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- This article is an itinerary.
- This article describes historical escape routes for American slaves. See Urban rail for underground rail systems.
In 1793 Upper Canada (now Ontario) passed an act that banned import of new slaves and required that children of slaves be freed at 25, a compromise solution that would have eliminated slavery in a generation but in the meanwhile allowed slave owners to keep their slaves. Then in 1808 the British Empire banned the slave trade, but not slavery itself. In 1834 the Empire banned slavery except in parts of British India, and on August 1, 1843 the last exception was removed. Freedom had prevailed.
The United States, however, remained bitterly divided on the question of slavery; a conflict which culminated in the outbreak of the American Civil War. The Fugitive Slave Law, an 1850 federal act which allowed slave catchers to violently abduct escaped slaves in free states and forcibly transport them back to Southern enslavement, was offensive to the public in Northern states which had already ended slavery within their own borders. As federal law could be applied to otherwise-free states over local objections, any slaves who reached northern states had good reason to continue toward Canada.
By the time London's Metropolitan Line ran as the first literal Underground train in 14 September 1862, the work of this virtual and clandestine "underground railroad" was largely complete. The April 1861 outbreak of the Civil War ended the ability of slave catchers to operate freely in the northern Union states; slaves who had fled to the promised land of Canada in the 1850s were free to return to join the Union army and wage war on their former Southern masters in the 1860s. The legacy of segregation and discrimination would still be alive a century later as a target of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, but the flood of fugitive slaves northward to Canada had largely been stemmed.
A string of slave states sprawled west-east across the middle of the country from Missouri through Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia to Delaware. To the north lay free states such as Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and all of New England. To the south lay what would become the Confederate States of America, a group of slaveholding states. The further south, the worse conditions became. Confederate attempts at secession from the U.S. led to the American Civil War, fought from April 12, 1861 – May 10, 1865.
Various routes were used by black slaves to escape to freedom, such as Texas to Mexico or Florida to various points in the Caribbean, but most led north through northern free states into Southwestern Ontario or other parts of Canada. A few fled across New Brunswick to Nova Scotia (an Africville ghetto existed in Halifax until the 1960s) but the shortest, most popular routes crossed Ohio, which separated slavery in Kentucky from freedom across Lake Erie in Ontario.
This exodus coincides with a huge speculative boom in construction of passenger rail as new technology (the Grand Trunk mainline from Montréal through Toronto opened in 1856), so this loosely-knit intermodal network readily adopted rail terminology. Those recruiting slaves to seek freedom were "agents", the hiding or resting stations along the way were "stations" with their homeowners "stationmasters" and those funding the efforts "stockholders". Abolitionist leaders were the "conductors", of whom the most famous was former slave Harriet Tubman, lauded for her efforts in leading three hundred from Maryland and Delaware through Philadelphia and northward across New York State to freedom in Canada. In some sections, "passengers" travelled by foot or concealed in horse carts heading north on dark winter nights; in others they travelled by boat or by conventional rail. Religious groups (such as the Quakers, the Society of Friends) were prominent in the abolitionist movement and songs popular among slaves referenced the Exodus of Moses biblical flight from Egypt. Effectively, Tubman was "Moses" and the Big Dipper and north star Polaris pointed to the promised land.
While there are various routes and substantial variation in distance, the exodus following the path of Harriet Tubman covers more than 500 mi (800 km) from Maryland and Delaware through Pennsylvania and New York to Ontario, Canada.
Historically, it was possible and relatively easy for citizens of either country to cross the U.S.-Canada border without a passport. In the 21st century, this is largely no longer true; border security has become more strict in the post-September 11, 2001 era.
Today, nationals of the United States do not need a passport or an Electronic Travel Authorization in order to visit Canada; however, they require a passport, U.S. passport card, Trusted Traveler Program card, or an enhanced driver’s license in order to return to the United States. United States Permanent Residents require an Electronic Travel Authorization in order to visit Canada, and both their passport and their U.S. visa and/or alternate or additional travel documents in order to return to the United States. If you reside in another country, or you don't know what some of these documents are, check the Canadian rules and U.S. rules for the documents required.
