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Underground Railroad

US History
Typography

Courtesy:Abdullah Sheikh(DMG)

The condition of the slaves in the south was not good. Slaves who were African Americans started to run away from their masters. This happened due to several reasons which includes brutal physical punishment, psychological abuse and endless hours of hard labor without compensation.

After the death of a master, slaves were usually sold as part of the estate or in some cases they would travel north with relatives of friends, and some traveled alone supported by the northern abolitionists.

The northern whites were against slavery and they started helping out the slaves in the south. This started the underground railroad. The Underground Railroad was the name given to the system by which escaped slaves from the South were helped in their flight to the North. People started hiding slaves in their houses and barns and helped them escape to Canada. Abolitionists would allow slaves in their homes for a while and then move them to the next house on the trail to Canada. This was the beginning of the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad was neither "underground" nor a "railroad," but was a loose network of aid and assistance to fugitives from bondage.

It was a protest against slavery in the United States. By this network, slaves were helped in running away from their masters and fleeing to North and Canada. It was not run by a single organization or a person. It consisted of many individuals; many whites, but mostly blacks. Due to this effort, hundreds of slaves moved northward every year.

According to one estimate, the South lost 100,000 slaves between 1810 and 1850. This started toward the end of the 18th century. In 1786 George Washington, said that one of his slaves was helped to runaway by a society of Quakers. This system grew and around 1831, it was called as “Underground Railroad”, after the then emerging steam railroads. They even used terms related to railroad industry. One example of this is that the homes and the businesses of the people where the slaves stayed and ate were called “stations” and “depots” and were run by “stationmasters”. Those who contributed money or goods to this were called “stockholders”, and the “conductor” was responsible for moving people from one station to another. For the slaves, to run away northwards was not easy.

Sometimes a conductor would enter a plantation posing as a slave and help the slaves run away from their masters. They would travel 10-20 miles to the next station to rest and eat while hiding in barns or other out-of-the-way places. A message would be sent to the next stationmaster to let him know that slaves were going to be moved there. They also traveled by train or boat. Money for all this was provided by individuals or raised by various groups, including vigilance committees.

These committees started in the north especially in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. These organizations provided money for food, lodging and helped the fugitives settle into a community by finding them jobs and providing letters of recommendation.

This railroad has many notable participants who played an important role. These include people like John Fairfield in Ohio, the son of a slave holding family, Levi Coffin, a Quaker who helped more than 3,000 slaves, and Harriet Tubman, who made 19 trips to the South and escorted over 300 slaves to freedom.

This railroad came to an end with the Civil War. This is because the Civil War ended the slavery and so there was no need for this system anymore. But there is no doubt in the fact that this system played an important role in starting the Civil War among other factors as the south started viewing northerners as their enemies who were stealing their slaves.



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