Underground Railroad freed thousands

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

The Underground Railroad

ONE OF MANY EFFECTING CHANGE. Harriet Tubman was one of many individuals who helped make the Underground Railroad possible. The Railroad provided safe passage for escaped slaves.

Fully established by the 1820s, the Underground Railroad was a network of people helping transport escaped American slaves to Canada.

Word had spread throughout the American South of Lt. Governor John Graves Simcoe’s 1793 anti-slavery legislation, which eventually lead to the abolishment of slavery in Canada, and that British law would protect their rights.

Friendly people known as “conductors” " including the Quakers, Methodists and other abolitionist sympathizers " provided “stations.” The stations were homes and barns along the routes to Canada where escaped slaves rested and hid from their pursuers.

People like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas and John Brown played important roles in organizing and operating the Underground Railroad and helped free thousands of blacks living in bondage in the United States. Tubman, a former slave herself, returned to the American South 19 times, risking her own freedom to save others.

Many escaped slaves attempting the difficult journey from the southern U.S. to Canada died or were captured and returned to slavery by the slave catchers. Of those who did reach Canada, many settled in southern Ontario in towns and cities like Amherstburg, Sandwich and Windsor. Fugitives also travelled by land and water to Toronto, Hamilton, St. Catharines, Brantford, Kingston and Prescott.

Still, many people lived in fear of being returned to slavery, with slave catchers crossing the border to kidnap escaped slaves and return them to their masters.

The exact number of slaves who completed the journey on the Underground Railroad is unclear. The estimated number is anywhere from 11,000 to 75,000 people. Many blacks hid their status as escaped slaves, fearing the Canadian government might return them.

Even without definite numbers, these new Canadian settlers " some of the first refugees to settle here " clearly contributed significantly to the nation’s early development.

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