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Underground Railroad (Banks, 1997)

Textbook

James A. Banks et al., United States Adventures in Time and Space (New York: Macmillan McGraw-Hill, 1997).

Many slaves who did escape got help on the Underground Railroad. This was not a real railroad, but a system of secret routes that escaping captives followed to freedom. On this ‘railroad,' the slaves were called ‘passengers.' Those who guided and transported them were ‘conductors.' The places where slaves hid along the way were called ‘stations.' People who fed and sheltered them were ‘stationmasters.' Enslaved people often used songs to signal their plan to escape. One song, ‘Follow the Drinking Gourd,' gave directions for escaping north in code.…Each of the rivers in the song was an actual river. For example, the ‘great river' was the Ohio River. The ‘drinking gourd' was the Little Dipper. One of the stars in the Little Dipper is the North Star, which escaping slaves used to guide them north.

Levi Coffin, a Quaker from Indiana , was one of many people who helped slaves to escape. His wife, Catherine Coffin fed, clothed, and hid the slaves in their house. What they did took great courage. If caught, they could have been hanged. Because their work was so secret, we will never know how many people actually worked or escaped on the Underground Railroad.

In 1849, Harriet Tubman heard that she and other slaves on her Maryland plantation were to be sold further south. Tubman knew that life was even harder for slaves on the large cotton plantations there. She told her husband, John, ‘There's two things I've a right to: death or liberty. One or the other I mean to have. No one will take me back alive.' Tubman fled from the plantation in the middle of the night and headed for the house of a white woman known to help escaping slaves. The woman gave her two slips of paper with the names of families on the route north who would help her. These were Tubman's first ‘railroad rickets.' Tubman traveled at night, mostly through swamps and woodlands. After traveling 90 miles, she reached the free soil of Pennsylvania. Tubman returned many times to guide her family and many others to freedom. She was given the nickname, ‘Moses,' after the Hebrew prophet who led his people out of slavery in Egypt. Thousands of dollars were offered for Tubman's capture. More than 300 slaves owed their freedom to her.

How to Cite This Page: "Underground Railroad (Banks, 1997)," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/16821.