The Underground Railroad

Learn a few "secrets" about the underground railroad.

The Underground Railroad was a network of safe places that enslaved people used to escape to the North.  They were located in houses, schools, and churches, and were run primarily by free blacks, but also Native Americans and white abolitionists.  Their goal was to help enslaved people escape slavery by giving them shelter and assistance on their journey. The people that journeyed with the escaping slaves showing them where to go were called conductors (One of the most famous conductors was Harriet Tubman).  The safe place was called a station, safe house, or depot, and they were run by a stationmaster.  In order to continue its secrecy, those involved knew little about the next stations. The Underground Railroad was primarily in states that were close to the North and South border.  When the Fugitive Slave Acts were enacted in 1793 and 1850 it became harder to escape. These acts enabled slave masters to recapture enslaved people who had run away, because of this the Underground Railroad stretched to Canada and many fled there.  It is estimated that approximately 25,000-40,000 people escaped slavery using the Underground Railroad. Compared to the 3.9 million enslaved people living during that time, only a small amount were able to reach freedom (source).

Common Myths:

  1. Quilt codes: It is believed that quilts were made that gave enslaved people information about their escape.  On the contrary, they did not have the resources to make quilts like this. Nor, was the Underground Railroad as organized as people believe.
  2. “Follow the Drinking Gourd”:  This song was released in 1928 and is rumored that enslaved people used it to tell others of the route to the North.  There is also little truth in this. The decision to escape and directions of where to go were kept in secrecy.
  3. Single males were the majority of people that escaped.  Traveling with families or children would have been too hard.

Further Reading:

Myths of the Underground Railroad

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