The Underground Railroad wasn't really underground nor a railroad but, routes that the enslaved took to get to freedom. It was also nicknamed Liberty Line. Escape routes ranged from the North to the Western territories, Mexico, and even the Caribbean. Although no one really knows exactly when it was started, some reports of aid being given to the runaways in the early 1700's and ended promptly in 1856 due to the union's victory over the Confederacy. There were many people involved in these escapes through the Underground Railroad although, they all might not have been directly involved, they all helped out in one way or another.
Abolitionists were people in favor of getting rid of slavery laws. The Underground Railroad was run by abolitionists. In this case they were fighting against the law that made slavery legal. The abolitionist movement was against human bondage, therefore the Underground Railroad secretly led slave runaways to freedom. It was know to the slave-owners as "organized theft." It was a very mysterious thing. "It confronted human bondage without any direct demands or intended violence; yet, its efforts played a prominent role in the destruction of the institution of slavery." (Blocks on, p.
24) This was very intimidating to the slave owners. Slave owners in the South certainly weren't happy about the loss of "property." It seemed like too much money was being lost. This caused the South to pass the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. This titled slaves as property of their owners and gave permission to the owners to retrieve runaways any where in the states, even those that were free.
(Gara, p. 83) The North was angry about the treatment of the slaves and was not happy about owners being allowed to come into their states to take the slaves back. Finally, the North decided to do something about it. To return the fire thrown at them by the South, they would take away something that the North thought was morally wrong, and the South's riches.
They would help the slaves escape to freedom. The slaves were now angry, scared, and confused. Hearing of this Underground Railroad, they slowly began to run, more and more. The slaves mostly traveled at night to avoid detection.
They were usually young adults, male, unattached, and highly skilled. Very rarely, if ever, did families flee all at once. They would use the North Star for guidance. They would have to walk anywhere from ten to thirty miles in one night, which was figured to be the amount a healthy male could travel.
They would take shelter in isolated stations, or farms, and vigilance committees, or agents in the town, where free blacks would conceal them until the next night. They would sleep through the day and travel at night. Although when possible, conductors would meet them at border points such as Cincinnati Ohio and Wilmington, Delaware. There were different forms of escaping as well as different paths. The slaves could travel on boats.
When the slaves would try for Canada, the lake ports of Detroit, Michigan; Sandusky, Ohio; Erie, Pennsylvania; and Buffalo, New York would help tremendously. The thing that was most amazing about the Underground Railroad was the lack of formal organization. The prosperity of the railroad was mainly relied on efforts of cooperating people of different ethnic and religious groups who helped bondsmen escape from slavery. This was a very mysterious thing and the records are scarce for individuals who actually participated in its activities.
Usually, the people involved would hide out or destroy their personal journals in order to protect the runaways and themselves. A few identities were learned of not to long ago. These being David Ruggles, Calvin Fairbank, Josiah Henson, Robert Purvis, William Still and Erasmus Hussey. " (Gara, p. 117) Though scholars estimate that Underground Railroad conductors assisted thousands of refugees, the total number of runaways whom they aided to freedom will never be known simply because of the movement's secrecy. Even though some conductors have come forward to tell about this, they would only count how many people they, themselves helped.
This wouldn't include the slaves that tried to escape on their own means and not with the help of the railroad. People will most likely never learn how many slaves actually used the railroad to obtain freedom.