Why Is The Underground Railroad A Controversy Quilt? (Best solution)

Quilts of the Underground Railroad describes a controversial belief that quilts were used to communicate information to African slaves about how to escape to freedom via the Underground Railroad.

Where are the quilts of the Underground Railroad?

  • Nevertheless, the story continues to be told in places like the Plymouth Historical Museum in Plymouth, Mich., where an exhibition entitled “Quilts of the Underground Railroadis up for the fifth year in a row. Over 6,000 school children have seen the exhibit, which presents the thesis of a quilt code.

Why were quilts used in the Underground Railroad?

When slaves made their escape, they used their memory of the quilts as a mnemonic device to guide them safely along their journey, according to McDaniel. The historians believe the first quilt the seamstress would display had a wrench pattern.

What is the freedom quilt about?

It is believed that quilts were designed and used to communicate information to African slaves about how to escape to freedom using the Underground Railroad.

What is the significance of barn quilts?

Barn quilts tell stories about individual farms, historical events or communities while also adding visual interest to the countryside and increasing rural tourism.

Did slaves make quilts?

Slaves made quilts for the plantation family, sometimes under the supervision of the plantation mistress, but WPA interviews attest to the prevalence of quiltmaking in the slave quarters for their own use as well. Some slave seamstresses became highly regarded for their skill.

What does shoofly quilt mean?

Shoofly: A symbol that possibly identifies a person who can guide and help; a person who helped slaves escape along the Underground Railroad and who knew the codes. Some sources say it indicated a safe house along the Underground Railroad.

How old is quilting?

The history of quilting, the stitching together of layers of padding and fabric, may date back as far as 3400 BCE. For much of its history, quilting was primarily a practical technique to provide physical protection and insulation.

Who made the freedom quilts?

But historians note that the sole source for that story was one woman— Ozella McDaniel Williams, a retired educator and quilt maker in Charleston, S.C., who recounted for Tobin a family tradition that had been passed down to her through the generations.

What’s Harriet Tubman’s real name?

The person we know as “Harriet Tubman” endured decades in bondage before becoming Harriet Tubman. Tubman was born under the name Araminta Ross sometime around 1820 (the exact date is unknown); her mother nicknamed her Minty.

Where did quilting originate from?

Quilting can be traced back as far as ancient Egypt. In the British Museum is an ivory carving from the Temple of Osiris at Abydos found in 1903 which features the king of the First Egyptian Dynasty wearing a cloak or mantle that appears to be quilted.

What is the origin of the barn quilt?

The concept of barn quilts began with Donna Sue Groves and her wish to honor her mother, Maxine, and her Appalachian heritage by having a painted quilt hung on her barn in Adams County, Ohio. As is often the case, good ideas fall by the wayside when work and other obligations intervene.

Who invented the barn quilt?

1 Origin of the Modern Quilt Square A woman named of Donna Sue started what are now the oversized, brightly colored barn quilt squares appearing on barns throughout the Midwest and East.

Did quilting originate in Africa?

Leon has found that much of the American patchwork quilt tradition may be derived from African designs. Leon further speculates that some patterns that were to become standard in American patchwork quilts originated in African textiles and carried over into African-American quilts.

What was the code for the Underground Railroad?

The code words often used on the Underground Railroad were: “ tracks” (routes fixed by abolitionist sympathizers); “stations” or “depots” (hiding places); “conductors” (guides on the Underground Railroad); “agents” (sympathizers who helped the slaves connect to the Railroad); “station masters” (those who hid slaves in

Did Quilts Hold Codes to the Underground Railroad?

In 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, thereby ending slavery in the United States. Freedom-seekers, free Blacks, and descendants of Black Loyalists settled throughout British North America during the American Revolutionary War period. It is possible that some of them resided in all-Black colonies, such as the Elgin Settlement and the Buxton Mission in Ontario, the Queen’s Bush Settlement and the DawnSettlement near Dresden in Ontario, as well as Birchtown and Africaville in Nova Scotia, although this seems unlikely.

Early African Canadian settlers were hardworking and forward-thinking members of their communities.

Religious, educational, social, and cultural institutions, political groupings, and community-building organizations were all founded by black people during the course of their history.

For further information, see the biography of Mary Ann Shadd.