The most common points of entry to the Underground Railroad network were border states which represented the division between free and slave: Maryland; Virginia, including what's now West Virginia; and Kentucky. Much of this territory is easily reached from Washington, DC. Tubman's journey, for instance, begins in Dorchester County, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and leads northward through Wilmington (Delaware) and Philadelphia.
"I'll meet you in the morning. I'm bound for the promised land".
There are multiple routes and multiple points of departure to board this train; those listed here are merely notable examples.
Tubman's Pennsylvania, Auburn and Niagara Railroad
This route leads through Pennsylvania and New York, through various sites associated with Underground Rail "conductor" Harriet Tubman (escaped 1849, active until 1860) and her contemporaries.
Cambridge (Maryland) is separated from Washington DC by Chesapeake Bay and is approximately 90 mi (140 km) southeast of the capital on US 50:
- 1 Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park. 17-acre State Park adjacent to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County near the town of Church Creek on Route 335.
- 1 Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument, 4068 Golden Hill Rd, Church Creek MD.
- 2 Harriet Tubman Organization museum, 424 Race St, Cambridge, ☎ . Guided tours by appointment.
Her path from Cambridge MD to Philadelphia PA, as described to Wilbur Siebert in 1897, appears to be 1 Cambridge - 2 East New Market - 3 Poplar Neck, Maryland to 4 Sandtown - 5 Willow Grove - 6 Camden - 7 Dover - 8 Smyrna - 9 Blackbird - 10 Odessa - 11 New Castle - 12 Wilmington, Delaware as a 120 mi (190 km) overland journey by road. An additional 30 mi (48 km) was required to reach 13 Philadelphia.
A signed Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Scenic Byway currently crosses Maryland and Delaware, passing various Underground Railroad sites before exiting Centerville DE to Pennsylvania.
- 3 Appoquinimink Friends Meetinghouse, West Main Street (Route 299), Odessa, Delaware. 1st & 3rd Sundays of each month, 11AM. 1785 brick Quaker house of prayer which served as a station on the Underground Railroad under John Hunn and Thomas Garrett. A second story had a removable panel leading to spaces under the eaves; a cellar was reached by a small side opening at ground level.
- 4 Old New Castle Court House, 211 Delaware St, New Castle (Delaware), ☎ . Tu-Sa 10AM-4:30PM, Su 1:30-4:30PM. One of the oldest surviving courthouses in the United States, built as meeting place of Delaware's colonial and first State Assembly (when New Castle was Delaware's capital, 1732-1777). Underground Railroad conductors Thomas Garrett and John Hunn were tried and convicted here in 1848 for violating the Fugitive Slave Act, bankrupting them with fines which only served to harden the feelings over slavery of all involved.
The dividing line between slave and free states was the Mason-Dixon line:
- 5 Mason-Dixon Line, Mason-Dixon Farm Market, 18166 Susquehanna Trail South, Shrewsbury (Pennsylvania). A concrete post marks the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania in Shrewsbury, where slaves were made free after crossing into Pennsylvania during the American Civil War. Farm market owners have stories to share about Underground Railroad houses and other slave stops between Maryland and Pennsylvania. Free to stand and take a picture with the concrete post marker.
The first "free" state on the route is Pennsylvania:
- 6 Johnson House Historical Site, 6306 Germantown Ave, ☎ . Former safe house and tavern in the Germantown area, frequented by Harriet Tubman and William Still, one of 17 Underground Railroad stations in Pennsylvania listed in a local guide "Underground Railroad: Trail to Freedom". Still was an African-American abolitionist, clerk and member of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. William Still's Last Residence, a common waypoint for northbound Underground Railroad passengers through Philadelphia, still stands but is not open to the public.
- 7 Belmont Mansion, 2000 Belmont Mansion Drive 19131-3713, ☎ . Tu-F 11AM-5PM, summer weekends by appointment. Historic Philadelphia mansion with Underground Railroad museum. $7, student/senior $5.
