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The "Underground Railroad"


The "Underground Railroad": Andrew Jackson was the 7th American President who served in office from March 4, 1829 to March 4, 1837. One of the important events during his presidency was the emergence of the Underground Railroad in 1831.

Definition and Summary of the The "Underground Railroad"
Summary and definition:
What was the Underground Railway? The "Underground Railroad" was the code name for a secret organization who helped slaves escape from the bondage of slavery in the Southern slave states to freedom in the free states, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

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 organization in 1831 following
the religious revival of the Second Great Awakening which resulted in the 1830 Abolitionist Movement which became active following Nat Turner's Rebellion which led to the establishment of the Underground Railroad.

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

  • Slaves 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"

  • Slaves had no legal rights over their children or partners who could also be bought and sold at will

  • Slaves had no freedom of religion

  • Slaves were not educated, only very few were able to read or write

  • Slaves worked from sunrise to sunset - their children started work at the age of six years old - slaves were not paid

  • Owners had the right to punish slaves as they saw fit including whipping and mutilation

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 for runaways.

Who started the Underground Railroad?
Who started the Underground Railroad? The Underground Railroad was started by Abolitionists who consisted of white people, freed slaves and fugitives.

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. Refer to Underground Railroad Codes and Symbols for facts and info about other secret codes.

Underground Railroad for kids: Underground Railroad Routes
Long and 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 to 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 the organization.

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

The destinations 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 network

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"

Terrible punishments 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

In 1857, Dred Scott, 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 states

Professional bounty 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 the Constitution

The 14th Amendment was passed in 1868 requiring states to provide equal protection to protect civil rights of former slaves.

1870 The 15th Amendment was passed in 1870 granting voting rights to all men, regardless of race

Black History for kids: Important People and Events
For visitors interested in African American History refer to Black History - People and Events. A useful resource  for teachers, kids, schools and colleges undertaking projects for the Black History Month.

US American History
1829-1841: Jacksonian Era

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