  • Food stores, boutiques, and hat shops were among the enterprises they operated.
  • In the struggle for racial equality, black people were vocal and active participants.
  • In their communities, they waged war on the prejudice and discrimination they met in their daily lives in Canada by getting productive work, acquiring homes, and ensuring that their children received a quality education.
  • As a result of their race, many people were refused the ability to dwell in specific areas.
  • When segregated schools were present in some regions of Ontario and Nova Scotia, parents were obligated to take their children to them.
  • They made significant contributions to the socio-economic development of the communities in which they resided wherever they settled in British North America.
  • Even now, they have left a lasting and rich legacy that is still visible.

The Code

McDaniel detailed the code in a series of conversations with Tobin and Dobard, which included the following: Plantation seamstresses would create a sampler quilt, which would have several distinct quilt designs. Slaves would learn the code with the help of the sampler. The seamstress then stitched ten quilts, each of which was made up of a different design from the code. The quilts would be hung in plain view by the seamstress one at a time, allowing the slaves to reinforce their recall of the design and the meaning connected with the pattern.

  1. According to historians, the first quilt made by the seamstress to be displayed had a wrench pattern on it.
  2. In this pattern, slaves were instructed to pack their possessions because they would be embarking on a lengthy journey.
  3. “You were intended to follow in the bear’s actual footsteps,” Dobard explained.
  4. When Dobard finished the last quilt, she used a tumbling blocks design that she described as appearing like a collection of boxes.
  5. If, for example, there was an agent of the Underground Railroad in the vicinity, “Dobard expressed himself.

Fact or Myth?

Since its publication, the quilt-code idea has been the subject of heated debate. Quilt historians and experts on the Underground Railroad have questioned the methods used in the study, as well as the veracity of its conclusions. Giles R. Wright, a historian located in New Jersey, argues that there is a scarcity of supporting material. Quilt codes are not mentioned in either the slave narratives from the nineteenth century or the oral accounts of former slaves from the 1930s. In addition, there are no original quilts left.

  1. “They provide no proof, no paperwork, in support of that claim,” says the author.
  2. I was thinking to myself, “Who is going to take notes on their actions and what they meant.it may get into the wrong hands?” Dobard expressed himself.
  3. “Take, for example, the nature of quilts.
  4. “It is unreasonable to expect a quilt that has been kept within the slave community for more than a hundred years to still be in existence.” Fact or fiction, most people agree that the concept of a patchwork code is intriguing.

It creates a beautiful tale, according to Bonnie Browning of the American Quilter’s Society in Paducah, Kentucky: “It makes a wonderful story.”

Underground Railroad Quilt Codes: What We Know, What We Believe, and What Inspires Us

Since its publication, the quilt-code idea has sparked a heated debate. Quilt historians and experts on the Underground Railroad have questioned the technique used in the study, as well as the veracity of the results. Several historians, like Giles R. Wright, who lives in New Jersey, have expressed concern about a lack of supporting evidence. Quilt codes are not mentioned in either the slave narratives from the nineteenth century or the oral testimony of former slaves from the twentieth century.

  1. According to Wright, “what they’ve done is taken a piece of tradition and declared it to be historical truth.” “They provide no evidence, no documentation, in support of that position,” says the author.
  2. I was thinking to myself, “Who is going to take notes on their actions and what they meant.it may end up in incorrect hands?” This was said by Dobard.
  3. “Just think about the way quilts are made.
  4. “It is unreasonable to expect a quilt that has been kept within the slave community for more than a hundred years to continue to be in use.” Fact or fiction, everyone agrees that the concept of a patchwork code is intriguing.
See also:  What Phrase Is Used To Announce The Arrival Of New Runaways At Stops Along The Underground Railroad? (Perfect answer)

Underground Railroad Quilts?

Quilt myths have a long history, and one of the most potent to emerge in recent years is the role that quilts may have had in the Underground Railroad. This delightful narrative, which is based on an inspirational account of enslaved African Americans who cleverly sewed signals into quilts to alert others seeking freedom in the North toward safe haven, has sparked debate in the realm of quilt research because of the codes they created. The origins of the Quilt Code may be traced back to an oral tradition that has been passed down in at least one family.

Additional oral and historical records indicate the employment of various signals, such as whistles, songs, and lanterns, which are more frequently documented than the use of guns.

