The Underground Railroad
In 1850, the value of a trained slave was around $2500 - an enormous sum at a time more
than ten times the average person's annual earnings. Thus, slaves were chased by their
masters or bounty hunters. Because intelligence agencies placed single men and women
in domestic jobs in cities like Syracuse and towns as Geneva, the transportation of slaves
to freedom obviously had to be done under the utmost secret of conditions. The transport
worked much like a railroad and so it was called The Underground Railroad. Once a slave
escaped and managed to make contact with sympathizers, he or she became a part of the
underground railroad and would hopefully be transported to freedom.Similar to an actual
railroad, the act of transporting the escaped slaves incorporated all the terms used during a
railroad journey. The routes from safe-house to safe-house (houses where fugitive slaves
were kept) were called lines and were roughly 15 miles long, but the distance shortened
considerably the further north one got. Stopping places were called stations. Those who
aided fugitive slaves were known as conductors. In order to keep terms as clandestine
as possible, the fugitive slaves were known as packages or freight. Though the road to
freedom, called The Underground Railroad, was organized prior to 1950, the organization
became widespread after The Fugitive Slave Act.
It is estimated that between 1850 and 1863, the Underground Railroad movement was
responsible for helping approximately 70,000 slaves escape and journey safely northwards
into Canada and subsequent freedom. The cities of Buffalo, Rochester and their surrounding
areas helped to play a leading role in the Underground Railroad movement. As they are
conveniently located close to the Canadian border, they served as one of the stations of the
Underground Railroad. Certainly one of the last stops before fugitive slaves could be considered
At the "stations", the weary slaves were given food, rest, and a change of clothing. Instances
often occurred in which common citizens did not have direct contact with the fugitive slaves,
but were nonetheless equally vital in attaining their eventual freedom. There were various
fundraising events. Further, there were informants who had knowledge about police activity
and who would pass this information on to the "conductors" who saw that the "freight"
received safe passage.
Underground Railraod Routes
The underground railroad was a loose association of people, white and black that helped
the slaves achieve freedom. This route involved many miles of walking and typically the slaves
moved at night to avoid detection. The refugee slaves tended to follow areas of easier, known
and more secretive routes along the Mississippi River and the Appalachian Mountains.
Here is a map showing various routes.
Back to Perquimans African American Research pages