Exploring the Underground Railroad

Escape to Freedom

Overview of Route to Escape

To all enslaved africans who wish to be freed,

It is my deepest apologies that this peculiar institution even exists in the first place, an unmoral and inhumane treatment of your race. I want to help you out and recommend a path to freedom, a journey ending in Canada. Remember: you always want to travel NORTH NOT SOUTH! I am going to give you a plan on how to escape from the perspective of a slave in Louisville, Kentucky, but the tips and routes to take will apply to other slaves as well living in the black belt region and many other slave states. First off, I would suggest leaving your cabin and beginning your escape in the middle of the night, when the overseer and plantation owner are asleep and can't easily catch you. If you are caught, you will be flogged and punished severely by the overseer. After you have runaway from the plantation, look for certain signs indicating you are traveling north. Signs include the birds flying north after winter, the North Star (use the Big Dipper and Little Dipper to locate it), or moss growing on the north sides of trees. Slave catchers will try to catch you with the help of their dog who will hunt and follow your track, but avoid these traps by running through a stream to cover your scent. You will have to hide and sleep in bushes and swampy areas, but just remember to keep traveling north! You will eventually reach the large Ohio River. It may seem too treacherous to swim across, so try to find a group of black slaves also escaping who will help you find one of the boats used to cross the river. Make sure you travel north across the river, because this will lead you to a safe house in Riley, Ohio run by Presbyterian Rev. John Rankin. A candle in the window of the preacher's house high on a hill overlooking the Ohio River means that the coast is clear. Once you have crossed the river and reached a safe house like this one, you can take a deep breath! But not too many, because even though Ohio is a free state, you are a fugitive who can easily be returned to your former owner and severely punished. The main part of the Underground Railroad, a vast network of people who help fugitive slaves escape, takes place at this point. Your next stop is Cleveland, Ohio. It lies on the northern border of Ohio but you need to get to Cleveland to cross Lake Erie into Canada. You need to take note that it may take weeks or months to get to Cleveland. You will have to be skirting through the woods, hiding in cellars or barns, and taking on disguises. Many black families will help you along the way, but you have to be intuitive and know who to trust. White men sometimes help you and pose as your owner, taking you by train to Cleveland. It is a scary trip, but don't act nervous and don't give anyone any hint that you might be a runaway slave. Once you get to Cleveland, the man that took you by train might direct you to another safe house, owned by a white man who will have a boat for you to cross Lake Erie. When you have crossed Lake Erie, you have arrived in Ontario, Canada!!!! Slavery is outlawed in Canada, and there are no laws protecting slaveowners or slave catchers so it is probably the safest place to be for a fugitive! Although it may be very tough to find a job there and keep warm and safe, it is always better than living as a slave in the south! I have hope, just like you, that someday you will live a life of complete freedom and equality and not be referenced as darkies or Negros. Your day will come when you are proud to be a U.S. citizen! Good luck on your journey and remember to thank every kind hand that helps you along the way!

Best wishes,

Mia Ford

Special Note

On your journey up north, I recommend you to not protest slavery just yet, as starting an uprising or revolt leads to you being hanged and executed. You obtaining freedom in Canada may be a wiser decision and, although still very risky, gives you a better chance of survival. United States freed slaves and insurrectionists like Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner both had an impact on the peculiar institution, but both of their lives were ended violently, as a punishment for their courageous actions. Vesey was involved in planning an uprising of slaves in South Carolina and Turner led a rebellion of slaves in Virginia.

Follow the Drinking Gourd
According to American folklore, this song was a "musical" map which led fugitive slaves north to freedom.