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The Underground Railroad  

The Underground Railroad was a complex secret network of routes, safe houses and individuals who helped antebellum slaves escape to freedom
Last Updated: Jun 30, 2015 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Underground Railroad


Underground Railroad Written and Compiled by Glen Bencivengo Reference Librarian Passaic County Community College

Before the American Civil War ( 1861-1865), fugitive slaves were helped to freedom by a complex secret network of routes, safe houses and individuals.  The routes led through Ohio, western Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and New York.  After the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, slaves were led into Canada, often to Ontario.  The journey was dangerous and took great courage and determination.   Codes were used to avoid detection. "Conductors" such as Harriet Tubman would help lead people to "stations" where they could be fed and sheltered.   Travel was done at night.  The stations were barns, caves, church basements or homes.   The home owers who helped were called station masters.  Levi Coffin, a Quaker abolitionist was a station master who helped over 2,000 slaves escape. In Paterson New Jersey, Josiah Huntoon, a white merchant and William Van Rensalier, a black engineer who worked and lived with Huntoon, used Huntoon's home and business building as stations for the fugitive slaves.     In total it is estimated that by 1850, over 100,000 slaves had escaped captivity via the Railroad.  Many people helped the cause by donating clean clothes, food and money.  These individuals were called "stockholders."

Most slaves traveled by foot but some took the risk by traveling by boat, train or wagon.   They could be captured at any time by federal marshalls or slave masters  and the conductors, such as Harriet Tubman often had a price on their heads as Southern slave holders became increasingly frustrated at the loss of their "property."  The danger did not deter the slaves, conductors or station masters. Following the North Star by night, these courageous slaves valued freedom and believed the risk was worth it




The author of this guide acknowledges the invaluable assistance of fellow librarian Elaine Goldman , head librarian, Mibong La and Luis Ruiz

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Glen Bencivengo Reference Librarian


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