The Underground Railroad
Underground Railroad Timelines
- AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDIES CENTER: http://aasc.oupexplore.com/undergroundrailroad/#!/timeline
- NATIONAL PARK SERVICE (WOMEN’S RIGHTS NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK, SENECA FALLS, NY): https://www.nps.gov/wori/learn/historyculture/significant-events-of-the-underground-railroad.htm
- SOFTSCHOOLS WEBSITE (designed for K-12 students and their educators): http://www.softschools.com/timelines/underground_railroad_timeline/451/
- PBS: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/slavery/timeline/1619.html
- WHISPERS OF ANGELS (website): http://www.whispersofangels.com/index.html
- THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD (PBS): http://www.pbs.org/black-culture/shows/list/underground-railroad/home/
- GENERAL INFORMATION (History Net): http://www.historynet.com/underground-railroad
- GENERAL INFORMATION (Scholastic): http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/bhistory/underground_railroad/index.htm
- GENERAL INFORMATION (The History Channel): http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/underground-railroad
- HARRIET TUBMAN: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harriet_Tubman
- WILLIAM STILL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Still
- STORIES OF FREEDOM (PBS): http://www.pbs.org/black-culture/shows/list/underground-railroad/stories-freedom/
- JOHN BROWN: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Brown_%28abolitionist%29
- FREDERICK DOUGLASS: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Douglass
- THOMAS GARRETT: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Garrett
- WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Lloyd_Garrison
- LEVI COFFIN: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levi_Coffin
- CANADA AND THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD: http://blackhistorycanada.ca/events.php?themeid=21&id=6
- CANADIAN ABOLITIONIST SITES: http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/destinations/2013/09/19/underground-railroad-canada/2833115/
Some Key Terms
- Agent — Coordinator, who plotted courses of escape and made contacts.
- Baggage — Fugitive slaves carried by Underground Railroad workers.
- Bundles of wood — Fugitives that were expected.
- Canaan — Canada.
- Conductor — Person who directly transported slaves.
- Drinking Gourd — Big Dipper and the North Star.
- Flying bondsmen — The number of escaping slaves.
- Forwarding — Taking slaves from station to station.
- Freedom train — The Underground Railroad.
- French leave — Secret departure.
- Heaven — Canada, freedom.
- Jumping off place — Place of shelter for fugitives.
- Load of potatoes — Escaping slaves hidden under farm produce in a wagon.
- Operator — Person who helped freedom seekers as a conductor or agent.
- Parcel — Fugitives that were expected.
- Patter roller — Bounty hunter hired to capture slaves.
- Preachers — Leaders of and spokespersons for the Underground Railroad.
- Promised Land — Canada.
- River Jordan — Ohio River.
- Shepherds — People who encouraged slaves to escape and escorted them.
- Station — Place of safety and temporary refuge, a safe house.
- Station master — Keeper or owner of a safe house.
- Stockholder — Someone who gave money, clothing or food to the Underground Railroad
Some Key Phrases
- The wind blows from the South today — A warning that slave bounty hunters were nearby.
- A friend with friends — A password used to signal arrival of fugitives with an Underground Railroad conductor.
- A friend of a friend sent me — A password used by fugitives traveling alone to indicate they were sent by the Underground Railroad network.
- The river bank makes a mighty good road — A reminder that tracking dogs could not follow the scent of fugitives through the water.
- The dead trees will show you the way — A reminder that moss grows on the north side of dead trees, so if the North Star were not visible, they would know which way to walk.
The Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society was established in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1838. Founders included James Mott, Lucretia Mott, Robert Purvis, and John C. Bowers. At the time, Pennsylvania was an openly racist state, withdrawing blacks' voting rights in 1838. In August 1850, William Still while working as a clerk for the Society, was assisting a fugitive slave calling himself "Peter Freedman". As the escapee's story was similar to many he had heard before, it took a while for Still to realize that Freedman was his long-lost brother. It was this incident that galvanized Still's resolve and compelled him to document his work with the Underground Railroad, later published in 1872 as The Underground Rail Road Records. In 1855, while working for the Society, Passmore Williamson and William Still helped Jane Johnson escape slavery while in Philadelphia with her master, a well-known congressman, John Hill Wheeler. As one of the first challenges to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 the case created a scandal, with Williamson imprisoned for several months, charged with riot, forcible abduction, and assault. The judge in the case rejected an affidavit from Johnson affirming that there had been no abduction as "immaterial". Williamson eventually turned his cell into a virtual abolitionist media center, drawing visits from luminaries like Frederick Douglass. Robert Purvis, African American son of a wealthy white cotton broker, was a leading member during the life of the organization. The National Enquirer was an abolitionist newspaper founded by Quaker Benjamin Lundy in 1836. It was renamed the Pennsylvania Freeman after John Greenleaf Whittier took over as editor in 1838. Quakers (or Friends, as they refer to themselves) are members of a family of religious movements collectively known as the Religious Society of Friends. The central unifying doctrine of these movements is the priesthood of all believers, a doctrine derived from a verse in the New Testament, 1 Peter 2:9. Many Friends view themselves as members of a Christian denomination. They include those with evangelical, holiness, liberal, and traditional conservative Quaker understandings of Christianity. Unlike many other groups that emerged within Christianity, the Religious Society of Friends has actively tried to avoid creeds and hierarchical structures. As of 2007 there were approximately 359,000 adult members of Quaker meetings in the world. Today, slightly less than half of Friends worldwide practice programmed worship—that is, worship with singing and a prepared message from the Bible, often coordinated by a pastor. Around 11% of Friends practice waiting worship (also known as unprogrammed worship)—that is worship where the order of service is not planned in advance, which is predominantly silent, and which may include unprepared vocal ministry from anyone present, so long as it is credible to those assembled that the speaker is moved to speak by God. Some meetings of both styles have Recorded Ministers in their meetings—these are Friends who have been recognised for their gift of vocal ministry.
