Underground Railroad

January 5, 2018 | Author: Anonymous | Category: History
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Underground Railroad • History 115

• African American History • Slavery begins to come undone

Underground Railroad • From the beginning of class, the theme has been and remains to thwart evil good people must act.

• Regardless of indenture of slavery, people have sought to free themselves. • We now see a concerted effort to thwart the slave owners.

Underground Railroad and Abolition • As we have already seen, some good people did step up and voice concerns and outrage at the system. • The Quakers, Mennonites, and German Dunkers were early prominent voices espousing emancipation. • These were the first groups to actually organize and begin a process that would become the frontrunner to the abolition movement

Road to Abolition • Quakers urged members to emancipate their slaves. • Could be ex-communicated; • Teach slaves to become literate and work for their own labor • By 1782, Quakers had dedicated their lives to abolition of slavery.

Road to Abolition • 1st abolition society organized in Philadelphia 1775; • The society made Benjamin Franklin President.

• The aims of the first society: • Make public aware with speeches, essays and pamphlets; • Petition courts for more humane laws; • Aid and assist blacks to assimilate and become productive members of society.

Peaceful Alternatives for Abolition • In the beginning, the Abolition societies tried to convince slave owners to allow slaves to work one per week for their own labor—this would allow them to save money to purchase their freedom. • Another option offered to end slavery peaceably, was to sell the slaves to the West Indies; • There was also the colonizing option being bantered around.

Peaceful Alternatives Cont’d • Compensate slave owners for freeing slaves with western lands or money; • Establish a law that slaves must be freed by the age of 21; • Make them literate—more productive to society; • Boycott all plantation products and commodities.

Cont’d • Because slavery, though tied to race, was always explained in economic terms, the Quakers conceded that to end slavery, the slave owners economic ledgers had to be hurt— • The new idea,now became abscond with their property depriving the slave owner of the saves economic value.

Going Underground • The actual term “Underground Railroad” probably began sometime in the early 19th century. • A slave owner was following closely on the heels of a runaway—as the slave David Tice came to the Ohio, he had no choice but to swim for it.

• Slave owner close behind on a skiff, upon approaching shore he could find evidence of Tice—”must’ve gone off underground …”

Underground Cont’d • As the society became more organized and efficient, there would appear rumors that there was an underground railway system running underground all the way to Boston. • In fact the society organized itself based on principles of the railroad system—using railroad nomenclature, such as conductors, etc …


• As slave codes and Laws became more harsh and restrictive; more and more good people, White and Free black and ex-Slaves joined the ranks of the underground railroad.

Cont’d • Once the “tracks” became laid and more organized, many people joined the ranks. • Some were government officials, others were ordinary folks; • Some members were more enthusiastic and motivated than others; • These guys desired immediate action and results.

John Fairfield • Daring and apparently did not fear death; • He possessed no compulsion to use violence to free slaves; • He would go into the South disguised and abscond with slaves; • Many times he returned with his charges with bullet holes in his clothes and even wounded several times.

John Brown • A Ne’er do well who committed his soul and conscience to the abolition of slavery; • He did a great deal to ignite the Civil War because of his deeds at Harpers Ferry Arsenal; • He had hoped his actions would ignite an insurrection and lead to violent abolition.

Laura Haviland • Though daring, aggressively actionoriented, The John Browns and John Fairfield's were the exception, Most conductors and members of the railroad were less conspicuous and more peaceful.

Laura Haviland • Petite Michigan Quaker; • Spent most of her energies raising money to become a primary “stock holder” in underground railroad stock; • She helped ex-slaves to finance the purchasing of family members.

William McKeever • The most active railroad worker in Pennsylvania; • Gave money, led slaves to freedom personally; • His house and property one of the mainstay depots or stops on the way North.

Levi Coffin • Leading Early Abolitionist; • Born in NC in 1789; • As a child bought and sold produce from slaves; • Heard their stories and resolved to act; • He would be called the President of the railroad

Runaways and the Railroad • Many fugitives, once free placed their freedom in jeopardy to become very active members of the railroad; • John Mason, an ex-slave slipped back into Kentucky many times eventually leading 265 slaves to freedom; • Frederick Douglass, though very active in the awareness phase of speaking, writing and raising funds, never went back South until after the war.

