Gerald D. Danzer et al., The Americas, Teacher’s Edition, (Evanston, I.L.: McDougal Littell, 2005), 311-12.
One of the most famous conductors was Harriet Tubman, born a slave in 1820 or 1821. As a young girl, she suffered a severe head injury when a plantation overseer hit her with a lead weight. The blow damaged her brain, causing her to lose consciousness several times a day. To compensate for her disability, Tubman increased her strength until she became strong enough to perform tasks that most men could not do. In 1849, after Tubman’s owner died, she decided to make a break for freedom and succeeded in reaching Philadelphia.
Shortly after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, Tubman became a conductor on the Underground Railroad. In all, she made 19 trips back to the South and is said to have helped 300 slaves – including her own parents – flee to freedom. Neither Tubman nor the slaves she helped were ever captured. Later she became an ardent speaker for abolition.
For slaves, escaping from slavery was indeed a dangerous process. It meant traveling on foot at night without any sense of distance or direction except for the North Star and other natural signs. It meant avoiding patrols of armed men on horseback and struggling through forests and across rivers. Often it meant going without food for days at a time.
Once fugitive slaves reached the North, many elected to remain there and take their chances. (see map on p. 313.) Other fugitives continued their journey all the way to Canada to be completely out of reach of slave catchers.