Why was it called the Underground Railroad?
Why was it called the Underground Railroad? The Underground Railroad
was not a subway or a tube station it was the code name for the vast
network of groups that organized
escape routes used by fugitive slaves. The name was chosen because
the date it started coincided with
the time the first
American Railroads began.
The word "underground" was added meaning a covert network organized to
hide a secret operation.
Underground Railroad for kids: Background History
What were the historical events that led to the start of the Underground Railroad?
There were harsh penalties for fugitive slaves and their helpers.
Slaves had been trying to escape from slavery for many
years but "Underground Railroad" only started as an
the religious revival of the
Second Great Awakening
which resulted in the 1830
Abolitionist Movement which became active following
Nat Turner's Rebellion
led to the establishment of the
Why did the Underground Railroad start?
Why did the Underground Railroad start? The Underground Railroad
started because slaves wanted freedom from their harsh lives of
unpaid toil in the plantations that were located in the slave states
of the south. The rise of the Abolishment movement in 1830 provided
money, safe houses and clothes to facilitate the escape of slaves.
The life of a slave was dictated by their owner and the law of the
United States that kept them in slavery.
Slaves had no legal rights
were considered to be the property of their owners and as such
could be bought and sold at slave auctions
Slaves needed travel passes to
leave a plantation
Slaves could not legally marry -
instead slaves undertook a public mock marriage ceremony called
"Jumping the Broom"
had no legal rights over their children or partners who could
also be bought and sold at will
had no freedom of religion
were not educated, only very few were able to read or write
worked from sunrise to sunset - their children started work at
the age of six years old - slaves were not paid
the right to punish slaves as they saw fit including whipping
What was the Purpose of the Underground Railroad?
What was the Purpose of the Underground Railroad? The purpose of the Underground Railroad
was to give assistance to fugitive slaves by organizing escape
routes to freedom and providing safe houses, money, food and clothes
Who started the Underground Railroad?
Who started the Underground Railroad? The Underground Railroad was
started by Abolitionists who consisted of white people, freed slaves
How did the Underground Railroad work?
How did the Underground Railroad work? The Underground Railroad
worked in complete secrecy - penalties for helping or sheltering
runaway slaves were severe. There were slave catchers, called
pattyrollers, who policed the plantations and formed posses with
dogs to track and chase any runaways. In order to make plans for
escape, secret codes, signs and signals were developed that were
known to the slaves but appeared completely innocent to owners and
slave catchers Words related to
the American railways were used to avoid suspicion. Slaves were
referred to as 'passengers' 'baggage', 'cargo' or 'freight'. Guides
along the escape routes were referred to as 'Conductors', 'Operators
or 'Engineers'. The escape routes were called railroad lines.
Underground Railroad Codes and Symbols for
facts and info about other secret codes.
Underground Railroad for kids: Underground Railroad Routes
arduous escape routes were established that stretched hundreds of
miles across difficult terrain. Swamps and bayous and were favored
for escape routes as few people inhabited such areas. Occasionally
transportation was provided such as horses, wagons or boats. Refer
Underground Railroad Maps for additional
facts, maps and information.
Why did the Underground Railroad end?
Why did the Underground Railroad end? The critical need for the Underground Railroad
ended when slavery was abolished. However, when slavery was
abolished the Underground Railroad operated in reverse, as fugitives
returned to live in the United States.
Underground Railroad Facts for kids
Interesting Underground Railroad facts for kids are detailed below. The history of Underground Railroad is told in a
sequence consisting of a series of short facts
providing a simple method of relating the history of the
Undergrounds Railway with timeline dates and the people involved in
Travel - Fugitives
usually traveled alone or with two or three others.
Transport - Transport
was usually by foot but horse, wagons, boats and trains
were also used
Mass escapes - Some
mass escapes were attempted. The Pearl Incident in 1848
involved 75 slaves attempting to escape on a ship called
the Pear. They were betrayed by one of their own
The failed Pearl
Incident in 1848 inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe to write
Uncle Tom's Cabin that was published in 1852
included the Free states of the North, Alaska, Canada,
Mexico and the Caribbean
To reduce the risk of
betrayal and infiltration the people involved only knew
only their part of the operation and not of the whole
There were code names
for towns on the routes, for instance Cleveland was
called "Hope" other towns were referred to as numbers
The main 'stations'
were Rochester, Albany, Syracuse and Buffalo
Harriet Tubman was a
slave who escaped in 1849 and then became the most
famous of all the 'conductors'. Harriet Tubman made 19
trips back to Southern plantations and helped nearly 300
slaves to escape
Quaker Levi Coffin,
known as the "President of the Underground Railroad"
helped over 1000 slaves to escape. His home had the code
name of "Grand Central Station"
were inflicted on black people caught helping fugitives
including dozens of lashes with a whip, amputation of
the foot, branding, burning or hanging
$40,000 was offered
as a reward for the arrest of Harriet Tubman
Over 3,200 people are
known to have worked on the railroad between 1830 and
the end of the Civil War
an Illinois Freedom Seeker, sued to gain his freedom, but lost his case
Less than 1,000
slaves each year were able to escape from slave-holding
hunters and federal marshals (slave catchers pursued
fugitives as far as the Canadian border
The risk of aiding
fugitives was never forgotten and the safety of all
concerned called for the utmost secrecy
In 1865 the Civil War
ended and slavery was abolished in the 13th Amendment to
was passed in 1868 requiring states to provide equal
protection to protect civil rights of former slaves.
was passed in 1870 granting voting rights to
all men, regardless of race
History for kids: Important People and Events
For visitors interested in African American History
Black History - People and Events.
A useful resource for
teachers, kids, schools and colleges undertaking
projects for the Black History Month.