- 8 Christiana Underground Railroad Center, 11 Green St, Christiana, ☎ . M-F 9AM-4PM. Museum in former hotel, records the September 11, 1851 trial of 38 citizens charged with treason for their participation in The Resistance at Christiana against the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. free.
- 9 Central Pennsylvania African American Museum, 119 N. 10th St, Reading (Old Bethel African Methodist Church), ☎ , fax: . W F 10:30AM-1:30PM; Sa 1PM-4PM. Local history of the Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania. $4.
- 1 Fairfield Inn 1757, 15 W Main St, Fairfield PA (8 mi W of Gettysburg on Rt. 116), ☎ . The oldest continuously operated inn in the Gettysburg area, dating to 1757. Slaves would hide on the third floor after crawling through openings and trap doors. Today, a window is cut out to reveal where the slaves hid when the inn was a "safe station" on the Underground Railroad. $160/night.
- 10 Old Jail, 175 E. King St, Chambersburg PA, ☎ . Tu–Sa (May-Oct), Th-Sa (year-round): 10AM–4PM, last tour 3PM. Built in 1818, the jail survived an attack in which Chambersburg was burned by the Confederates in 1864. Five domed dungeons in the cellar had rings in the walls and floors to shackle recalcitrant prisoners; these cells may also have been secretly used to shelter runaway slaves enroute to freedom in the north. $5/adult, $4/child.
From Pennsylvania, passengers would have headed north via various routes to New York State.
New York State
- 11 Stephen and Harriet Myers Residence, 194 Livingston Ave, Albany (New York), ☎ . Tours M-F 5-8PM, Sa noon-4PM or by appointment. This house was a headquarters for Underground Railroad activity in the mid 1850s. $10/adult, $8/seniors, $5/child (5-12).
- 12 St. James AME Zion Church, 116 Cleveland Ave, Ithaca, ☎ . The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church was established in the early 1800s in New York City as a subgroup of the Methodist Episcopal Church to serve Black parishioners who at the time encountered overt racism in existing churches. St. James, founded 1836, was a station on the Underground Railroad and in 1906 hosted a group of students founding Alpha Phi Alpha, the nation's oldest official Black fraternity.
- 13 Harriet Tubman Home,, 180 South St, Auburn, ☎ . Known as "The Moses of Her People," Tubman settled in Auburn after the Civil War and operated this home for the aged and indigent blacks. As a conductor on the Underground Railroad - a network of abolitionists that helped slaves escape to freedom - she made a dozen trips south over a period of 11 years. Tubman died in 1913 at her South Street property, and is buried at the Fort Hill Cemetery.
- 14 Fort Hill Cemetery,, 19 Fort St, Auburn, ☎ . Set on a hill overlooking Auburn, this site was used for burial mounds by Native Americans as early as 1100 AD. It includes the burial sites of William Seward, Harriet Tubman, Martha Coffin Wright, Col. Myles Keogh who fought with Gen. Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn, and a monument to Indian orator Chief Logan.
- 15 Palmyra Historical Museum, 132 Market St, Palmyra (New York), ☎ . Tu-Th 10AM-5PM year-round, Tu-Sa 11AM-4PM in high season. One of five separate museums in the Historic Palmyra Museum Complex; each presents a different aspect of life in old Palmyra. The flagship museum houses various permanent exhibits on local history and artifacts. Topics include the Erie Canal, the Underground Railroad, women's suffrage and the Book of Mormon. (one museum) $3/adult, $2/seniors, kids under 12 free.
- A 16 Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Interpretive Center. is planned for the former U.S. custom house (1863-1962) at 2245 Whirlpool St, Niagara Falls NY beside the Whirlpool Bridge. Intended as a gateway to the Underground Railroad and anti-slavery history of the area, it is expected to open May 4, 2018; a modern Amtrak station (adjacent) opened in 2016.
- 17 Castellani Art Museum, 5795 Lewiston Road, Niagara University NY 14109, ☎ , fax: . Art museum on university campus. “Freedom Crossing: The Underground Railroad in Greater Niagara” exhibit recalls the story of the Underground Railroad Movement in Buffalo-Niagara.
