The Underground Railroad One of the most shameful periods in history was the institution of slavery in the nineteenth century 2. Slavery was a divided issue in the 1800's. Most slaves brought to America were known as low class people who could bring no good, but history fails to state that many of the slaves who came were people of many trades, ambitions, as well as determinations. The Underground Railroad had its earliest beginnings with runaway slaves fleeing from the Southern United States into Canada. By confronting human bondage without direct demands or violence, the Underground Railroad played a definite role in the destruction of slavery. The Underground Railroad was a term used to describe a network of people who helped escaped slaves on their way to freedom.
Supposedly, the term Underground Railroad originated when an enslaved runaway, Tice Davids, fled from Kentucky and may have taken refuge with John Rankin, a White abolitionist, in Ripley, Ohio. Determined to retrieve his property, the owner chased Davids to the Ohio River, but Davids suddenly disappeared without a trace, leaving his owner confused and wondering if the slave had 'gone off on some underground road. ' The Railroad was begun as a result of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 2. The Fugitive Slave Act demanded that if an escaped slave was sighted, he or she must be turned in and sent back to the rightful owner 2.
The Nation grew divided on the slavery question. The Fugitive Slave Law called for the return of bonded and indentured runaways, as well as freed African Americans. This threatened the protection of the freed slaves. Many North American indentured slaves were freed after they had served their time after five to seven years 6. Most runaways were males, however women and children did escape.
Their numbers were smaller because they were more likely to be captured. Yet, The Underground Railroad became the most dramatic protest action against slavery in United States history 2. The Railroad helped escaped slaves make their way from the Southern states through the northern states, into freedom. The Underground Railroad was operating in America, yet it was not a railroad and was not underground. This "railroad" was for blacks escaping from slavery in the South. They were escaping to the free North, and to Canada where there was no slavery at all.
The Underground Railroad lacked in formal organization, relying on individuals or various groups. The escaping slaves, who had come to America against their will, were passed from farmhouse to storage sheds, barns, and cellars, until they reached safety. Set up by abolitionists, people who did not believe in the institution of slavery and worked to end it, the Underground Railroad covered many states 6. The African American abolitionists played a key part in assisting the runaway slaves to freedom. Since most African American abolitionists were former bondsmen, they usually took a personal interest in helping loved ones or anyone who wanted to gain freedom. From 1830 to 1865, the Underground Railroad reached its peak as abolitionists who hated slavery aided large numbers of slaves to freedom 2.
The most famous active railroad worker was an escaped slave named Harriet Tubman. Harriet Tubman was an ex-slave herself and was born of slave parents. Born on Maryland's eastern shore, Harriet grew up illiterate, because slaves were not allowed to read or write 6. In 1849, Harriet Tubman made plans to escape her life of slavery. She followed the stars and knew of only two Northern states, New Jersey and Pennsylvania 1. She finally made it to Philadelphia, where she found work and saved her money.
There was never a devised escape plan for any runaway because the journey was very random. Runaways could not travel normal roads because slave catchers patrolled them. They had to retreat to the more dangerous routes of swamp, forests, and mountains. Rewards, sometimes up to forty thousand dollars, were placed for Tubman's capture, considering the huge roll she played in the railroad movement.
Frederick Douglas once said, "I know of no one who has willingly encountered more pains and hardships to serve our enslaved people than Harriet Tubman" 5. Tubman managed to lead over two hundred slaves to freedom throughout her life 6. She made over nineteen trips to the South to help over three hundred slaves escape 2. Tubman worked for the Union during the Civil War as a cook, a nurse, and a spy.
She later settled in New York after the war until her death in 1913 5. Never losing a fugitive or allowing one to turn back, Tubman had boundless courage. The Underground Railroad stretched for thousands of miles. From Kentucky and Virginia across Ohio and Indiana, the railroad was a great journey.
In the Northerly direction, it stretched from Maryland, across Pennsylvania and into New York and through New England 2.7 By looking at the map above, many routes were available for runaways though each journey is considerably long. Using modern roads the trip would be five hundred and sixty miles. The route was an important part of a successful escape. Some fugitives hid out in bushes and swamps for days until it was safe to continue on.
Quickness was not the main concern, but safety was the most important. The slaves were secretly transported from safe house to safe house until freedom was secured. The transport worked like a railroad. The act of transporting the escaped slaves incorporated all the terms used as if they were on a railroad journey. The routes used to transport slaves were called lines. Stopping places were called stations 2.
Those who aided fugitive slaves were known as conductors, and the slaves were known as freight 2. The Underground Railroad movement was responsible for helping approximately seventy thousand salves escape into Canada and freedom 2. The definite role played by the Underground Railroad eventually helped destroy the slavery issue in the United States. By the end of the 1850's, the slavery controversy continued to split the nation further apart as the north and south refused to agree on a solution 5. While the Civil War captured the attention of the country, underground activity continued as thousands of enslaved African Americans deserted their plantations and took refuge within Union lines. With the help of more than 180,000 African American soldiers and spies, Union forces secured victory over the Confederacy in 1865 5.
Immediately following the war, the need for underground activities ceased when the thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution officially liberated more than four million enslaved African Americans. The Underground Railroad played a tremendous part in the end to slavery, which through all the hard work and continuous efforts was finally brought to justice. 7.