"You are a slave.
Your body, your time, your very breath belong to a farmer in 1850s Maryland. Six long days a week you tend his fields and make him rich. You have never tasted freedom. You never expect to.

And yet . . . your soul lights up when you hear whispers of attempted escape. Freedom means a hard, dangerous trek. Do you try it?" -The Underground Railroad by National Geographic











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Contrary to what many people believe, the Underground Railroad is not a railroad at all. It received its name, however, from the steam railroads, which were in their infancy during the time. The railroad was, in fact, a series of safe houses that helped transport black slaves from the south safely to Canada. These havens were deemed “stations” or “despots” to further disguise the operation. This passageway to freedom was active from 1810 to 1850, for forty years, and moved over 100,000 slaves to the north. Select abolitionists, free blacks, and freed slaves joined together to operate this network of passageways and havens. Some of these people were Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Levi Coffin, William Garrison, William Still, and Thomas Garret. There were many different routes that one may take to get to the north safely; it depended upon which "stations" a slave travelled through. This depended upon which were available and where the slave was positioned in the south. The railroad was intended to free slaves, and in turn, right the injustice that had been in place for the past decades. It was a moral and strategic decision that would soon be a main cause of the civil war, but also aid them in winning this bloody war.


The idea of slaves escaping north to Canada was not a new idea when the Underground Railroad came to be, however with the passage of the Compromise of 1850, which included the Fugitive Slave Act, this route became more useful than ever. Once the Fugitive Slave Act took effect, the North began to understand and see first hand the true cruelties in slavery. This realization led many to try and change the present and the future. Slavery became very real to those living up north, and as a result an covert and almost unintentional operation began to take place. Individuals in the north, took fugitive slaves into their homes and properties to hide them while they made their way to freedom. This was not an organization or a plan established by a group of radical abolitionists. Rather individuals whose eyes had been opened to the realites of slavery, and wanted to help. The majority of the northern population accepted the underground railroad, and many were a part of it. The north became extremely active in the "aiding and bedding" of runaway slaves. The north was in some way a safe have and also a crossroads between bondage and freedom. Although this was a covert operation, it was a widely accepted practice throughout the north.

However, the south did not feel quite the same way. Southerners were avid supporters of the Fugitive Slave Act, and loathed any possibility of freedom for their slaves. The underground railroad was an infuriating practice, it was as if the north were assisting in the robery of their property. This was another great sectional disagreement between the north and south. While the north was conducting this operation, the south was losing their revunue, their livelihood, and their property. It was being stolen out from under them by their neighbors to the north. Even though the Fugitive Slave Act did return many slaves and others to the South, thousands of slaves escaped to the norht and Canada by way of the undergroud railroad. This was seen as a crime against the south, an injustice, and the north had no right in any of the south's business. For the north neither lived in the south, nor understood their position, so who were they to act?

Our Rating:
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We thought that the Underground Railroad should be rated a 5 because it caused a divisive split between the north and the south. The north purposely disregarded the south's wishes and aided its "fugitive slaves" in their escape. This was definitely a major cause for the south's dissent.


A song written about the underground railroad:
(This song is not one of the spirituals encoded with secret messages about the routes of the railroad, rather an artists rendition of the suffering endured on this journey.)

The Underground Train,
Strange as it seems,
Carried many passengersexternal image tubmandrivingtrain.jpg
And never was seen

It wasn’t made of wood,
It wasn’t made of steel;
A man-made train that
Ran without wheels.

The train was known
By many a name.
But the greatest of all
Was “The Freedom Train”

The Quakers, the Indians,
Gentiles and Jews,
Were some of the people
Who made up the crews.

Free Blacks and Christians
And Atheists, too,
Were the rest of the people
Who made up the crews.external image 0,2306,MA-37743,00.gif

Conductors and agents
Led the way at night,
Guiding the train
By the North Star Light.

The passengers were
The fugitive slaves
Running from slavery
And its evil ways.

Running from the whip
And the overseer,
From the slave block
And the Auctioneer.

They didn’t want their masters
To catch them again,
So men dressed as women
And the women dressed as men.




This video includes images from Graue Mill, one of the "stations" in the Underground Railroad, and the song is the famous slave song, Follow the Drinking Gourd. In its lyrics lie directions slaves are able take to freedom. Many historians today are able to decipher this code in great detail today, and point out specific locations implied in the lyrics, such as the "drinking gourd" meaning the Big Dipper, and thus the North Star.

The lyrics are as follows:
When the sun goes back
and the first quail calls
Follow the drinking gourd
The old man is a-waitin' for
to carry you to freedom
Follow the drinking gourd

Chorus
Follow the drinking gourd,
follow the drinking gourd
For the old man is a-waitin'
to carry you to freedom
Follow the drinking gourd


The river bed makes a mighty fine road,
Dead trees to show you the way
And it's left foot, peg foot, traveling on
Follow the drinking gourd

The river ends between two hills
Follow the drinking gourd
There's another river on the other side
Follow the drinking gourd

I thought I heard the angels say
Follow the drinking gourd
The stars in the heavens
gonna show you the way
Follow the drinking gourd



Works Cited

Blockson, Charles L. "The Ballad of the Underground Railroad." Own Sound's Black History. 2004. 16 May. 2009. sdfs<http://www.osblackhistory.com/ballad.php.




"The Underground Railroad." Africans in America. 16 May. 2009. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2944.html.




Winkler, Peter . "Underground Railroad." National Geographic's The Underground Railroad. 1996. 16 May. 2009. dfsdf<http://www.nationalgeographic.com/railroad/map2.html.




"Levi Coffin's Underground Railroad Station." Africans in America. 11 May. 2009. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h2946.html>.
Winkler, Peter . "The Underground Railroad: Faces of Freedom." National Geographic. 1996. 10 May. 2009. <http://www.nationalgeographic.com/railroad/hfame.html>.