Underground Railroad

Elderhostel Music Hall Underground Railroad Union Terminal

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center




the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio

Underground Railroad, loose network of antislavery northerners-mostly blacks-that illegally helped fugitive slaves reach safety in the free states or Canada in the period before the American Civil War; it was also called the Liberty Line. Begun in the 1780s under Quaker auspices, the activity acquired legendary fame after the 1830s. It was once thought that more than 60,000 slaves gained their freedom in this way, but that estimate is probably an exaggeration.


Because of its proximity to the North, the upper South supplied a high proportion of the fugitives. They were usually young adults, male, unattached, and highly skilled; family flights were rare. Traveling by night to avoid detection, escapees used the North Star for guidance.



Usually they sought isolated "stations" (farms) or "vigilance committee" agents in towns, where sympathetic free blacks could effectively conceal them. When possible, "conductors" met them at such border points as Cincinnati, Ohio, and Wilmington, Delaware.



The lake ports of Detroit, Michigan; Sandusky, Ohio; Erie, Pennsylvania; and Buffalo, New York; were terminals for quick escape to Canada. Harriet Tubman, called the Moses of the blacks, and Levi Coffin, a Cincinnati Quaker, were among the famous rescuers. Professional slave catchers and vigilant officials often seized refugees to gain rewards.


More important than the number arriving safely was the publicity given to this clandestine work, which helped to make northern whites conscious of the evils of slavery. The federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 became difficult to enforce as Yankee judges and legislators restricted masters' rights of recovery.



A new law, part of the Compromise of 1850, was more stringent, but the activities of the Underground Railroad continued. Outraged at northern defiance of the law, southerners grew increasingly provoked. Antagonism over fugitives and the publicity accorded them were crucial in fueling the flames of sectional mistrust that eventually led to the American Civil War.

Contributed By: Bertram Wyatt-Brown for Microsoft Encarta





Africans held awaiting transport to the Americas



along the Railroad



Slave Pen


candle in the window indicates a safe house on the
Underground Railroad


false bottom hidden compartment in the wagon
for the transport of runaways



the Heroes





the Murals




the Quilts






the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio

Elderhostel Music Hall Underground Railroad Union Terminal

Air Force Museum Cincinnati Covered Bridges Marietta Ohio Amish

World Heritage Mosaics Roman World Africa Antarctica Asia Atlantic Islands Australia Caribbean Central America Europe Indian Ocean Middle East North America Pacific Islands South America The Traveler Recent Adventures Adventure Travel


People and Places