- Freedom Crossing (Suspension bridge site), Niagara Falls. Built in 1848 as a carriage and footbridge and operated as a rail bridge from 1855-1897, the first suspension bridge across the lower Niagara gorge served as a freedom crossing to bring Harriet Tubman the final step from slavery in Bucktown, Maryland to a first home in St. Catharines in 1849. After 1855 it became a major route for escaping slaves hidden aboard Northern Central Railroad cattle or baggage cars. The site is now the Whirlpool Bridge.
- 18 First Presbyterian Church and Village cemetery (1835), 505 Cayuga St, Lewiston (at South 5th St.). This church played a prominent role in the Underground Railroad; a sculpture in front of the church commemorates the site.
- 19 Freedom Crossing Monument. Five bronze sculptures depict a family of freedom seekers and Lewiston's Underground Railroad station master Josiah Tryon on the bank of the Niagara River. Tryon's brother Amos built the House of the Seven Cellars at 4772 Lower River Road in 1830, but his wife Sally Barton refused to move there. The house, built on the side of a steep riverside embankment with multi-levelled interconnecting basements, proved an ideal staging point for slaves crossing the Niagara River to Canada. A series of steps led down the high riverbank to Tryon's waiting rowboat. The house itself is not publicly accessible, but is mentioned in Margaret Goff Clark's 1969 book Freedom Crossing.
- 20 Howe-Prescott Pioneer House, 3031 Route 98 South, Franklinville, ☎ . Su Jun-Aug by appointment. Built circa-1814 by a family of prominent abolitionists, served as a station on the Underground Railroad in the years before the Civil War. The Ischua Valley Historical Society has restored the site as a pioneer homestead, with exhibits and demonstrations illustrating life in the early days of white settlement in Western New York.
- 21 Michigan Street Baptist Church, 511 Michigan Avenue, Buffalo. Oldest property continuously owned, operated, and occupied by African-Americans in Western New York, served as a station on the Underground Railroad.
- 22 Broderick Park, 1170 Niagara St, Buffalo (on the Niagara River, end of West Ferry Street), ☎ . Many years before the Peace Bridge was constructed to the south, fugitive slaves crossed the river from here to Canada.
The end of the line is St. Catharines in Ontario's Niagara region.
- 23 British Methodist Episcopal Church and Salem Chapel (1855), Geneva and North streets, St. Catharines. The area became known to escaped slaves as a place of "refuge and rest".
- 24 Negro Burial Ground, Mississauga Street, Niagara-on-the-Lake (north of John Street), ☎ . Cemetery on former site of Niagara Baptist Church (1830), a Calvinistic and predominantly African-Canadian congregation.
The Ohio Line
- 25 Town Clock Church, 300 E Main St, New Albany, IN, ☎ . This estored 1852 Greek Revival church used to house the Second Presbyterian Church and a 160 ft (49 m) clock tower which signaled New Albany’s location to the Ohio River boatmen. The original tower has since been shortened, but it remains distinctive. Owned since 1889 by the Second Baptist Church, an African-American congregation, the structure is said to have been a way station on the Underground Railroad.
Indianapolis is 130 mi (210 km) to the north; Fishers and Westfield are among its suburbs.
- 2 Connor Prairie Museum, 13400 Allisonville Road, Fishers IN, ☎ , toll-free: . "Follow the North Star" participants travel back to the year 1836 and assume the role of fugitive slaves seeking freedom on the Underground Railroad. Learn by becoming a fugitive slave in an interactive encounter where museum staff become the slave hunters, friendly Quakers, freed slaves and railroad conductors that decide your fate. ($20/person, interactive theatrical program is about two hours.)
Known for its Quaker heritage, Westfield is a great town for walking tours; the Westfield Washington Historical Society (+1 317-804-5365) can provide background information on tours. Historic Indiana Ghost Walks & Tours (+1 317-840-6456) also covers "ghosts of the Underground Railroad" on one of its Westfield tours (reservations required, check schedule).
