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Underground Railway And Slavery Essay

The true meaning of the underground railway line was not really a railway line but it was the routes that the slaves planned to take on their escape plan the reason why it was nicknamed the underground railway line it was because it was secret and it was privileged for the few who knew the plans of the escape. The under ground railway line was also a name given to the homes which would give shelter to the slaves as they were making their way towards Canada seeking their freedom. The underground railway was meant to help the slaves in navigating the routes and giving them safe passage away from their masters. Most of the historians argue that the underground railway did not help in ensuring the safe escape for the slaves but on the contrary it offered safe passage for the slaves and assisted many in their quest to seek their freedom, (Siebert, 1898).

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The early slaves who tried to escape faced many challenges in their bid to escape. A lone escapee most challenge was in finding a safe passage, most of the escapees didn’t have maps or did not know the directions to follow as such many of them were caught a short distance after escaping. The punishment for escaping was severe beating while chained or being forced to wear chains though out ones life. This kind of punishment was meant to discourage others who tried to escape or even though of trying to escape. With this kind of punishment most of the slaves formed groups and laid down secret routes which would be used in their escape mission. These secret routes were later to be known as the underground routes. Many of the slaves who made it on their own also helped other slaves in escaping from their masters through the underground routes. The routes taken were sworn secrets that one had to take an oath not to reveal the routes even under tough conditions. The escaped slaves mostly travelled on foot, by horse trains by wearing disguises and using nick names such as conductors or depot to disguise their identity. The conductors were people mostly from Michigan and homes were known as depot. These places helped in sheltering the fugitives or refuges that were hidden in bans during the day to avoid detection. The main target of the slaves was to reach Canada where they would secure their freedom.

The escape slaves lived in fear from the slave catchers who would trace them and return them to their slave masters. A case in time is the family of Adam Crosswhite a slave who had escaped in to slavery and went to live in Kentucky. The freed slaves who had escaped lived in danger of being taken back to slavery with his family, during this time a slave and his family were the property of the owner or the master who would immediately inherit any new born of the slave as his new found slave. During the years of 1830, slaves were allowed to only intermarry between them selves and it was a taboo or it was forbidden for a slave to marry a non slave as such the owner of the slave as they were commonly known could claim the slave as his property and he would dispose him / her at his own pleasure. Most of the women started complaining that their children should not be subjected to slavery because they were also slaves. The thought of living in slavery for life for both the parents and the generations to come led to an exodus of slaves who were seeking better living condition especially their freedom, (Mitchell, 2011). Adam Crosswhite lived in this fear of the slave catchers who would return him back to slavery as such he informed his neighbours of his fear and formed a group that would help him in case this slave catchers came to get him and his family. Adam Crosswhite gave a signal of a gun shot in case any of the slave catchers came for him and his family. This signal saved him and his family when the slave catchers came and Adam fired a shot in the air which alerted the neighbours who came to his rescue, (Mitchell, 1979). This clearly showed that the whites also supported the slaves and were against it. They also offered shelter to the run away slave by providing safe houses or depots and offering them food during their escape route. The few whites who lived along the under ground railway knew the routes but kept them a secret to help the slave in getting away from their masters. This move provoked anger from the slave masters who went to court and in 1850 the court passed a law allowing the slave catchers the authority to go into Free states in pursuit of their slaves who they considered their property. This led to a civil that started in 1861 thus ending the underground railway network.

Routes used for the underground railway route.

Africans used the underground routes as a group the first Michigan’s American congregations was set up at the second Baptist church in the year 1836 by former slaves. This was to become a major stop over or a depot for runaway a slave that was located near the boarder of the Canada. A room was set aside for the slaves who also acted as a hide out against slave catchers. The church provided a safe way for the underground railway route as it was strategically located at a view point from the boarder for easier view and also as a monitoring place for possible slave catchers. Kalamazoo was also a safe house for underground railway participants that were used as a hide out from 1840 to 1860, (Switala, 2004). Nathan together with his wife Pamela helped in the safe passage of more than 1000 slaves who used their house as a safe passage. Together with the help of Dr. Thomas who also hosted fugitive in his house risked his life and helped secure their freedom in the north. Erastus Hussey a conductor during that time helped the slaves escape by showing them safe routes towards the north, (Mitchell, 1979) was to become one of most vocal abolitionist of slavery. Some of the most commonly used routes were through Maryland into Delaware. The routes that the slaves commonly used were secretive and most of the routes used changed over time to avoid detection or betray from slave loyalties.