Because there is no other historical evidence to corroborate the usage of quilts as a code for fugitive slaves traveling north, quilt historians consider this to be a folk tale from a single family.

It features innovative quiltmakers and valiant enslaved people, and it ultimately culminates in their escape from this horrible institution.

Although it portrays an extremely simplistic depiction of the difficulties of the Underground Railroad and slavery that is not supported by historical data, the film is still entertaining.

Were Quilts Used as Underground Railroad Maps?

Fact, fiction, legend, or a mix of all three: that is the question. Possibly, fugitive slaves looked to handcrafted quilts deliberately placed by members of the Underground Railroad for hints about their whereabouts. This continuing issue made headlines earlier this year when it was announced that a memorial to Frederick Douglass in New York City’s Central Park will feature two inscriptions relating to the code. Historians were outraged, and they were outspoken. According to Giles Wright, head of the Afro-American History Program at the New Jersey Historical Commission, there is no evidence for such a code to be in existence.

  • The tale of the quilt key, on the other hand, remains firmly above ground.
  • Tobin and Raymond G.
  • The account, according to historians, came from a single source: Ozella McDaniel Williams, a retired educator and quilt maker from Charleston, South Carolina.
  • She said that instructions for assisting fleeing slaves on their path to freedom were hidden inside 12 quilt patterns.
  • In spite of the fact that Williams passed away just a few months before the book was released, Williams’s 73-year-old niece Serena Wilson of Columbus, Ohio, claims that she too learnt about the secret maps from her mother.
  • Misinterpret.
  • Bordewich, author of Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the Battle for the Soul of America, there is no other reference for the code other than that of the Bordewich family.
  • “There is no reference anywhere by anyone, black or white, of any quilt being used at any time.” In addition, no coded quilts from the time period have survived.
  • However, according to Brackman, some of the patterns that are alleged to be part of the Underground Railroad code did not exist until after the Civil War, while others did not exist until after the Civil War.
  • Many of the elements that have been attributed to the story—such as the use of quilts to mark safe homes along the way—”simply aren’t in the book,” she claims.

As Tobin points out, “we’re not talking about hundreds or thousands of people who are utilizing this code.” “The plot has developed in unexpected ways that we did not anticipate.”

Underground Railroad Quilts

It is possible that this content contains affiliate links. There has been considerable debate about the allegation that Underground Railroad quilts carried concealed messages intended to direct escaped slaves to freedom. You can see the whole disclosure policy here. The publication of Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quiltin 1993 sparked widespread interest in this romantic notion, which has since grown to the status of urban legend. While not as widely known, reputable research has been conducted to disprove the many contradictory “Quilt Codes.” The realities of the runaway slave experience – hardships, hunger, fear, incredible courage and determination – are diminished by the myth of secret messages hidden in quilts.

Quilts, Slavery, and History

There may be affiliate links in this article. There has been considerable debate regarding the allegation that Underground Railroad quilts carried concealed messages intended to direct escaped slaves to freedom. You can see the whole disclosure policy here. Because of the publication of Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt in 1993, this romantic notion has captured the imagination of many people and has grown to the status of urban legend. While not as widely known as the legend, there has been reputable research done to disprove the many contradictory “Quilt Codes.” The realities of the runaway slave experience – the hardships, the hunger, the fear, and their extraordinary strength – are diminished by the myth of secret messages.

Breaking News, Analysis, Politics, Blogs, News Photos, Video, Tech Reviews

There may be affiliate links in this content. There has been considerable debate regarding the allegation that Underground Railroad quilts carried concealed messages intended to direct escaped slaves to freedom. You can see the entire disclosure policy here. The publication of Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quiltin 1993 sparked widespread interest in this romantic notion, which has since grown to the status of urban legend.While not as widely known, reputable research has been conducted to disprove the many contradictory “Quilt Codes.” The realities of the runaway slave experience – hardships, hunger, fear, incredible courage and determination – are diminished by the myth of secret messages hidden in quilts.


The Underground Railroad is a term used to describe a system of transportation that allows people to flee their homes. 39 x 40 in. In the month of March 2006, In the middle of all the controversy surrounding the notion that quilts played a key part in the Underground Railroad, a new study has emerged. Popular Patchwork, a British quilt magazine, approached me and asked if I would be interested in writing a lighter piece for their readers about it. The essay I wrote for this quilt occupies the back of the quilt, and it expresses my thoughts on the subject in no uncertain terms.