- 26 Westfield-Washington Historical Society & Museum, 130 Penn St, Westfield (Indiana), ☎ . Sa 10AM-2PM, or by appointment. Learn about the unique history of Westfield and Washington Township, Underground Railroad, Quaker families, anti-slavery Friends, businesses and farmers, Orphan Train, Monon and Midland Railroads, and 1861 Union High School. By donation.
From Indiana, you can head east into Ohio or north into Michigan.
Another option is to head north from Kentucky directly into Ohio.
Multiple parallel lines led north from slavery in Kentucky across Ohio to Lake Erie and freedom in Ontario. The stations listed here form a line through Ohio's major cities (Cincinnati-Columbus-Cleveland-Toledo) and around Lake Erie to Windsor-Detroit, a journey of approximately 800 miles. In practice, Underground Railroad passengers would head due north and cross Lake Erie at the first possible opportunity via any of multiple parallel routes.
Depart Lexington, Kentucky northbound 85 mi (137 km) to cross the Ohio River and board this freedom train. Cincinnati stands on the north shore of the Ohio River, directly opposite Covington KY, and is one of many points at which thousands crossed the river in search of freedom.
- 27 National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, 50 East Freedom Way, Cincinnati (Riverfront), ☎ . Tu-Su 11AM-5PM (closed: Labor Day, September 7, October 15 at 14:00, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day). The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is a museum of conscience; it offers lessons on the struggle for freedom in the past, in the present, and for the future. $12 adults, $10 seniors, $8 children.
30 mi (48 km) to the east, Williamsburg and Clermont County were home to multiple stations on the Underground Railroad. 55 mi (89 km) north is Springboro (Warren County), on the southern edge of Dayton.
- 28 Springboro Historical Society Museum, 110 S. Main Street, Springboro, ☎ . Springboro's storied past as a vital stop on the Underground Railroad is detailed in the quaint museum, with information on the elaborate tunnel system and the 27 local safe houses, many of which still stand today.
East of Dayton, one former station in Yellow Springs is now a tavern.
- 1 Ye Old Trail Tavern, 228 Xenia Ave, Yellow Springs, ☎ . Cold beer, bar food; original 1844 log cabin was once a stop on the Underground Railroad.
- 29 Prospect Place, 12150 Main St, Trinway, OH, ☎ . A 29-room mansion built by abolitionist George Willison Adams in 1856, served as an Underground Railroad station until the 1860s.
A hundred ten miles to the northeast is Alliance.
- 30 Haines House Underground Railroad Museum, 186 West Market St, Alliance, ☎ . Open the first weekend of the month: Sa 10AM-noon; Su 1PM-3PM. The Haines House was a former stop on the Underground Railroad.
The next town to the north is Kent, the home of Kent State University, which was a waypoint on the Underground Railroad back when the village was still named Franklin Mills. 36 mi (58 km) further north is the Lake Erie shoreline, east of Cleveland. From there, you can go east to Ashtabula or west to Lorain in search of a suitable crossing point.
- 31 Hubbard House UGRR Museum, 1603 Walnut Blvd, Ashtabula, ☎ . Memorial-Labor Day: F-Su 1PM-5PM; or by appointment. Closed Mon and holidays. Restored home of William and Catharine Hubbard, the only northern terminus of the Underground Railroad that can be toured.
- 3 Lorain Underground Railroad Station, Black River Landing, 100 Black River Lane, Lorain. Reflective Garden and Monument commemorating the Underground Railroad which led slaves to freedom.
West of Lorain is Sandusky, which remains a seasonal ferry crossing point to the southernmost tip of Canada, Point Pelee.
- 32 Maritime Museum of Sandusky, 125 Meigs Street, Sandusky OH, ☎ . This museum interprets the maritime history of the area including boat building, recreational boating, passenger boats, shipwrecks, wetlands, commercial shipping, fishing, and the boats of Sandusky’s Underground Railroad through interactive exhibits and educational programs.
- The MV Jiimaan, Jackson St. The largest passenger ferry along the Lake Erie route to Pelee Island leaves from the foot of Jackson Street, Sandusky to Leamington, Kingsville Govt. Dock and Pelee Island, Ontario, Canada.