Conductors and depots

Many people who helped the slaves to escape commonly known as conductors were both whites and freed slaves who knew the routes and the dangers that lay ahead. Many sympathisers of slavery who were in agreement that slavery was inhuman and also a torture to the victim. Many whites especially from Michigan were against slavery that led to the establishments of anti slavery crusade. Harriet Tubman was one of the most renowned underground railway conductors. She helped secure many slaves with the help of William still who was a famous conductor at that time. Like most conductors Harriet Tubman was once a slave who escaped from slavery and vowed to help fellow slaves in their quest to seek freedom. Harriet was also an architect of the underground routes she mastered the routes and in record she was famous for not loosing any slave along the way. Harriet was famous for her saying “follow the North Star” in her journeys which mostly started in Maryland and she was also a fighter who always carried weapons to defend herself in case she was attacked along the way. During her duties as a conductor it is believed that Harriet made several hundred trips in helping to secure the freedom of slaves, (Gara, 2013).

Reasons the slaves choose to escape using the underground railway rather than on their own

The main reason why slaves choose to travel in groups using the underground railway or through the use of paths was because travelling in groups secured their freedom against slave catchers. A slave catcher would have a difficult time dealing with a group of escape slaves rather than a single slave. This was one of the advantages the slaves choose rather than travelling alone. Another reason was that most of the slaves did not know which route to follow when making their escape routes, (Still, 1871).They were caught just a short distance because of their lack of direction or because they did not have a map to guide them in their escape plan. The slaves also did not know how to read or write this made it impossible to follow the signs and most of them walked right into their masters’ yard. They also had no means of escaping, the only means they had was by walking and since they did not have horse or they did not know where to shelter most of them died in the fields because of colds or because of the weather. Exhaustion also took a toil on them, with lack of food most of them were exhausted after some days and died because of lack of food, this lead the slaves to form groups that they would use to escape and came up with the underground railway.

The grounds were very open and the slaves were forced to hide in bans and travel at night. A lone slave would find this hard as travelling alone at the night can be dangerous, with the possibility of being attacked by wild animals travelling with a group was the best option in dealing with such calamities.


Some of the main reasons that lead the slaves to hatch a plan to escape were mainly because of inhuman treatment and oppression. The inhuman treatment that was administered by the slave masters was the greatest concern and the major reasons for slavery to be abolished and the main reason that lead to the establishment of the underground railway. The white also assisted the slaves in escaping as they provided safe houses for the slaves and also a number of them acted as conductors in helping the slaves get safe passage into freedom. The case of Adam Crosswhite is a good example of how the white population played a key role in making sure the underground railway was a success and also of their support in the support against slavery. The underground railway was the best option that ensured the safe passage of slaves. Those who travelled alone faced imminent dangers like animal attacks, being sported from a distance by the slave catchers, dying out of starvation, exhaustion. The travel by underground railway was a success compared to those who travelled alone.

References: Underground Railway And Slavery Essay

Gara, L. (2013). The Liberty Line: The Legend of the Underground Railroad. University Press of Kentucky.

Mitchell, M. H. (1979). From Slavery to Shelley-Michigan’s Ambivalent Response to Civil Rights. Wayne L. Rev., 26, 1.

Mitchell, A. (2001). Not Enough of the Past: Feminist Revisions of Slavery in Octavia E. Butler’s” Kindred”. Melus, 26(3), 51-75.

Siebert, W. H. (1898). The underground railroad from slavery to freedom. Reprint Services Corporation.

Switala, W. J. (2004). Underground Railroad in Delaware, Maryland, and West Virginia. Stackpole Books.

Still, W. (1871). The Underground Rail Road: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives,

Letters, &c. , Narrating the Hardships, Hair-breadth Escapes and Death Struggles of the Slaves in Their Efforts for Freedom, as Related by Themselves and Others, Or Witnessed by the Author; Together with Sketches of Some of the Largest Stockholders, and Most Liberal Aiders andAdvisers of the Road. People’s Publishing Company.

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