The Underground Railroad, "Free at Last"

Date: 
Sat, 1787-06-30

The Underground Railroad, the organization which helped escaped African slaves from the South on their journey to freedom in the North and Canada, begun in 1787, is celebrated on this date.

It is believed that it started and got its name when Isaac T. Hopper, a Quaker, organized a system for hiding and aiding escaped slaves. Opponents of slavery, abolitionist, allowed their homes, called stations, to be used as places where escaped slaves were provided with food, shelter, and money. The various routes went through 14 northern states and Canada. It is estimated that by 1850, around 3,000 people worked on the Underground Railroad. Some of the best known people who provided help on the route included 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, and Susan B. Anthony.

The Underground Railroad also had used volunteers known as conductors who went to the south and helped guide slaves to safety. One of the most important of these was a former slave, Harriet Tubman. She made 19 secret trips to the South, during which she led more than 300 slaves to freedom. Tubman was considered such a threat to the slave system that plantation owners offered a $40,000 reward for her capture.

Underground Railroad Stations were usually about 20 miles apart. Conductors used covered wagons or carts with false bottoms to carry slaves from one station to another. Runaway slaves usually hid during the day and traveled at night. Some of those involved notified runaways of their stations by brightly lit candles in a window or by lanterns positioned in the front yard. By the middle of the 19th century, it was estimated that over 50,000 slaves had escaped from the South using the Underground Railroad.

Reference:
British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, Millburn Hill Road,
Science Park, Coventry, CV4 7JJ,
Tel: 024 7641 6994,
Fax: 024 7641 1418

The Anti-Slavery Society

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