  1. It’s possible that you recall my post from August 3, 2018 about Quilters Hall of Fame inductee Xenia Cord and her Beanie Baby bashing quilt that she created for a friend.
  2. Her quilt display at the Quilters Hall of Fame had a picture of American abolitionist Harriet Tubman, and she told the narrative of one quilt that featured the image of the woman who helped free the slaves.
  3. Xenia was taken aback by the request, and she could only attribute it to a publisher’s lack of grasp of American history in making such a request.
  4. The Underground Railroad is a term used to describe a system of transportation that allows people to flee their homes.
  5. As a result of the issue of slavery in the decades leading up to the commencement of the American Civil War in 1861, the construction of the ‘underground railroad’ took place.
  6. Northerners who were opposed to slavery on religious or moral grounds deliberately spread the word that they would aid fleeing slaves by providing them with shelter and transportation to another safe haven in the event that they were captured.
  7. Some of those who had escaped slavery made incursions into the slave states of the southern United States in order to assist fugitives in their journey to freedom.
  8. Those who sought to flee on their own were forced to walk from one deadly uncertainty to another across uncharted area, where their physical appearance alone was enough to put their lives in jeopardy.
  9. Quilt Codes from the beginning A new route to the Underground Railroad has been discovered by quilters today, armed with rotary cutters in tow.

It is believed that slaves made quilts on the southern plantations where they lived, and then displayed specific chosen patterns in sequence, hanging the ‘coded’ quilts outdoors as a signal that preparations should be made for escape; and second, that abolitionists displayed specific patterned quilts outdoors to signal that their establishment served as a safe house on the road to freedom.

Who on the southern plantations developed the ‘codes,’ and how were they disseminated; who made the quilts; where did they get their time and fabrics; how were’messages’ in quilts spread from one slave community to another; and why weren’t more conventional means of communication used to convey the same information as was done with quilts.

  1. Were log cabin quilts with a black core truly a representation of a shelter from the world?
  2. What would happen if a Southern sympathizer hung a log cabin blanket with a black center in the middle of the yard?
  3. They proceed to the house, where they are held at gunpoint by southern supporters as they await the arrival of the slave catcher, believing the’message’ in the quilt to be genuine.
  4. Is it true or false?
  5. Many of the names of the patterns depicted in the book and identified as ‘codes’ in it are believed to have originated in the twentieth century.
  6. Quilt historians in the United States have conducted substantial study into quilt patterns and pattern names, with special emphasis paid to the patterns identified in the book as ‘codes’ used by slaves to communicate with their masters.
  7. The first of these has never been seen in mid-19th century quilt styles, and the instrument known as a monkey wrench was created only before the Civil War, making it far too late to have served as a model for a ‘code’ quilt block design at the time.
  8. An amateur folklorist gathered fragments of the song in the 1920s, and it appears that only a thin and unsubstantiated relationship exists between it and the nineteenth century.
  9. It is said in the book that a series of quilt block designs were allegedly produced by slaves, and that the titles of the designs implied ‘codes;’ but, the block known as the Underground Railroad is not mentioned in the book.
  10. This has not prevented the story’s popularizers, who have used the narrative to elicit emotional responses from quilt makers, schoolchildren, the media, and the general populace.
See also:  Who Is The Most Famous Conductor Of The Underground Railroad? (Professionals recommend)

Similarly to kudzu, an insidious and destructive vine that was originally introduced into the United States as a food source but has since spread to cover more than seven million acres of fields, trees, and even buildings in the American South, the Underground Railroad quilt’myth’ has spread in numerous directions.

  1. Freedom quilts are the subject of several children’s books, all of which are based on the concept.
  2. Reviewers of her book were more inclined to believe the tale of the ‘quilt codes,’ and they welcomed the notion that the designs provided were from the Civil War era, despite the fact that this was not the case.
  3. There are a plethora of websites that offer mathematical games, art projects, and social studies exercises that may be used in the classroom.
  4. In addition, the family of the woman (now deceased) who was interviewed by Tobin has planned a lecture series as well as a museum for which they have applied for government support.
  5. Slavery cannot be made more humane via the use of patterns; nevertheless, there are certain patterns that may be used singly or in a sampler style as a homage to the bravery of people who battled under slavery and those who strove to alleviate their plight.

