• From the very beginning of American slavery,
slaves fled from their owners. These were
• The great majority ran away between 1830
• They traveled on the Underground Railroad.
What did it mean to be a slave?
• You had nothing you could call your own, not
even your name.
• You belonged to another person, your owner. And
just to make sure you didn’t forget it, your last
name was the same as your owner’s.
• You had to do whatever work your owner
wanted. For example, you would work from
before sunrise until after dark in the fields.
• Your owner could punish you whenever he
What did it mean to be a slave?
• One of the worst things was that your master
could sell you like a pig or cow and you would
never see your parents or children again.
• You wouldn’t know how to read or write. If
you learned, you did it secretly.
Why would you run away?
• Because the owner made you work all day and
sometimes all night.
• Because the owner chained you at night to
keep you from running away.
• Because your family was sold away.
• Because the owner beat you.
• Simply because you didn’t think anyone
should own another person and you’d rather
die than stay a slave.
What was the Underground Railroad?
• It wasn’t a real railroad.
• It was the secret way to get from the South(=
slavery) to the North(=freedom).
• You would ride on a horse-drawn cart, on
horseback, on a boat or you would walk. The
whole trip was called the Underground
• You would stay at special hiding places . Often
you had to find your own or others hid you.
Underground Railroad terms
• Stations= the houses the slaves hid in
• Railroad workers= the people who helped the
• Conductors= they led the fugitives to the next
• Station masters= they fed and gave the
fugitives a place to sleep until they left for the
Where would you first go when you
• First, you had to hide for days, week or months
before you found people to help you get to the
• The owner would be searching for you so you had
to hide in forests, swamps, caves, big trees.
• A fugitive named Hill hid for over a year under
another slave’s floor! When his friend found him
a boat that would take him to the North he asked
Hill to take along his 7-year-old son. He wanted
him to grow up as a free man even if it meant
never seeing him again.
What dangers did you face?
• The biggest danger was being caught.
• Other dangers were wild animals such as
alligators, bears, wild boars, poisonous snakes.
• They suffered much pain and hunger. Some
even died before they made it to the North.
But those who reached the North said they
would face the dangers all over again just to
How would you hear about the
• Owners would tell their slaves the North was a
terrible place to live. They listened and nodded
but in their heart they knew that if the owner
said it was terrible, it must be wonderful.
• Those who lived for a while in the North and
were brought back South spread the word.
• Some fugitives secretly came back to the South to
help their friends and relatives escape. They told
about their lives up North and what it meant to
How did owners try to catch the
• Most put ads in the newspapers describing
the slaves and offering rewards.
Did anyone help the owners?
• An owner often hired slave hunters to track
down the fugitives. They chased down
fugitives with dogs.
How would you trick the slave
• You walked as far as possible in a stream. The
dogs couldn’t smell your footprints in the
• Some slaves, who could read and write, wrote
out fake passes or borrowed a free black’s
papers and pretended to be that person.
• Henry Brown mailed himself from Virginia to
Were there special hiding places on
the Underground Railroad?
• Many. There were secret attic rooms, fake
closets, trapdoors, hidden tunnels e.t.c.
• There were also secret compartments, like
false bottoms, in the wagons you might travel
How long would the whole trip take?
• The Underground Railroad ran in a zigzag way.
The fugitives couldn’t go in a straight line because
it would be too easy to catch the fugitives.
• Safety was most important. Sometimes you had
to head south to fool the hunters and as soon as
it was safe, turn around and go back north.
• It took a man a year to get from Alabama to Ohio.
Others were luckier. On board ship it might only
take 2 or 3 days to get to a free state.
Who worked on the Underground
• All kinds of people. Blacks and whites, children
and adults, women and men who knew slavery
was wrong. They were very brave because they
knew they could be put to prison or killed for
helping fugitives but they helped anyway.
• The most famous conductor along the
Underground Railroad was Harriet Tubman. Born
a slave in Maryland, she escaped when she was
25 years old. She returned to the South 19 times,
helping over 300 enslaved African Americans to
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
• Harriet Beecher Stowe lived in Ohio and her
house was a station on the Underground
Railroad. But she did something even more
important in the fight against slavery. She
wrote a book called Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In the
1850s people all over America and the world
were talking about it. Many people read it and
for the first time thought about how terrible
How many slaves escaped?
• No one really knows. Some say 35, 000 and
some say more than 100,000 slaves fled
• Most people who worked on the Underground
Railroad didn’t keep records of how many
fugitives they helped. If the records were ever
found, they could be punished for helping
What would you do when you
• One of the first thing was to change their
names. They did this to be safe, but also for
another reason; to throw the owner out of
their life and get a fresh start, since the slaves
were given their owner’s name.
• They found jobs and earned money. Many
wanted to learn to read and write and some
secretly went back south to help others