The Underground Railroad Effect on Slaves

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Updated: Apr 10, 2021
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The Underground Railroad Effect on Slaves essay

“The Underground Railroad, also known as the Path to Freedom, was the method by which slaves were able to escape and, if successful, become free. Despite what its name suggests, the Underground Railroad was not an actual railroad, but instead, a secret, organized network of safe houses consisting of both White and African American people that took in fugitive slaves, comforted them, and helped them on their journeys to freedom. Although its origins are unclear because the slaves’ paths to freedom had started out with people willing to provide the fugitives with shelter, aid, and safety, the Railroad quickly expanded with a greater number of people making it out safely and helping others to do the same. Through this expansion, the railroad developed, with the people helping the slaves labelled as “conductors or engineers”, the safe houses referred to as “stations”, and the slaves themselves called passengers, cargo, or goods (“About”). Therefore, the Underground Railroad was a great contributor to the abolitionist movement through its help in undermining slavery, and “according to one estimate, the South lost approximately 100,000 slaves between 1810 and 1850” (Mitchell).

The Underground Railroad was said to have had been established sometime between the late 18th century and early 17th century, and have ended in the late 1800s despite the end of the Civil War in 1865 (“Underground”). Even though there had been people that helped the slaves escape, the Quakers were considered the first organized group to do so. In fact, in 1786, George Washington complained about how Quakers has helped one of his slaves escape (Editors). As the system expanded, it became known the Underground Railroad and helped the slaves in the Southern States escape to the North and Canada.

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When the Underground Railroad first comes to thought, most people would think of an organization or a large group of people working together, rather than in reality it was just a series of individuals that consisted of whites, and blacks, who were willing to help the slaves escape, and find their way to freedom.

The expansion of the Underground Railroad and its success, however, is mostly due to its conductors, who were also known as its engineers. Conductors were free people who helped fugitive slaves traveling along the Underground Railroad by providing them with a safe passage to and from stations. They did this under the cover of darkness at night, with slave catchers trying to find them.

One of the most known conductors of the Underground Railroad was Harriet Tubman who was a former slave herself. Tubman had helped hundreds of runaway slaves escape to freedom, and was even nicknamed “Moses” by the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and “General Tubman” by the abolitionist John Brown for her efforts (“Harriet”). As a fugitive slave herself, she was helped along the Underground Railroad by another famous conductor named William Still (Eastern). Harriet Tubman put herself in great danger when she would help the runaway slaves, as she risked her own life and her freedom over and over again (Clinton 209). To avoid getting caught, she developed a lot of strategies over the years to free slaves. She urged slaves to escape on Saturdays because Sunday was a day off for the owners and they wouldn’t realize until the following Monday, and escape notices wouldn’t be published until then. She also liked to travel at night for secrecy and in the fall when the days were shorter, and used “back roads, waterways, mountains, and swamps” to avoid slave catchers (“Harriet”). Additionally, Harriet Tubman was one of the very few conductors who had never lost a slave on their path to freedom. Tubman would always encourage the slaves to keep going, and if any of them ever got discouraged and decided to go back, because they were afraid that they would get caught, she pulled out a gun and said, “”You’ll be free or die a slave!”” (Library 2). Between 1849 and 1855, Tubman’s reputation began to build up and she gained supporters like Lucretia Mott, who had then introduced her to other important activists like William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass. After a few years, Harriet Tubman was able to build her own network of Underground Railroad conductors and routes with people like William Still in Philadelphia, Frederick Douglass in Rochester, New York, and Thomas Garrett in Wilmington, Delaware (“Harriet”).

Another famous conductor of the Underground Railroad was William Still, who was born in New Jersey to two enslaved parents who later bought their freedom. When Still helped the first slave escape, he was just a child. He didn’t know his name or anything about the man, but knew that he wanted to help as many as possible escape.

In 1844, Still moved to Pennsylvania where “he found a job as a clerk and janitor for the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery” (“William”). It was here that he began to help fugitive slaves escape by giving them a temporary home until they could make their way North. His goal was to help them all make their way to Canada, which was known as “Freedom’s Land,” because it was a country that provided sanctuary for fugitive slaves. Still eventually became a director of a group of “abolitionists, sympathizers, and safe houses that stretched from Philadelphia to Southern Ontario,” and helped approximately 800 slaves during his time with the Underground Railroad (“Underground”).
Still was also known for keeping very detailed records of all the slaves who’d passed through the Philadelphia station, but destroyed many of his records about helping fugitive slaves before the Civil War because he was afraid they’d be used to prosecute people. After the war, his children convinced him to write a book about his experience with the Underground Railroad and the fugitive slaves he helped. Today, that book is one of the most important records about the Underground Railroad and the people who used it to find freedom (“William”).

Another Conductor that was well known as an abolitionist leader was Frederick Douglass. Frederick Douglass was also born into slavery, his name was originally Frederick Bailey, and he took the name Frederick Douglass only after he had escaped (Editors). Growing up as a slave, Douglass had attempted many times to try and escape. “Douglass finally left in 1838, first boarding a train to Havre de Grace, Maryland. From there he traveled through Delaware, another slave state, before arriving in New York and the safe house of abolitionist David Ruggles” (Editors). A couple of years later, Douglass began to attend meetings with abolitionist movements. He shared his stories of being a slave and how he escaped and he became a speaker and an abolitionist leader. Years passed, and Frederick Douglass soon became a part of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Douglass begun to write books, and he then published the first out of his five autobiographies. He was the first to establish the abolitionist paper “The North Star” and “it was used to not only denounce slavery, but to fight for the emancipation of women and other oppressed groups, and its motto was “”Right is of No Sex – Truth is of No Color – God is the Father of us all, and we are all brethren”””(PBS).

In conclusion The Underground Railroad has had a very big effect on the lives of African Americans, and Slaves overall in the past. It showed the value of the teamwork in the past, and how they cooperated. It played one of the biggest roles in the process of the abolition of slavery.”

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The Underground Railroad Effect on Slaves. (2021, Apr 10). Retrieved from