underground railroad, harriet tubman involved underground railroad. history underground railroad state Indiana (Terre Haute).
A Run through the Underground Railroad
Slavery is one of the most important issues that helped shape American cultural identity, and, throughout time, there have been many famous people who helped slaves escape the terror in the South and reach Free states in the North of the United States of America or even in Canada.
Everything started at the end of the 18th century, when George Washington complained about how one of his slaves was assisted in escaping by a society of Quakers, which, according to what Washington said, was formed solely for this purpose: to help slaves escape the terror of their slaveholder. But this happened in 1786. More important things were still to come with the new century.
Throughout the United States of America there were many people who were against slavery and who wanted to do anything or everything they could in order to help slaves escape and with the purpose of helping them lead an easier life. When the 19th century started, both free African-Americans and anti-slavery white people united and formed a community which by 1831 was known as the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad was actually a system or an unofficial network of secret passage ways and safe houses. These routes and safe houses were used by slaves who wanted to escape and they were provided with help from abolitionists and their allies who wanted to see them freed, as they were sympathetic to their cause. The system got this name especially because railroads were used in the process of saving people. For instance, stations and depots were the places where slaves could eat and rest and these places were run by stationmasters, while the people who contributed with food or money were called stockholders. The person responsible with transporting fugitives from one station to the other was called a conductor. This Underground Railroad system was started by groups of Quakers, which at the beginning of the 19th settled their grounds in Indiana.
Escaping the Slaveholder
Although slaves were assisted in crossing the entire country to Free states, conductors could not help them when it came to escaping slaveholders. This was something the slaves had to do for themselves if they wanted to be free. Using all their resources and wits, some of them managed to escape and once they did it they were guided North. Folklore states that quilts were used to help slaves find the railroad. It seems that there were about 10 quilt patterns which helped slaves find their way toward escape routes. Stations or depots were placed at distances between 10 or 20 miles and slaves had to run during nighttime in order to reach them. Once they got to one of the stations, they could eat and rest and a message was sent to the following station, letting the others now that another group of slaves was coming their way.
Everyone had to be prepared and one of the most important things needed by both fugitives and the people helping them was money. Aside of the fact that slaves were running by night, they also had to travel by boat or by train and for this they needed money. The trip also needed to be paid, but the most important thing was the clothes the slaves were wearing. They could not possibly go around in their tattered clothes, so helpers bought them clothes in order for them not to seem suspicious. This money came from anyone who was willing to help these poor people. Furthermore, people helping slaves also organized groups called vigilance committees. They sprang up especially in the big cities of the North, where people received the slaves, helped them find a job and even wrote letters of recommendation for them.
Important Figures of the Underground Railroad System
The Underground Railroad grew significantly and throughout the years in which it functioned, great number of slaves were freed and assisted in finding a new life in free cities. Among the most important people who made this possible are Levi Coffin, the Quaker who helped more than 3,000 slaves; John Fairfield, the son of a slaveholder, who also made many daring rescues and probably the most prominent figure of the entire century, Harriet Tubman, the woman who made 19 trips into the deep South and helped around 300 slaves in finding freedom.
Harriet Tubman was born in 1820 and during the American Civil War she was an African-American Union spy, humanitarian, and, most importantly, an abolitionist. Harriet Tubman was born in a slave family and this thing only committed her even stronger to her cause. After she got married to John Tubman, a free black man, she got a taste of what being free was like and shortly after the year she got married, 1844, she decided to make her escape from the bounds of slavery. That happened in 1849.
Like all slaves, Tubman too had to travel by night, following the routes of the Underground Railroad and being guided by the North Star. Once she reached Philadelphia, she simply knew she had to help others too. Trying to help others, she first began to work in order to save some money. Then, when the Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which states that any official had to help catch escaped slaves, she returned to the land of her enslavement.
The law passed by Congress was not the only thing that made her return. She had heard that one of her nieces was to be sold as a slave and that was the moment she knew she had to go back and help as many people as possible. When she returned to Maryland, her enslavement land, she organized members of her family in groups and guided them towards the free North. She came to be called Moses as a consequence. During her many trips in and out of the South she never lost a passenger. They were all travelling by night in order to avoid being caught by the many officials that were already searching fugitives. Tubman lead them all to Canada, where slavery was prohibited.
Harriet Tubman was not very well-known during her early years, as she tried to stay as anonymous as possible, given that she was helping many of the slaves escape. However, she became very famous and she still is one of the iconic figures that helped with the abolition of slavery. Her legacy continued even after her death and there have been many African-American people inspired by what she did during her life.
The Importance of the Underground Railroad
Although the main purpose of the Underground Railroad system was to help fugitive slaves escape to Free states, it also served as a means of bringing together white people and black people. The Underground Railroad became very successful by the beginning of the 19th century, the point in which it was estimated that about 100,000 slaves had successfully managed to escape their slaveholders and reach Free states.
However, even though the numbers are quite considerable, there is something which is even more important and which has its roots in the organization of the Underground Railroads. During the time in which the system worked, the world was shown that black people could unite and that they could work together in order to become free men.
As with anything else, there were also downsides to the entire system. People who were known as being part of the system, as helping black people escape, were very often the targets of violence. In Indiana there were even a couple of people who were murdered by slave catchers due to the fact that they helped slaves escape. Still, these stories did not tear the…