Other Runaways • Caveat—many runaways had to stay hidden or move on to Canada because as the ‘Fugitive Clause’ became more strict, many slave catchers would grab free blacks off the streets and re-sell them into slavery. Why the strong movement was so important. • Ermene Cain a runaway actively worked for 45 years covertly; • Samuel Dorsey, barber, also worked covertly in the network; more famously was “Old Naylor” William Still and Josiah Henson.

Reverend Josiah Henson • He began a Black Community to help assimilate ex-slaves to a free society; • Formed Tobacco Co-ops to provide economy for exslaves; • Personally made trips to secure freedom at risk of his own freedom; • First ex-slave to have audience with Queen Victoria

William Still • Became executive secretary of the Philadelphia Anti-Slave Society;

• He kept meticulous records giving us much of what we know now; • Wrote Book, Underground Railroad in 1872.

Harriet Tubman • The most acclaimed and celebrated Railroad member; • Born in Maryland; was subjected to a brutal attack by an overseer, which caused her to often fall into a sudden swoon or altered state of consciousness; after her escape, she helped her sister and family escape.

Harriet Tubman • She was a fervent and very successful “Conductor.” • She was no none sense; she carried a revolver for any circumstance, which one time required her to impress upon some slaves in her charge to keep going or she would shoot them—freedom was to important to everyone for a few to spoil it by complaining—if she felt they were endangering the group. “You go on or die.”

Harriet Tubman • No one really knows how many trips she made South to Conduct slaves to freedom or how many she actually led, some say around 300—suffice it say it was a lot and often.

• She became to be called “General Tubman” and “Moses.” The higher the price on her head ($40,000), the more times she returned to the South; • Sometimes lucky to get out without capture.

Tubman Cont’d • William Still author of The Underground Railroad stated she was the most unassuming, non-pretentious, and ordinary specimen of humanity, to be found among the farm hands of the South … She blended well and was seen as no threat to anyone—

• She often disguised herself as an old ‘Granny’ to hide her athleticism and strong gait.

Tubman • She didn’t just simply ‘Conduct’ them to freedom, she saw them all the way to Canada; • At the Court House in Auburn New York there is a quote on her statue, “On my underground railroad, I never run my train off the track, and I never lost a passenger.”

• Her famous quip to new slaves when entering free soil, “You done shook the Lion’s Paw.” He was free.

Reality of the Railroad • Dangerous and treacherous; • Disputes about funding and financing; • Charges of corruption;

• Traitors and Money Grubbers

Cont’d • There was claims that these agents of the railroad were leaving the slaves destitute without any financial help and pocketing the money for themselves; • Was a direct cause of breaking up families, by their presence slave owners were forced to sell slaves deep into the interior to avoid escape; • All money raised in these abolition societies should be used for emancipation of all slaves, not just feeing some through clandestine means.

Cont’d • Largest complaint—was accountability and the corruption of funds. • Railroad workers suffered ridcule from others, were shouted down at meetings, their children were harassed; many were shunned at work and in the community. • Some were even asked to withdraw from their church membership.

Social Effects • The biggest assumed cause was the Civil War itself—the losses of slave property escalated the chances of war; • It was also argued that the railroad by aiding so many runaways, it eliminated any chance for insurrection and rebellion ending the institution earlier than the 1860s. • George W. Williams, A Black scholar, argued that the railroad provided a safety valve to the slave institution. Many of the slaves prone to rebellion and and desiring to throw off the yoke of slavery just absconded North, rather than a Haiti type rebellion in the South.