One can cross the border directly here or continue westward through Toledo to Detroit.
- 33 First Living Museum, 33 E. Forest at Woodward Ave, Detroit, ☎ . Underground Railroad museum at the First Congregational Church of Detroit; a one-hour re-enactment Flight to Freedom Tour has visitors shackled with wrist bands at the beginning of an Escape as passengers on a simulated Underground Railroad where they are led to Freedom by a Conductor, hiding from bounty hunters, crossing the Ohio River to seek refuge in Levi Coffin's abolitionist safe house in Indiana before arriving to “Midnight”, code name for Detroit, and safe haven at the First Congregational Church of Detroit as the final stop before reaching Canada and Freedom. $12-15/person.
- 34 Mariners' Church, 170 East Jefferson Ave, Detroit MI. An 1849 limestone church known primarily for serving Great Lakes sailors and memorialising crew lost at sea. In 1955, workers discovered a tunnel from the Underground Railroad era under the building when moving the church to make room for a new civic centre. The lyrics "In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed, In the Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral, The church bell chimed ’til it rang 29 times, For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald" in a 1976 Gordon Lightfoot tune reference this chapel.
If Detroit was "Midnight" on the Underground Railroad, Windsor (Ontario) was "Dawn". An underground railroad literally exists from Detroit to Windsor and Port Huron to Sarnia, but these rail tunnels now serve only freight. The last passengers (through Port Huron en route from Chicago to Toronto) crossed the Canadian border in 2004.
An underground road tunnel remains in operation to Windsor, complete with a municipal Tunnel Bus service (C$4/person, one way).
- 35 Octagon House, 57500 Van Dyke, Washington Township MI, ☎ . An icon of early history, capturing attention with its unusual symmetry and serving as a metaphor for a community that bridges yesterday and tomorrow.
A ferry runs to Canada from Marine City, Michigan; there are bridges in Port Huron and in Detroit. Across the river lay the Windsor-Quebec corridor, one of the most populated regions in Canada. A monument to the Underground Railroad stands in Windsor. Amherstburg, just south of Windsor, is also a terminus on the Underground Railroad.
- 36 Sandwich First Baptist Church, 3652 Peter St, Windsor ON, ☎ . A church established by Underground Railroad refugees as a terminus near an ideal river crossing point, equipped with a series of tunnels and trapdoors.
- Emancipation Day Celebration, Windsor. First weekend in August, "The Greatest Freedom Show on Earth" commemorates The Emancipation Act of 1833, which abolished slavery throughout the British Empire.
- 37 Amherstburg Freedom Museum (Formerly the North American Black Historical Museum Inc.), 277 King St, Amherstburg ON, ☎ , toll-free: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tu-F noon-5PM, Sa Su 1-5PM. Museum, cultural centre, Taylor Log Cabin and Nazrey African Methodist Episcopal Church. Adult $7.50, seniors & students $6.50.
- 38 John Freeman Walls Historic Site, 859 Puce Rd, Lakeshore ON, ☎ , fax: . Underground Railroad Museum and 20-acre historical site in Puce, now Lakeshore, Ontario, in Essex County about 25 mi (40 km) east of Windsor.
In Chatham-Kent (on the signed African-Canadian Heritage Tour route), American abolitionist John Brown's possessions are displayed in the Chatham-Kent Museum.
- 39 Chatham-Kent Museum, 75 William St N, Chatham ON, ☎ .
- 40 Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society, 177 King St E, Chatham, ☎ .
- 41 Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site, 29251 Uncle Toms Rd, Dresden ON, ☎ . Open air museum and African-American history centre that includes the home of Josiah Henson, a former slave, author, abolitionist, and minister, who was the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe's title character in her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. Part of the original 200 acres purchased in 1841 to establish the Dawn Settlement, a community for escaped slaves.
