EXPLORING THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD
Run Away Instructions
- Escape quietly late at night.
- Travel at night, sleep during the day hidden.
- If there is a dog around, travel in a nearby river to cover your scent.
- Make your way to a "safe house" which is a part of the underground railroad.
- Cross over the Ohio River into freedom.
How Slaves Escape
Slaves typically lived in the “black belt” which was a region with a majority-black population that grew because of the expansion of slavery. These slaves wanted to escape and did so by following the North Star. They used the big and small dipper to locate the North Star. The North Star guided the slaves to Canada and freedom. Slaves were able to look at moss on trees to find which way was north too, usually when the star was not visible. Slaves sometimes escaped by rivers because their scents could not be tracked in the water. A lot had to cross over the fierce Ohio River before reaching freedom.
Stationmasters with the Underground Railroad usually hid slaves in safe houses to keep them safe from slave catchers. They tried to help as many slaves possible to get to freedom. Slaves could be hidden in secret rooms in the house or a basement. To get slaves to different safe houses, sometimes they would hide them among crates or supplies in horse drawn buggies. Certain buggies even had small special compartments at the bottom for them to hide in.
Although the blacks were free when they made it north, they were still discriminated against. There were separate churches, schools and businesses for darkies. Blacks would not be considered legal citizens till 1866. It was thought to be that once a slave reached the north they would be 100% care free, but that was not true. This is because slave owners, or overseers, placed notices all over to keep a look out for missing slaves and usually included large rewards. If they were found they were brought back to be flogged or even killed.
EXTRA TERMS/ PEOPLE
- Peculiar institution: a polite term for slavery and the economic consequences of it in the South.
- Denmark Vesey: An enslaved African-American man in South Carolina who was famous for planning a slave rebellion in the U.S. in 1822.
- Nathaniel "Nat" Turner: A black slave who led a slave rebellion in Virginia in 1831 that resulted in 60 white people dying. The whites responded with killing at least 200 blacks. His supporters came from Virginia.
Follow the Drinking Gourd Song
Story: The lyrics were instructions on how to get to safety. They were taught by a man known as Peg Leg Joe. The young slaves would use to song to know when it is safe to run, and where it is safe to go.
When the Sun comes back
And the first quail calls
Follow the Drinking Gourd,
For the old man is a-waiting for to carry you to freedom If you follow the Drinking Gourd
The riverbank makes a very good road. The dead trees will show you the way. Left foot, peg foot, travelling on, Follow the Drinking Gourd.
The river ends between two hills Follow the Drinking Gourd.
There’s another river on the other side Follow the Drinking Gourd.
When the great big river meets the little river Follow the Drinking Gourd.
For the old man is a-waiting for to carry to freedom If you follow the Drinking Gourd.