Personal Cost • Because of the harsher penalties for assisting fugitive slaves, many railroad workers suffered terrible financial hardship; • They were incarcerated; had their businesses impounded; forced to seek expensive legal counsel; • In other cases when an underground worker saw an advertisement in the paper for the sale of slaves, they would use their own money to buy and then fee the slave—this caused financial hardship

Physical Hardship • Black and White railroaders alike suffered physical abuse, threats, and sometimes death; • Rewards were offered for the capture of railroad workers; Thomas Garrett had $20,000 placed on his head—Tubman had $40,000 placed on her head. • Garrett responded in the paper that he was worth twice that.

Hardship Cont’d • Abolitionist Lewis Tappan barely escaped with his life as Slave Catchers tore down his house and destroyed his belongings; • He was hanged in effigy and threatened with tar and Feathering. • William Lloyd Garrison, editor of the abolitionist paper The Liberator, also barely escaped an angry Pro-Slavery mob with his life on several ocassions..

Elijah Lovejoy • The first Whiteman to die in the cause of Abolition, polarizing the camps; • Editor of the Observer;

• More and more Whites began to put their life on the line for abolition; • It became a cause celebre’ and not just some local community cause.

Imprisonment • Others were imprisoned such as Charles Torren. He was caught assisting fugitive slaves. He died in prison. • Seth Concklin traveled to Alabama to rescue Peter Sill’s family. Sill a free ex-slave solicited assistance. Concklin rescued the family but was overtaken in Indiana. He was found later, drowned and still in chains. • Regardless of the hazards, white and black alike continued to fill the ranks of the railroad.

Underground Railroad • To establish a link in the railroad system, two factors were necessary: • 1) Geographical location • 2) Availability of Underground workers and sympathizers

Cont’d • One of the most well known and largest staging areas of the Underground Railroad was in New York City located at the 42nd St Station—We know it as Grand Central Station.

• The trip could take days, months, even up to a year.


• The name of the game was surreptition and concealment—getting to “Shake the Lion’s Paw” Not in how fast it could be achieved. • Haste makes waste.

Cont’d • One Alabama runaway took a year to get to Ohio; • Another runaway traveled some 1200 miles before arriving in Pennsylvania; • Factors to a successful flight: Proximity of slave owner and catcher, the route taken, Weather, mode of transportation (water, foot, or actual railroad).

Specific Routes and Modes of Escape • Waterway was the conventional choice; it was the fastest, but also the most guarded and watched; • Unfortunately many runaways would be recaptured wasting time looking for a boat, skiff, log any flotation device.

• Many slaves were not raised around or near water and could not swim, or knew nothing about navigation.

Escape Modes Cont’d • Many slaves with the help of abolitionist used Steamboats, Roads and canals to avoid slave catchers. • Levi Coffin would receive a telegram suggesting he go to box 72 (berth), at P.O.(dock), take charge of letters (fugitives), and pay postage of $43 (stateroom) to a Mr. Peck(usually Ship captain)— this was code.

Betrayal • Many times, if the Captain was offered more money by slave catchers, they betrayed their fugitives and kept both parties money; • But, Northerners were the owners of most of the River Boat lines—plus freedom was worth it.

Betrayal • Any kind or mode of absconding, the slave was dependent on the morality and veracity of the Underground workers. • The greatest tragedy was when Free blacks (some exslaves) accepted money and bribes betraying the fugitives.

• Slaves were ignorant of the geography and had little choice but to believe when told about a certain route— the end could be freedom or a return to bondage.

Deception • To aid in deception and avoid capture, the Railroad used secret codes and signs. They also used disguises and subterfuge. • They used code numbers signifying friendly houses and communities—10 was Philadelphia, 20 for Seville, Ohio, and 27 for Medina, Ohio. • The Good Ship Zion meant rescue was soon. • A Quilt hanging on a clothesline with an embroidery of a Chimney with white smoke meant friendly confines …etc …

Emancipation Proclamation • Ended the need for the Underground Railroad. • The railroad was more than a Society of high moral fiber, it was a belief and an act that all men white and black could join together in common cause to right a dreadful wrong. • “It was an opportunity for the bold and adventurous, it had the excitement of piracy, burglary, the daring of insurrection … and the added triumph of snapping one’s fingers in the face of the slave owner …

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