- 42 Buxton National Historic Site & Museum, 21975 A.D. Shadd Road, North Buxton ON, ☎ , fax: . Museum and 1861 schoolhouse, 1854 log cabin and barn. A tribute to the 1849 Elgin Settlement, a haven for fugitive slaves and free blacks and a final stop on the Underground Railroad. An annual Buxton Homecoming cultural festival in September recalls the roots laid by early black settlers in the area.
In Toronto, the Toronto Transit Commission (+1 416-393-INFO) has run an annual midnight Underground Freedom Train Ride annually to commemorate Emancipation Day; the train leaves Union subway station in time to reach the northwest end of the line at midnight on August 1.
Across the Land of Lincoln
Illinois bills itself as a free state; slavery was nominally illegal within the state by the time of the Underground Railroad, but the fate of fugitives using Illinois as a path to flee slavery in adjacent states Missouri and Kentucky was variable. Some communities in the southernmost portion of the state were colonised largely from points in the southern US; fugitives passing through these communities were at risk of being abducted and forcibly transported back across the Ohio River to Paducah KY and slavery. Further north, the number of communities settled by New Yorkers or New Englanders increased and tolerance for the slave catchers diminished markedly.
Illinois bordered slaveholding states at various points, including its western boundary at the Mississippi. Quincy (Illinois), which borders Missouri on the Mississippi River, is one of a few good starting points for Underground Railroad passengers.
- 43 Dr. Richard Eells House, 415 Jersey St, Quincy (Illinois), ☎ . Sa 1PM-4PM, or group tours by appointment. This 1835 doctor's home is an Underground Railroad station four blocks from the Mississippi. Connecticut-born Dr. Eells was active in the abolitionist movement and is credited with helping several hundred slaves flee from Missouri, a slave state directly across the river. In 1842, while providing aid to a fugitive swimming the river, Dr. Eells was spotted by a posse of slave hunters. Eells escaped, but was later arrested and charged with harboring a fugitive slave. His case (with a $400 fine) was unsuccessfully appealed as far as the U.S. Supreme Court, with the final appeal made by his estate after his demise. The house is now a museum. $3.
Jacksonville was a major stop as crossroads of at least three different routes - many carrying passengers fleeing north from St. Louis. Several of the homes that provided food, shelter, and assistance to the escaped slaves still stand. The Morgan County Historical Society runs a Sunday afternoon bus tour twice annually (spring and fall) from Illinois College to Woodlawn Farm with guides in period costume.
- 44 Congregational Church, 520 W College Ave, Jacksonville (Illinois), ☎ . In 1852, several members of this congregation brought 500 copies of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin from Cleveland, Ohio; they distributed the books around Jacksonville and the surrounding country as a means of popularising abolitionism.
- 45 Beecher Hall, Illinois College, 1101 W College Ave, ☎ . The first college in the state, founded 1829 by New Englanders as a “seminary of learning” and associated with many prominent local abolitionists. The original college building was renamed Beecher Hall for the college's first president, Edward Beecher. His sister, author Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin.
- 46 Woodlawn Farm, 1463 Gierkie Lane, Jacksonville (Illinois), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. late May-end Sep: W Sa Su 1PM-4PM. A showcase homestead just east of town is now a living history museum with tours given by docents in period attire. While some free blacks actually worked on this farm during the Underground Railroad era, many more were fugitive slaves merely passing through here on their way north to freedom. $4 suggested donation.
The state capital 47 Springfield (doh!) is the final resting place of Abraham Lincoln, a local lawyer who served four months in the Illinois Militia (April–July 1832), eight years in the Illinois state legislature, one term in the United States House of Representatives and became President of the US from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865.
- 48 Owen Lovejoy House, East Peru St, Princeton (Illinois). Owen Lovejoy (1811-1864) was a prominent abolitionist, congressman and open operator of shelter and support on the Underground Railroad. The house, built in 1838, contains a concealed compartment in which fugitives could hide; it is now a city-owned museum.
- 49 Graue Mill and Museum, 3800 York Rd, Oak Brook (Illinois), ☎ . Mid Apr-mid Nov: Tu-Su 10AM-4:30PM. Frederick Graue housed fugitive slaves in the basement of his gristmill on Salt Creek, a tributary of the Des Plaines River; a museum exhibit "Graue Mill and the Road to Freedom" illustrates slavery, the Underground Railroad and the rôle of the mill in DuPage County (west of Chicago) in assisting escape to freedom. $4.50/adult, $2/child (4-12).
