Underground Railroad

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Related to Underground Railroad: Harriet Tubman

Underground Railroad,

in U.S. history, loosely organized system for helping fugitive slaves escape to Canada or to areas of safety in free states. It was run by local groups of Northern abolitionistsabolitionists,
in U.S. history, particularly in the three decades before the Civil War, members of the movement that agitated for the compulsory emancipation of the slaves.
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, both white and free blacks. The metaphor first appeared in print in the early 1840s, and other railroad terminology was soon added. The escaping slaves were called passengers; the homes where they were sheltered, stations; and those who guided them, conductors. This nomenclature, along with the numerous, somewhat glorified, personal reminiscences written by conductors in the postwar period, created the impression that the Underground Railroad was a highly systematized, national, secret organization that accomplished prodigious feats in stealing slaves away from the South. In fact, most of the help given to fugitive slaves on their varied routes north was spontaneously offered and came not only from abolitionists or self-styled members of the Underground Railroad, but from anyone moved to sympathy by the plight of the runaway slave before his eyes. The major part played by free blacks, of both North and South, and by slaves on plantations along the way in helping fugitives escape to freedom was underestimated in nearly all early accounts of the railroad. Moreover, the resourcefulness and daring of the fleeing slaves themselves, who were usually helped only after the most dangerous part of their journey (i.e., the Southern part) was over, were probably more important factors in the success of their escape than many conductors readily admitted.

In some localities, like Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Wilmington, Del., and Newport, Ind. (site of the activities of Levi CoffinCoffin, Levi,
1798–1877, American abolitionist, b. North Carolina. In 1826 he moved to the Quaker settlement of Newport (now Fountain City), Ind., where he kept a store until 1847.
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), energetic organizers did manage to loosely systematize the work; Quakers were particularly prominent as conductors, and among the free blacks the exploits of Harriet TubmanTubman, Harriet,
c.1820–1913, American abolitionist, b. Dorchester co., Md. Born into slavery, she escaped to Phildelphia in 1849, and subsequently became one of the most successful "conductors" on the Underground Railroad.
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 stand out. In all cases, however, it is extremely difficult to separate fact from legend, especially since relatively few enslaved blacks, probably no more than between 1,000 and 5,000 a year between 1830 and 1860, escaped successfully. Far from being kept secret, details of escapes on the Underground Railroad were highly publicized and exaggerated in both the North and the South, although for different reasons. The abolitionists used the Underground Railroad as a propaganda device to dramatize the evils of slavery; Southern slaveholders publicized it to illustrate Northern infidelity to the fugitive slave lawsfugitive slave laws,
in U.S. history, the federal acts of 1793 and 1850 providing for the return between states of escaped black slaves. Similar laws existing in both North and South in colonial days applied also to white indentured servants and to Native American slaves.
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. The effect of this publicity, with its repeated tellings and exaggerations of slave escapes, was to create an Underground Railroad legend that represented a humanitarian ideal of the pre–Civil War period but strayed far from reality.


W. Still's The Underground Railroad (1872) contains the narratives of slaves who escaped the South through Philadelphia. See also W. H. Siebert's pioneering though somewhat misleading The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom (1898, repr. 1968); for extensively revised accounts, see L. Gara, The Liberty Line (1961), D. Blight, ed., Passages to Freedom (2004), F. Bordewich, Bound for Canaan (2005), and E. Foner, Gateway to Freedom (2015).

Underground Railroad


the name of a secret system for the organization of escapes by Negro slaves from the southern slaveholding states of the USA; it existed until the Civil War of 1861–65.

The Underground Railroad had “stations,” or stopping places en route at homes of citizens who sympathized with the escapees, and “conductors,” of leaders of groups of escapees. The routes of the Underground Railroad ran from the states of Kentucky, Virginia, and Maryland to the northern states and Canada. The chief organizers of the Underground Railroad were free Negroes, participants in the abolitionist movement, and Quakers. Between 1830 and 1860 about 60,000 slaves found freedom by means of the Underground Railroad.


Foster, W. Z. Negritianskii narod v istorii Ameriki. Moscow, 1955. Pages 175–78. (Translated from English.)

Underground Railroad

system which helped slaves to escape to the North. [Am. Hist.: EB, X: 255]

Underground Railroad

effective means of escape for southern slaves. [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 514]
See: Freedom
References in periodicals archive ?
Mention the Underground Railroad to residents of any town above the Mason-Dixon line, and they will inevitably inform you that some local abode once housed fugitive slaves.
This is an unprecedented opportunity for our two iconic institutions and for the men, women and children we serve," said John Pepper, co-chair of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and long-time supporter.
NETWORK TO FREEDOM SITES IN MICHIGAN In addition to the Harwood farm in Washtenaw County, the following Michigan sites with Underground Railroad ties are listed on the National Park Service's Network to Freedom website: Adrian Commemorative Drinking Fountain of Laura Smith Haviland Ann Arbor Guy Beckley House Battle Creek Underground Railroad Monument Cassopolis Stephen Bogue Commemorative Marker Detroit First Congregational Church; George deBaptiste Homesite Grand Rapids Howard Family Farm; Isaac Bailey's Gravesite at Oakhill Cemetery Marshall Adam Crosswhite Marker Muskegon Jonathan Walker Gravesite at Evergreen Cemetery and Marker Saline John Lowry Gravesite at Lodi Cemetery Schoolcraft Dr.
In 1856, a letter from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Underground Railroad agent, Joseph C.
He says fewer slaves used the Underground Railroad than the museum seems to contend.
Students at Stagg Elementary School in Van Nuys will present a program dramatizing historical events such as the Underground Railroad and the bus boycott of the 1950s.
This might seem like a "no-brainer," but Underground Railroad historiography and a paucity of contemporary evidence regarding assisted slave escapes justify Griffler's effort.
And even though Cincinnati was more of a pass-through city than a final destination, and the Underground Railroad was a continuation of at least 500 years of people seeking the promise of equality across the globe, it was at this place and time in American History that the perpetual struggle between slaves and those who enslave--between freedom and unfreedom--experienced its most defining moment.
The church was an emergency stop on the Underground Railroad and, on at least two occasions, families were hidden in the heating tunnel, which is a "rare, intact Underground Railroad site," according to Pastor Dyson.
NPCA's travel program, Parkscapes, is offering a tour that celebrates the establishment of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

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