Railroad

The Underground Railroad was started well before the Civil War began, but was in full force during the first years of the war. Established around 1830, this "railroad" didn't consist of trains, of course, but of a network of houses and other safe havens for slaves escaping from the South to the North. These safe places were called "stations" and guides were called "conductors." Slaves learned about routes to freedom by word of mouth and through stories and songs, including "Follow the Drinking Gourd," which explained how to follow the North Star of the Big Dipper north to Canada.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made escaping slavery dangerous not only for slaves, but also for abolitionists and free blacks in the North. The Fugitive Slave Act made it illegal for anyone to help runaway slaves, and stiff fines and punishments were given to people found to be harboring or helping slaves running to freedom. Slave catchers from the South who traveled to northern cities to capture escaped slaves also kidnapped free black people and brought them back south, as well. The catchers could make lllllillf^^;-

Fugitive slaves fording the Rappahannock River, Rappahannock, Virginia, August 1862.

Harriet Tubman (far left) with slaves she helped during the Civil War.

great money collecting rewards for fugitive slaves—and since most free blacks had little or no documentation of their status, they were easily stolen and resold as slaves back in the South. This was a disaster for free black communities in the North, but it also helped create a sense of outrage in Northerners, many of whom had previously turned a blind eye to the issue of slavery. The worst punishments, obviously, came to slaves who were caught and returned to their slave owners, and, in fact, only a fraction of the millions of slaves who lived in the South before the Civil War ever tried to escape. The slaves who stayed fought slavery in their own, more subtle ways: working as slowly as possible, having various "sicknesses," and sabotaging farm equipment and machinery.

Stations on the Underground Railroad were marked by a wide variety of signals to indicate whether or not the house was safe for fugitive slaves to enter. Some of these signals have been checked out by historians and proven to be true, and others have

Harriet Tubman (far left) with slaves she helped during the Civil War.

Harriet tubman

Perhaps the most famous person involved in the Underground Railroad was Harriet Tubman, also known to many runaway slaves as "Moses." She was born into slavery in Maryland and escaped to Philadelphia in 1849 when she was a young woman.

She worked there as a maid, and soon became involved in helping to free other slaves through the Underground Railroad. She was one of the most wanted fugitives, and rewards for her capture were thousands of dollars. She traveled back to the South multiple times, and in her first trip she managed to bring her sister and her sister's children back to Philadelphia with her. By the time the Civil War was over, Harriet Tubman had helped more than 50 slaves escape to freedom.

Harriet Tubman the american colonization society

In 1816, two divided groups of Americans met and formed the American Colonization Society: one was made up primarily of Southerners who wanted to keep African Americans as slaves but wanted freed slaves out of America; the other was primarily Northerners who wanted to free all the slaves, but wanted them to return to Africa. Both groups had one thing in common: neither believed that free African Americans could join the white culture in America or become a significant part of society. The American Colonization Society raised money to send free blacks back to Africa.

For more than 20 years, the American Colonization Society worked to resettle former slaves in Africa, forming the colony of Liberia. In 1847, a black governor was elected, making Liberia the first nation in Africa to be governed by a black person. By 1860, about 11,000 blacks had been transported to Liberia, but after 1865 African American interest in emigrating waned.

been part of stories for so many years that they are assumed to be true. One signal that has been verified by historians as indicating a safe stop on the Underground Railroad is a lantern hanging on a hitching post outside an established safe house. If the lantern was lit, it meant it was safe to approach. If the lantern was out, it was too dangerous to knock on the door. Other signals that may or may not really have been used to indicate a house safe to enter include smoke coming out of the chimney, a chimney with white bricks placed on top of it, or a lawn statue by the side of the drive holding a flag in its hand—if the flag was missing, it was not safe to enter.

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