The Underground Railroad was a secret organization in the United States, which has been organizing escapes and transfer of slaves from the slave states of the South to the free North. The organization had been working in the 19th century until the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. The abolitionist activists, Quakers, and free black people constituted the core of the organization. The organization has received its name not because of using underground tunnels or trains (neither one nor the other was used), but due to the railway terminology used among participants.
The network had certain routes, or “lines,” which were used to transport fugitive slaves. These routes took their beginning from the borders of Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, Georgia and led to the northern states and Canada.
This society had quite clear organization: there existed a so-called “conductors” and “stations” (safe houses, which were provided by compassionate “stationmasters” for runaway black slaves en route for rest and shelter). The distance between “stations” was usually about a day’s journey.
There also were “shareholders,” which provided financial assistance. Slaves were called either “goods” or “load.” The railroad itself was known as the “freedom train,” which hurtled to the “paradise” or “promised land,” i.e., Canada. Slaves were provided with new clothes, and after more than 300 slaves have been released, a special “cloth store” was launched for the fugitives.
Though the network was called the “railroad,” as a matter of fact, it used boats, ships, vehicles as transport, and often people just walk. They moved in small groups. Such a group was always led by “conductor,” who knew the way and had to deliver the fugitives from one “station” to another.
Typically, the groups were moving in the dark, passing 10-20 miles per night. In the morning, the fugitives usually reached the next station, where they have been hiding all day. The next night it was repeated as long as the slaves reached a free territory. It was very dangerous. In the case of capture, a severe punishment or death were waiting for the slaves and conductors.
To keep the information about the “rail,” “route,” and “plants” secret, a secret language was created. For example, the phrase: “I sent for 2 hours 4 large and 2 small sticks of sausage,” meant that four adults and two children took the road from Harrisburg to Philadelphia.
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