The Underground Railroad, a large network of people who helped fugitive slaves escape to the North and to Canada, and was not run by any single organization or person. It moved hundreds of slaves northward each year—according to one estimate, the South lost 100,000 slaves between 1810 and 1850.
The system grew, and around 1831, it was dubbed “the Underground Railroad” after the then emerging steam railroads. The system even used terms used in railroading: the homes and businesses where fugitives would rest and eat were called stations and depots and were run by stationmasters. Stockholders contributed money or goods, the conductor moved fugitives from one station to the next.
Slave escape wasn’t complicated. They just needed to escape from the slaveholder. At times, the conductor would enter the plantation and guide the runaways northward. The fugitives would then move at night; travelling between 10-20 miles to the next station where they would rest and eat. As they waited, a message would be sent to the next station to alert its stationmaster.
The fugitives would also travel by foot, train and boat. Money was also needed to improve the appearance of the runaway—a black man, woman, or child in tattered clothes could attract suspicious eyes. This money was donated by individuals and also raised by various groups, including vigilance committees. The organizations provided food, lodging and money, and helped the fugitives settle into a community by helping them find jobs and providing letters of recommendation.
Source: The Underground Railroad
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