Underground railroad essay questions

Escaped slaves would move north along the route from one way station to the next. Without the presence and support of free black residents, there would have been almost no chance for fugitive slaves to pass into freedom unmolested. To reduce the risk of infiltration, many people associated with the Underground Railroad knew only their part of the operation and not of the whole scheme. A conductor sometimes pretended to be a slave in order to enter a plantation.

Once a part of a plantation, the conductor would direct the runaways to the North.

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They rested, and then a message was sent to the next station to let the station master know the runaways were on their way. They would stop at the so-called "stations" or "depots" during the day and rest. The stations were often located in barns, under church floors, or in hiding places in caves and hollowed-out riverbanks. The resting spots where the runaways could sleep and eat were given the code names "stations" and "depots", which were held by "station masters".

Using biblical references, fugitives referred to Canada as the " Promised Land " or "Heaven" and the Ohio River as the " River Jordan ", which marked the boundary between slave states and free states.

Underground Railroad

Although the fugitives sometimes traveled on boat or train, [25] they usually traveled on foot or by wagon in groups of one to three slaves. Some groups were considerably larger. Abolitionist Charles Turner Torrey and his colleagues rented horses and wagons and often transported as many as 15 or 20 slaves at a time. Routes were often purposely indirect to confuse pursuers. Most escapes were by individuals or small groups; occasionally, there were mass escapes, such as with the Pearl incident. The journey was often considered particularly difficult and dangerous for women or children.

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Children were sometimes hard to keep quiet or were unable to keep up with a group. In addition, enslaved women were rarely allowed to leave the plantation, making it harder for them to escape in the same ways that men could. One of the most famous and successful conductors people who secretly traveled into slave states to rescue those seeking freedom was Harriet Tubman , an escaped slave woman. Due to the risk of discovery, information about routes and safe havens was passed along by word of mouth.

Southern newspapers of the day were often filled with pages of notices soliciting information about escaped slaves and offering sizable rewards for their capture and return. Federal marshals and professional bounty hunters known as slave catchers pursued fugitives as far as the Canada—US border. Fugitives were not the only black people at risk from slave catchers.

The Perilous Lure of the Underground Railroad | The New Yorker

With demand for slaves high in the Deep South as cotton was developed, strong, healthy blacks in their prime working and reproductive years were seen and treated as highly valuable commodities. Both former slaves and free blacks were sometimes kidnapped and sold into slavery, as was Solomon Northup of Saratoga Springs, New York.

Some buildings, such as the Crenshaw House in far southeastern Illinois , are known sites where free blacks were sold into slavery, known as the " Reverse Underground Railroad ".

Under the terms of the Fugitive Slave Act of , when suspected fugitives were seized and brought to a special magistrate known as a commissioner, they had no right to a jury trial and could not testify in their own behalf. Technically, they were guilty of no crime.


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The marshal or private slave-catcher needed only to swear an oath to acquire a writ of replevin for the return of property. Congress was dominated by Southern Congressmen because the population of their states was bolstered by the inclusion of three-fifths of the number of slaves in population totals. They passed the Fugitive Slave Law of because of frustration at having fugitive slaves helped by the public and even official institutions outside the South.

In some parts of the North, slave-catchers needed police protection to exercise their federal authority. Opposition to slavery did not mean that all states welcomed free blacks. For instance, Indiana , whose area along the Ohio River was settled by Southerners, passed a constitutional amendment that barred free blacks from settling in that state. Members of the Underground Railroad often used specific terms, based on the metaphor of the railway.

For example:. The Big Dipper whose "bowl" points to the North Star was known as the drinkin' gourd. The Railroad was often known as the "freedom train" or "Gospel train", which headed towards "Heaven" or "the Promised Land", i. William Still , [33] sometimes called "The Father of the Underground Railroad", helped hundreds of slaves to escape as many as 60 a month , sometimes hiding them in his Philadelphia home.

He kept careful records, including short biographies of the people, that contained frequent railway metaphors. He maintained correspondence with many of them, often acting as a middleman in communications between escaped slaves and those left behind.

The Underground Railroad (novel) Essay Topics & Writing Assignments

He later published these accounts in the book The Underground Railroad: Authentic Narratives and First-Hand Accounts , a valuable resource for historians to understand how the system worked and learn about individual ingenuity in escapes. According to Still, messages were often encoded so that they could be understood only by those active in the railroad. For example, the following message, "I have sent via at two o'clock four large hams and two small hams", indicated that four adults and two children were sent by train from Harrisburg to Philadelphia.

The additional word via indicated that the "passengers" were not sent on the usual train, but rather via Reading, Pennsylvania. In this case, the authorities were tricked into going to the regular location station in an attempt to intercept the runaways, while Still met them at the correct station and guided them to safety.

They eventually escaped either to the North or to Canada, where slavery had been abolished during the s. Following upon legislation passed in , in , Congress passed H. The National Park Service has designated many sites within the network, posted stories about people and places, sponsors an essay contest, and holds a national conference about the Underground Railroad in May or June each year.

Estimates vary widely, but at least 30, slaves, and potentially more than ,, escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad. These were generally in the triangular region bounded by Niagara Falls , Toronto , and Windsor. Several rural villages made up mostly of freed slaves were established in Kent and Essex counties in Ontario. Fort Malden , in Amherstburg, Ontario , was deemed the "chief place of entry" for slaves seeking to enter Canada. The abolitionist Levi Coffin , who was known for aiding over 2, fugitives to safety, supported this choice. He described Fort Malden as "the great landing place, the principle terminus of the underground railroad of the west.

Its captain, C. Appleby, a celebrated mariner, facilitated the conveyance of several fugitive slaves from various Lake Erie ports to Fort Malden. Important black settlements also developed in other parts of British North America now parts of Canada. These included Lower Canada present-day Quebec and Vancouver Island , where Governor James Douglas encouraged black immigration because of his opposition to slavery.

He also hoped a significant black community would form a bulwark against those who wished to unite the island with the United States. Upon arriving at their destinations, many fugitives were disappointed, as life in Canada was difficult. While the British colonies had no slavery after , discrimination was still common. Many of the new arrivals had to compete with mass European immigration for jobs, and overt racism was common.

For example, in reaction to Black Loyalists being settled in eastern Canada by the Crown, the city of Saint John, New Brunswick , amended its charter in specifically to exclude blacks from practicing a trade, selling goods, fishing in the harbor, or becoming freemen; these provisions stood until With the outbreak of the Civil War in the U.

While some later returned to Canada, many remained in the United States. Thousands of others returned to the American South after the war ended. The desire to reconnect with friends and family was strong, and most were hopeful about the changes emancipation and Reconstruction would bring.


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Since the s, claims have arisen that quilt designs were used to signal and direct slaves to escape routes and assistance. According to advocates of the quilt theory, ten quilt patterns were used to direct slaves to take particular actions. The quilts were placed one at a time on a fence as a means of nonverbal communication to alert escaping slaves.

The code had a dual meaning: first to signal slaves to prepare to escape, and second to give clues and indicate directions on the journey.