being transported by anyone, they always had to pilot their own canoe with the little help that they received,” suggesting that “the greatest number of fugitives were self-emancipating individuals who, upon reaching a point in their lives when they could no longer tolerate their captive status, finally just took off for what had been a long and difficult journey.” 7.

What is “Steal Away”?

They used them to communicate secretly with one another in double-voiced discussions that neither the master nor the overseer could comprehend.

However, for reasons of safety, privacy, security, and protection, the vast majority of slaves who escaped did so alone and covertly, rather than risking their own safety by notifying a large number of individuals outside of their families about their plans, for fear of betraying their masters’ trust.

Just consider the following for a moment: If fleeing slavery had been thus planned and maintained on a systematic basis, slavery would most likely have been abolished long before the American Civil War, don’t you think?

According to Blight, “Much of what we call the Underground Railroad was actually operated clandestinely by African Americans themselves through urban vigilance committees and rescue squads that were often led by free blacks.” The “Underground Railroad” was a marvelously improvised, metaphorical construct run by courageous heroes, the vast majority of whom were black.

Gara’s study revealed that “running away was a terrible and risky idea for slaves,” according to Blight, and that the total numbers of slaves who risked their lives, or even those who succeeded in escaping, were “not huge.” There were thousands of heroic slaves who were helped by the organization, each of whom should be remembered as heroes of African-American history, but there were not nearly as many as we often believe, and certainly not nearly enough.

Approximately fifty-five of the 100 Amazing Facts will be published on the website African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. On The Root, you may find all 100 facts.

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