The Journey to Freedom

The story of the Underground Railroad by Riky Bae

How do the Abolitionist Beliefs Contribute to the Continuation of American Democracy?

The beliefs of the Abolitionist movement contribute to the continuation of American democracy in many ways. The concept of American Democracy is based on the belief that all men are created equal. Abolitionists believed that slaves had rights, that they should not be regarded as property, but as people. Thus one can conclude that the ideals of our democracy are very similar to the ones of the abolitionists.

What is Slavery?

Slavery is when one man is owned by another. The slaves are usually regarded as property instead of people. Many people from the West African region were sold to the colonies, Britain, and Central America for valuable items such as:
  • Iron
  • Tools
  • Rum
  • Molasses

In the eighteen hundreds, slavery was illegal in Britain and losing popularity in the northern colonies. Although, it was still popular in the southern states and the gulf. The southern states depended on slaves for tobacco and indigo plantations while Central America used slaves for sugarcane farms.

Additional Info on Slavery

Slavery wasn't only in the colonies, it existed in many older civilizations that include:
  • Incas
  • Ancient Greeks
  • Romans
  • And Aztecs

Many of these civilizations depended on slavery heavily, almost like a walking stick (not the bug). In the colonies, they had chattel slaves, slaves that remained slaves for death. The slaves offspring were also considered slaves. In the preexisting civilizations, the slaves could often gain their freedom in other ways (they were still difficult but they didn't have to be slaves for life). Chattel slavery was actually practiced in many European countries during the sixteenth century and afterward.

What is the Underground Railroad Anyway?

The Underground Railroad wasn't underground, and it wasn't a railroad. It was actually a network of secret routes and passages where escaped slaves follow to Canada (where slavery iss illegal). It started in the early 1840's, late 1940's, but it is not run by one single organization, instead, it is run by many individual abolitionists. Many of the people who took part of the Railroad have a lot at risk (both slaves and conductors), for if they were caught, they could get jailed, flogged, or even hanged!

How did the Railroad Work?

There were many parts of the Underground Railroad-
  • There were the "stations", where the slaves stopped along the way- they usually have some sign telling slaves that it is a station (like a quilt on a clothesline)
  • Then the "conductors" will help you along the way they are normally regular people
  • They would help carry the "packages" along the route, giving them clothes, food, water, and other provisions

Many slaves followed the North Star, which lead them north to Canada (hence the name "North Star"). Conductors would also give slaves money to avert suspicion from the townsfolk.

The Many Risks of the Railroad

Being part of the Underground Railroad wasn't that easy. If conductors were caught, there would be many consequences. They would often get fined a large sum of money or even flogged in the south (the punishments for aiding slaves were harsher in the south). Although, if the person who aided the escaped slave was black, they would receive harsher punishments (in the south, in the north they are fined). The slaves get the worst punishments of all. Among the punishments were:
  • Floggings
  • Burning at the stake
  • Burning an insignia or letter on their face
  • Jail time
  • Gibbeted for short periods of time
  • Or even hangings!

When slaves started escaping, slave owners started putting bounties on their heads. This attracted many bounty hunters, but it increased the chance of runaway slaves being discovered. Bounty Hunters normally went after a slave for months unless it got to Canada, but some bold bounty hunters still crossed the border to get their prize.

Key People

Harriet Tubman

Many of the people who aided the runaway slaves were free black people. Among these people was Harriet Tubman. Harriet Tubman (born as Aramanita Ross) was born a slave in Maryland around 1820, where she began to work as a house servant at the age of five. In 1844, she married a free black man named John Tubman, taking his last name. In 1849, she escaped to Philadelphia, for she was going to get sold soon. She got a job and saved her money. Tubman then went back to the south, helping her sister and her sister's children to freedom. The perilous journey was repeated multiple times, freeing more and more slaves each time.

William Still

Born as a free black man in 1821 in Indian Mills, New Jersey, William Still was a successful businessman. His parents were slaves, but he they escaped to New Jersey before he was born. He kept many records and interviewed as many slaves as he could, which he later published along with numerous letters from Thomas Garret. His work remains one of the few published works that prove the existence of the Underground railroad(since the all people involved burned all the evidence). He later became a major part of an anti-slavery campaign.

Thomas Garret

Born on August 1, 1789 in Darby Pennsylvania, Thomas Garret is one of the most important figures of the Underground Railroad. One of the many Quakers helping the Abolitionists cause, he has helped over 2,700 slaves to freedom. Arguably one of the greatest humanitarians, he has been hiding escaped slaves since he was a boy.