“Above all, the Underground Railroad was the opportunity for the bold and adventurous, it had the excitement of piracy, the secrecy of burglary, the daring of insurrection; to the pleasure of relieving the poor negros’ sufferings it added the triumph of snapping one’s fingers at the slave catcher” – Albert Bushnell Hart
Most of what I know about the Underground Railroad I learned in high school. It’s a sad fact that I knew so little that I truly thought Harriet Tubman created the movement, and that it died down well before Lincoln’s famous Emancipation Proclamation. This is why I research and why I always allow myself to question and look into everything my mind has a notion to learn about. I never go into something blindly, or believe myself to be an expert without extensive research. I have several book reviews coming up about this particular topic and I craved a deeper understanding. I lucked upon a quick overview at my local library while searching for Uncle Tom’s Cabin (I have yet to read this classic).
Slavery on a large scale began in the 15th century and took hold in the United States as a cheap form of labor for the plantation movement. The first abolitionist society was organized in 1775 before America became independent. In 1807, a law was passed prohibiting the import of slaves from Africa and the Caribbean causing the current slave values to increase. By 1850, the Fugitive Slave Law was passed making the ease of capturing slaves detrimental to the freedom movement. This law allowed for easy capture of any fugitive on the word of the slave catcher without any factual evidence or proof. The fact that this law was allowed to pass in the first place shows the country was deeply rooted in the slavery movement, and that their lives were worth only the price a slave owner was willing to pay. A Southerner could walk past a freed slave on the street and claim they were a long lost runaway and they would be captured and returned to their “owner.” This goes well beyond a constitutional injustice, but slaves were still seen as property instead of people. Changes began to take place after the release of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. More volunteers, supplies, and money were gathered for the Underground Railroad and it gained respectability. The Underground Railroad by Shaaron Cosner gives an excellent overview of several key players in the movement, along with visuals including maps and actual photographs from the time period.
While Harriet Tubman did not create the movement of the Underground Railroad, she is dubbed the “Moses of her people” for her contributions. She, along with several other runaway slaves later joined the Underground Railroad risking their own freedom to save others. They stood up for what they believed in and most chose a peaceful approach. Many supporters faced financial ruin from fines and court fees associated with helping, and others used their money to purchase freedom for slaves. The sacrifices made by the Railroad workers were vast, but they continued to give of their time, money, and freedom until 1863 when Lincoln gave his famous Emancipation Proclamation which eventually led to the end of slavery.
I have many books on my Underground Railroad adventure, but I would love suggestions from readers that have read about this topic before. I am particularly interested in life after runaways obtained freedom. I want to know more about the social and economic difficulties they must have faced after risking their lives for freedom. I look forward to your suggestions and stay tuned for more Underground Railroad updates!