Henry "Box" Brown (c.1816–after 1889) was a 19th-century Virginia slave who escaped to freedom at age 33 by arranging to have himself mailed in a wooden crate in 1849 to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania abolitionists. He left behind his enslaved wife and children. For a short time Brown became a noted abolitionist speaker in the northeast United States. He lost the support of the abolitionist community, notably Frederick Douglass, who wished Brown had kept quiet about the details of his escape so that others could have used similar means. As a public figure and fugitive slave, Brown felt endangered by passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which increased pressure to capture escaped slaves. He moved to England and lived there for 25 years, touring with an anti-slavery panorama and becoming a mesmerist and showman. Mostly forgotten in the United States, he married an English woman and had a second family with her. He returned to the US with them in 1875 and continued to earn a living as an entertainer.
Peter Still (Freedman) and Seth Concklin: http://www.undergroundrailroadconductor.com/Still-Concklin.htm
The Fugitive Slave Law or Fugitive Slave Act was passed by the United States Congress on September 18, 1850, as part of the Compromise of 1850 between Southern slave-holding interests and Northern Free-Soilers. This was one of the most controversial elements of the 1850 compromise and heightened Northern fears of a "slave power conspiracy". It required that all escaped slaves were, upon capture, to be returned to their masters and that officials and citizens of free states had to cooperate in this law. Abolitionists nicknamed it the "Bloodhound Law" for the dogs that were used to track down runaway slaves.
Jane Johnson (c. 1814-1827 – August 2, 1872) was an African-American slave who gained freedom on July 18, 1855 with her two young sons while in Philadelphia with her master and his family. She was aided by William Still and Passmore Williamson, abolitionists of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society and its Vigilance Committee. This resulted in precedent-setting legal cases in 19th-century Pennsylvania, as a federal judge applied the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 in a controversial way. He sentenced abolitionist Passmore Williamson to 90 days for contempt of court for failing to produce Johnson and her sons under a writ of habeas corpus, or tell their location. The jailing attracted even wider publicity, and widespread discussion of issues of state and federal laws related to slavery. Pennsylvania had long been a free state and held that slaveholders gave up their property right in slaves if they brought them voluntarily to the state. Johnson returned to Philadelphia from New York in August 1855 and testified in the trial of William Still and five dockworkers, charged by her master John Hill Wheeler with assault. They had aided her escape. She testified at length about having planned to gain freedom in the North, and said she chose of her own free will to leave with Still, and would never go back to slavery. She helped win acquittal for Still and three men, and reduced sentences for two others. State and local officials protected her after testimony, and she and her sons soon moved to Boston, where they settled. She married again there. Her son Isaiah Johnson served in the United States Colored Troops during the American Civil War.
Ann Maria Weems: http://herstory.wikia.com/wiki/Ann_Maria_Weems
Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, c. February 1818 – February 20, 1895) was an African-American social reformer, orator, writer, and statesman. After escaping from slavery, he became a leader of the abolitionist movement, gaining note for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writing. He stood as a living counter-example to slaveholders' arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens. Many Northerners also found it hard to believe that such a great orator had been a slave. Douglass wrote several autobiographies. He described his experiences as a slave in his 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, which became a bestseller and influential in supporting abolition, as did the second, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855). After the Civil War, Douglass remained an active campaigner against slavery and wrote his last autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. First published in 1881 and revised in 1892, three years before his death, it covered events through and after the Civil War. Douglass also actively supported women's suffrage, and held several public offices. Without his approval, Douglass became the first African American nominated for Vice President of the United States as the running mate and Vice Presidential nominee of Victoria Woodhull on the impracticable, small, but far foreseeing Equal Rights Party ticket. A firm believer in the equality of all people, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant, Douglass famously said, "I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong."
