American Slavery

Shane Odom


Slaves attempting to flee the South and reach the North or Canada lived with more fear than they did in their daily lives on plantations. Even upon reaching sanctuary in the North slaves still lived in fear of being repossessed by bounty hunters, slave catchers, or whites afraid of being punished by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 which fined accomplices of escaped slaves with either $1,000 or six months in prison. Slaves attempted to flee to Canada not just to the North stole away in wagons, boats, and trains. Some fled on foot by following the North Star, moss on trees, or going upstream of rivers. The North Star is found in the constellations of the Big and Small Dippers, moss could be followed since it grew primarily on the northern side of trees, and rivers since they flow south could be followed upstream to the North. Avoiding Slave Catchers could be accomplished by hiding in safe houses owned by stationmasters, could be guided by conductors, or even be aided with money or food by stockholders. Who also aided the other abolitionist like the conductors and stationmasters. Avoiding dogs was done by running upstream in rivers so that the escapee's scent was lost. A demeaning name African Americans were called was a DARKIES which is the equivalent of the N word. Misbehaving slaves would have been subject to floggings, whippings, by an OVERSEER, who was a white male hired to make sure the slaves worked by the plantation owner. The line of Southern states that were majority plantation working and slave owning were called the BLACK BELT. Instead of being called slavery in the South slavery was referred to as the PECULIAR INSTITUTION which means ones own institution and is characterized to a region, the South. Many slaves attempted to start slave revolts, one such being DENMARK VESEY, a free slave from South Carolina who was allegedly planning a slave revolt before he was imprisoned and executed in 1822. Another revolt was led by NAT TURNER who somewhat successfully led one in Virginia in 1831 which led to the death of 60 whites. Slaves escaped along the UNDERGROUND RAILROAD which did not have a set path or even a set destination as its name suggests. It simply referred to the throng of whites and blacks helping slaves to escape the South.

Where to Go

Fleeing Slavery

A slave from Virginia might attempt to flee to the Ohio River then through Ohio to the Great Lakes and onto Canada. An action not nearly as successful when attempted by slaves from states deeper in the South such as Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Alabama. This would of course have been impossible without help from conductors and stationholders who helped slaves cross the mighty Ohio River and stay hidden while traversing through the North.