The Game of Names During the latter half of the nineteenth century and well into the 1920s and 1930s, a rapid expansion of commercialism in quilt making in the United States was accompanied by the publication of books on quilt history and the proliferation of pattern sources such as catalogues, leaflets, and batting wrappers.

  1. Some of the titles were derived from popular culture, while others were concocted to complement the graphical design or the author’s whim.
  2. Patterns based on geometric structure and given quantitatively, with several printed sources cited for each of the almost 4000 patterns shown.
  3. It is also closely connected to Jacob’s Ladder in terms of structure.
  4. While the Underground Railroad movement can be easily traced back to its origins, the pattern’s name is less so.
  5. Using a mental image of “.
  6. (page 71).

Finding Your Own Freedom As an alternative to using the Underground Railroad block from the twentieth century as the basis for a commemorative quilt, today’s quilt maker might consider using Brackman1222 Blacks and Whites, 3079 Slave Chain, or 2169 Free Trade to honor Quaker abolitionists who refused to buy, sell, or use goods produced through slave labor.

Individuals such as the abolitionists, Harriet “Moses” Tubman, who made perilous but ultimately successful forays into the South in order to free her enslaved compatriots, freedom seekers who dared to “steal away,” and those who attempted and died in the struggle for freedom deserve to be remembered.

This essay was first published in the March 2006 issue of the British Quilting and Patchworks Magazine, and it is republished here with the author’s permission. Go to bit.ly/2DtLefX to read this story in its original version, which has quilt photographs to go along with it.

The Myths of the Underground Railroad

Quilt HistoryToday’s Quilt HistoriansUnderground RailroadWomen at Work

New Pathways into Quilt History written by Kimberly Wulfert,www.antiquequiltdating.comThe Myth of Quilts on the Underground Railroad
Barbara Brackman’s Underground Railroad Quilt ClubAn online E-club of monthly in-depth articles, sources and references, patterns and discussionby Kimberly Wulfert, PhDBarbara Brackman’s Underground Railroad Web pageQuilts and the Underground Railroad Revisited: Interview with Historian Giles R. Wrightby Kimberly Wulfert, PhDHidden in Plain View:The Secret of Quilts and the Underground RailroadCritique by Giles R. WrightFACTSFABRICATIONS: Unraveling the History of QUILTSSLAVERYTHEnew book by Barbara Brackman – book review by Kimberly WulfertFact Sheet onThe”Quilt Code”Fact Sheetwrittenby Barbara Brackman, author of FactsFabrications: Unraveling the History of QuiltsSlavery2006Quilt Codes and the Underground Railroadby Ted Pack, Feb. 2007″A non-quilter discovers the controversy and the quilt code. Sit back and read about this hot button topic with a bit of humor thrown in. ThankyouTed, a fellow Californian, for sharing your experiences.”

For Teachers and ChildrenIdeas for TeachingBased on:FactsFabrications: Unraveling the History of QuiltsSlaverybyBarbara BrackmanFor Teachers of grade school, quilt shops, and students.”Them Dark Days”: The Arkansas Slave NarrativesThough they were gathered three-quarters of a century after the abolition of slavery, these eyewitness accounts provide a vivid testament to one of the darkest chapters in the history of our state and nation. For your convenience, these excerpts are arranged so you can search using specific keywords, or browse alphabetically or topically.Drunkard’s Path Quilt Pattern and the UGRR

Written by Anne Johnson, former grade school teacheranda quilter.Good for the younger grades.-African American Quilts: A Long Rich Heritage-Underground Railroad QuiltsAbolitionist Fairs-Underground Railroad Quilt Pattern

*Home© 2005 – 2019 Kimberly Wulfert,PhD. Absolutely no copies, reprints, use of photos or text are permitted for commercial or online use. One personal copy for study purposes is permitted.
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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.

  1. Nevertheless, in the effort to convey the narrative of this magnificent institution, fiction and lore have occasionally taken precedence over historical truth.
  2. 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.
  3. I think this is a common misconception among students.
  4. As described by Wilbur H.
  5. 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.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 14, 1842, in the Liberator, a date that may be supported by others who claim that abolitionist Charles T.
  4. 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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