Nat Turner's Rebellion was a slave rebellion that took place in Southampton County, Virginia, during August 1831. Led by Nat Turner, rebel slaves killed anywhere from 55 to 65 people, the highest number of fatalities caused by any slave uprising in the American South. The rebellion was put down within a few days, but Turner survived in hiding for more than two months afterwards. The rebellion was effectively suppressed at Belmont Plantation on the morning of August 23, 1831. There was widespread fear in the aftermath of the rebellion, and white militias organized in retaliation against slaves. The state executed 56 slaves accused of being part of the rebellion. In the frenzy, many non-participant enslaved people were punished. At least 100 blacks, and possibly up to 200, were murdered by militias and mobs in the area. Across the South, state legislatures passed new laws prohibiting education of slaves and free blacks, restricting rights of assembly and other civil rights for free blacks, and requiring white ministers to be present at black worship services. Nat Turner: http://www.biography.com/people/nat-turner-9512211
Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Ross; c. 1822 – March 10, 1913) was an African-American abolitionist, humanitarian, and during the American Civil War, a Union spy. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made about thirteen missions to rescue approximately seventy enslaved family and friends, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. She later helped John Brown recruit men for his raid on Harpers Ferry, and in the post-war era struggled for women's suffrage.Harriet Tubman: http://www.biography.com/people/harriet-tubman-9511430
Martha "Patty" Cannon (circa 1760 – May 11, 1829) was the leader of a gang in the early 19th century that kidnapped slaves and free blacks from the Delmarva Peninsula and transported and sold them to plantation owners located further south. Later accounts of her life refer to her as Lucretia P. Cannon, although there is no evidence to indicate she used the Lucretia name in her lifetime. She was indicted for four murders in 1829 and died in prison while awaiting trial, purportedly a suicide via poison. Victim accounts printed in the abolitionist journal the African Observer state that captives were chained and hidden in the basement, the attic, and secret rooms in the house. Captives were taken in covered wagons to Cannon's Ferry (now Woodland Ferry). At the ferry, they would sometimes meet a schooner traveling down the Nanticoke River to the Chesapeake Bay and on to Georgia slave markets.
Thomas Garrett (August 21, 1789 – January 25, 1871) was an American abolitionist and leader in the Underground Railroad movement before the American Civil War. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Garrett
Samuel and Emeline Hawkins: http://history.delaware.gov/freedom/people_emeline.shtml
Samuel Burris (1808–1863) was an African-American member of the Underground Railroad. Samuel was a free black man in a time when slavery was at its peak. Burris decided to move himself and his family to the safe city of Philadelphia, but from there he would made trips make and forth to the South to free other African Americans from slavery. Burris and his partner John Hunn started working with the Underground Railroad system in 1845. They worked closely together helping free slaves that were escaping from Delaware and Maryland. He was apprehended whilst helping a woman by the name of Marie Mathews escape from Dover Hundred. Immediately after being captured Burris was put in Dover jail for fourteen months while he awaited his trial. He was then convicted and automatically sentenced to be auctioned off into slavery. When Burris’ friends who were active abolitionists found he was about to be sold they acted to free him. One of them posed as a slave buyer and bought Burris, then set him free.
Christiana Slave Riot: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-christiana-riot
Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) was a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Court held that African Americans, whether enslaved or free, could not be American citizens and therefore had no standing to sue in federal court, and that the federal government had no power to regulate slavery in the federal territories acquired after the creation of the United States. Dred Scott, an enslaved African American man who had been taken by his owners to free states and territories, attempted to sue for his freedom. In a 7–2 decision written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the Court denied Scott's request. For only the second time in its history the Supreme Court ruled an Act of Congress to be unconstitutional. Although Taney hoped that his ruling would definitively settle the slavery question, the decision immediately spurred vehement dissent from anti-slavery elements in the North, especially Republicans. Many contemporary lawyers, and most modern legal scholars, consider the ruling regarding slavery in the territories to be dictum, not binding precedent. The decision proved to be an indirect catalyst for the American Civil War. It was functionally superseded by the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gave African Americans full citizenship.
John Brown (May 9, 1800 – December 2, 1859) was a white American abolitionist who believed armed insurrection was the only way to overthrow the institution of slavery in the United States. During the 1856 conflict in Kansas, Brown commanded forces at the Battle of Black Jack and the Battle of Osawatomie. Brown's followers also killed five slavery supporters at Pottawatomie. In 1859, Brown led an unsuccessful raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry that ended with his capture. Brown's trial resulted in his conviction and a sentence of death by hanging.