Into the Maritime provinces
One possible route (following the coast from Philadelphia through Boston to Halifax) would be to head north through New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine to reach New Brunswick and Nova Scotia:
- 50 Historic Croft Farm, 100 Bortons Mill Rd, Cherry Hill NJ, ☎ . Now home to the Croft Farm Arts Center, this eighty-acre site near Philadelphia was once the site of a working farm and mill. The grounds are centred around a sixteen-room farmhouse. The original section was constructed in 1753. As a stop on the Underground Railroad, this was once an slave exchange site where the slaves were hidden.
- 51 Yardley PA was a waypoint on the Underground Railroad on the New Jersey border. Known hiding places were under the eaves of the Continental Hotel (now the Continental Tavern), in bins of warehouses on the Delaware Canal (completed in 1862), and at the General Store (now Worthington Insurance). At Lakeside, the yellow house facing Lake Afton on N. Main St., one brick-walled cellar room is also thought to have been a hiding place.
- 52 St. James the Less Church & Graveyard, 10 Church Ln, Scarsdale NY, ☎ . One of the oldest sites in Scarsdale, the cemetery has graves of civil war soldiers and escaped slaves who died on the Underground Railroad.
- 53 Wilton (Connecticut) was one of the stops for the Underground Railroad.
- 54 Pawtuxet Village, Located off Broad Street, Warwick (Rhode Island). The oldest village in New England and one of the first constructed in Warwick. Rabble-rousers burned the British ship The Gaspee here at the beginning of the American Revolutionary War. It was also one of the stops on the Underground Railroad for runaway slaves. Walking tours of the village are available; the village is also home to many small shops and restaurants.
- 55 Jackson Homestead and Museum, 527 Washington St, Newton MA, ☎ . Tu-Sa 11AM-5PM, Su 2PM-5PM. A Federal-style farmhouse built in 1809. The museum offers an intriguing introduction to Newton's history with exhibits of paintings, photographs, costumes, and historic objects. The house was a station on the Underground Railroad, hiding escaped slaves. $5/$3..
- 56 Harriet Beecher Stowe House, 63 Federal St, Brunswick (Maine), ☎ . Thu-Sat noon-3PM. Though not a station on the Underground Railroad, the house is designated as a National Historic Landmark as the place where Harriet Beecher Stowe penned a novel which changed America's attitude toward slavery. The house is now owned by Bowdoin College.
In Canada's Maritime provinces, Halifax still has a substantial mostly-black district, largely populated by descendants of underground railroad passengers.
With the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act by Congress in 1850, slaves who had escaped to the northern states were in immediate danger of being forcibly abducted and brought back to southern slavery. Slave catchers from the south operated openly in the northern states, where their brutality quickly alienated the local northern population. Federal officials were also best carefully avoided, as the influence of plantation owners from the then more populous South was powerful in Washington at the time.
Slaves therefore had to lie low during the day - hiding, sleeping or pretending to be working for local masters - and move north by night. The further north, the longer and colder those winter nights became. The danger of encountering US federal marshals would end once the Canadian border had been crossed, but the passengers of the Underground Railroad would need to remain in Canada (and keep a watchful eye for slave catchers crossing the border illegally in violation of Canadian law) until slavery was ended via the American Civil War of the 1860's.
While many Underground Railroad passengers did return to the northern US after the abolition of slavery, racial struggles would continue for at least another century – including violent race rioting in Detroit in both 1943 and 1967. The Negro Motorist Green Book listing businesses safe for African-American travellers would remain in print in New York City from 1936 to 1966; its coverage, while national, was uneven.
Today, the slave catchers are gone and the federal authorities now stand against various forms of racial segregation in interstate commerce. While an ordinary degree of caution remains advisable on this journey, the primary modern risk is crime when traveling through major cities, not slavery nor segregation.