Thoughts of The Underground Railroad evoke somber emotions about this period in history. Use of the escape route peaked between 1850 and 1860.
The railroad was a secret route in the US enabling 19th century black slaves to escape to freedom in free states or Canada. Canada was called "The Promised Land" by escaping slaves. Estimates of the number of escaping slaves by the Underground Railroad vary from 30,000 to 100,000 slaves. But exact records were not commonly kept to protect everyone involved.
Clearly it was not underground, or a railroad but an escape network consisting of meeting points, secret routes, and safe houses provided by abolitionist sympathizers. Each part of the operation was isolated from knowledge of the whole venture to protect the system.
Slaves were usually small independent groups led by ‘conductors’. Slaves normally traveled 10 to 20 miles each night between safe houses, resting at stations during daytime hours. People assisting slaves to find the railroad were agents or shepherds. Hiding places were stations. Station masters hid slaves in their homes. Financial supporters of the railroad were called stockholders.
Harriet Tubman was one of the most famous and successful conductors with over 13 missions rescuing more than 70 slaves through the Underground Railroad. Yet this was only one of her achievements, serving during the Civil War as a nurse, scout, Union spy and assisting John Brown recruit men for his raid on Harpers Ferry. She spent her final years living in Auburn, NY with family and friends. Harriet died at age 95 in 1913 of pneumonia after a full life. A guided tour of her home in Auburn may be taken.
Fifty-seven stations have been identified in sixteen states of the US and two in Canada. Stations were in Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. Stations were in the following New York cities: Albany; Buffalo; Elmira; Lewistown; Rochester; Sandy Ground, Staten Island; Syracuse; Troy; and West Nyack.
Many of these Underground Railroad stations have been preserved for historical purposes. One Rochester area station is on East Henrietta Road in Henrietta. Another Rochester area station is Murphy Orchards at 2402 McClew Road, Burt, NY. It is located just 25 miles west of Springfield. An entrance to a secret room in the barn accommodated escaping slaves between 1850 and 1861. The McClew family protected slaves so they could travel safely to their next stop.
Preservation efforts have been taken at many of these stations to enable visits to these brave sites across many states. The days of slavery were dark days of misfortune but can be one to learn from errors made and be more tolerant people. Why not find one of these stations and make a visit?