The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. In Congress, it was passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864, and by the House on January 31, 1865. The amendment was ratified by the required number of states on December 6, 1865. On December 18, 1865, Secretary of State William H. Seward proclaimed its adoption. It was the first of the three Reconstruction Amendments adopted following the American Civil War. The Fourteenth Amendment (Amendment XIV) to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments. The amendment addresses citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws, and was proposed in response to issues related to former slaves following the American Civil War. The amendment was bitterly contested, particularly by Southern states, which were forced to ratify it in order for them to regain representation in Congress. The Fourteenth Amendment, particularly its first section, is one of the most litigated parts of the Constitution, forming the basis for landmark decisions such as Roe v. Wade (1973), regarding abortion, and Bush v. Gore (2000), regarding the 2000 presidential election. The Fifteenth Amendment (Amendment XV) to the United States Constitution prohibits the federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen's "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." It was ratified on February 3, 1870, as the third and last of the Reconstruction Amendments.
Songs of the Underground Railroad
Songs were used in everyday life by African slaves. Singing was tradition brought from Africa by the first slaves; sometimes their songs are called spirituals. Singing served many purposes such as providing repetitive rhythm for repetitive manual work, inspiration and motivation. Singing was also use to express their values and solidarity with each other and during celebrations. Songs were used as tools to remember and communicate since the majority of slaves could not read. Harriet Tubman and other slaves used songs as a strategy to communicate with slaves in their struggle for freedom. Coded songs contained words giving directions on how to escape also known as signal songs or where to meet known as map songs.
1. Wade in the Water: Tubman used “Wade in the Water” to tell slaves to get into the water to avoid being seen and make it through. This is an example of a map song, where directions are coded into the lyrics.
Chorus: Wade in the Water, wade in the water children. Wade in the Water. God’s gonna trouble the water.Who are those children all dressed in Red?God’s gonna trouble the water.Must be the ones that Moses led.God’s gonna trouble the water.
2. Steal Away: This song communicates that the person singing it is planning to escape.
Chorus: Steal away, steal away!Steal away to Jesus!Steal away, steal away home!I ain’t got long to stay here!My Lord calls me!He calls me by the thunder!The trumpet sound it in my soul!I ain’t got long to stay here!
3. Sweet Chariot: If a slave heard this song he would know he had to be ready to escape, a band of angels are coming to take him to freedom. The Underground Railroad (sweet chariot) is coming south (swing low) to take the slave to the north or freedom (carry me home).
Swing low, sweet chariot,Coming for to carry me home,Swing low, sweet chariot,Coming for to carry me home.
I looked over Jordan and what did I seeComing for to carry me home,A band of angels coming after me,Coming for to carry me home.
I you get there before I do,Coming for to carry me home,Tell all my friends that I’m coming, too,Coming for to carry me home.
4. Follow the Drinking Gourd: This song suggests escaping in the spring as the days get longer. It also refers to quails which start calling each other in April. The drinking gourd is a water dipper which is a code name for the Big Dipper which points to the Pole Star towards the north. Moss grows on the north side of dead trees, so if the Big Dipper is not visible, dead trees will guide them north.
When the Sun comes backAnd the first quail callsFollow the Drinking Gourd.For the old man is a-waiting for to carry you to freedomIf you follow the Drinking Gourd.
The riverbank makes a very good road.The dead trees will show you the way.Left foot, peg foot, traveling on,Follow the Drinking Gourd.
The river ends between two hillsFollow the Drinking Gourd.There’s another river on the other sideFollow the Drinking Gourd.
When the great big river meets the little riverFollow the Drinking Gourd.For the old man is a-waiting for to carry you to freedomIf you follow the drinking gourd.
5. Hail, Happy Spirits: A song sung by conductors like Harriet Tubman when approaching a group after taking a detour to get food for the day. This song lets them know it is safe to approach him/her.
Hail, oh hail, ye happy spirits,Death no more shall make you fear,Grief nor sorrow, pain nor anguish,Shall no more distress you there.
Around Him are then thousand angels,Always ready to obey command;They are always hovering ‘round you,Till you reach the heavenly land.
6. Go Down, Moses: On the way out, this song let runaways know it was not safe to come out, there is danger in the way.
Chorus: Oh go down, Moses,Way down into Egypt’s land,Tell old Pharaoh,Let my people go.
Oh Pharaoh said he would go cross,Let my people go And don’t get lost in the wilderness,Let my people go.
You may hinder me here, but you can’t up there,Let my people go,He sits in the Heaven and answers prayer,Let my people go!
Slavery and the American Indian
Although the Spanish Empire forbade and actively persecuted slavery of indigenous people over a century before California was settled by the Spanish, some instances of forced labor are recorded in California under their rule. Enslavement of Native American people became more widespread after Spanish rule ended and particularly after California's admission as a free state into the United States which resulted in the genocide of Native Americans in this territory. THERE WAS NO ACTIVE "UNDERGROUND" SYSTEM IN PLACE.