THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD
Written by Makeda Cheryl Baker, RN MA
**Please Note Terms Used in this Article.
Hueman vs. human- the natural/original state/appearance of the hueman being. Coloration is 85% of the world’s population. To possess certain certain behavioral traits that identify you as a hueman being.
Infeariority– a fraudulent man-made construct to instill actual FEAR in those being subjugated and infeariorized by those fraudulently calling themselves ‘superior’
Correct Cultural NRG matrix– the original cultural/heritage/historical background or environment one’s ancestors are from. Who you are as a collective people.
CYSTEM vs SYSTEM
During perilous times, it is no small feat to accomplish the daring and damn near impossible. Successful escapes during American enslavement were no less than a fait accompli. The mere existence of the Underground Railroad was a gargantuan accomplishment in itself as was the actual ‘finding’ of this invisible means of escape.
It was people, places and things. It was enslaved African fugitives escaping from a life sentence of forced toil, degradation and de-huemanization (sic). It was courage and fear. It was both safety and danger. Rescue and hunt. It was constant fight or flight and only a hairs’ breath from being ‘discovered’ and returned to the physically and psychologically exploitive confines of the plantation.
It must be explained here that enslavement, also known as the Peculiar Institution, was one of hueman (sic) trafficking. It was the removal of the huemanity of a people by another people in order to justify the barbarism of enslavement. The Peculiar Institution was hueman trafficking for financial profit which made it the pecuniary institution as well as ‘pecu’ refers to money, finances or funds. It was the fraudulent belief in a fraudulent ideology in something called racial purity-of which there is no such thing. It was pathological white male culture living out an irrational and violent lie.
Psychologically and huemanly speaking, those operating the Underground Railroad (conductors) and those ‘traveling’ upon it (passengers) were in some conscious and/or unconscious manner attempting to reclaim their and others’ sense of huemanity and/or whole person(ness) by direct or indirect involvement with it. The compelling desire for freedom was one’s ‘ticket.’
It can be noted here that enslavement gave way or created so many other man-made constructs for the enslaved including being victims of racism, colorism, discrimination, prejudice, rape, disintegration of the African family unit, poverty, sexual abuse, indiscriminate murder and internalization of a false infeariority. By the same token, it created so many opposite constructs for the enslaver, but most importantly a fraudulent superiority and entitlement.
This paper will attempt to show that the Underground Railroad was less a means of escape from enslavement than it was heroic determinations to reclaim one’s huemanity and restoration of self. It was less a social movement than it was literally a people’s invisible movement.
- America’s Shame Is Her Glory
Prior to the invasion of Africa by the European, Africa reveled in her own history of tens of thousands of years. Ancient Africa had fed the world through her agrarian culture and with the primary assistance of the Nile River, which runs four thousand miles long. African navigators sailed the world over including Europe. The African presence the world over had already been documented by the artwork, history and cultures left behind. The libraries of Timbuktu were world famous. Mansa Musa was undeniably one of the wealthiest rulers of all times.
There were the high cultures of Ghana, Mali and Songhai. Kemet (incorrectly referred to as Egypt) was the center of high culture from which the world came and learned from. Kush, (incorrectly referred to as Ethiopia) was Kemet’s Mother. Pyramids and the Tekken stand to this day as testimony to the people that created them.
The heavens had already been mapped out with the pyramids constructed accordingly. Ironworking and ship building had already been perfected with many constructed of reeds. Cloth making was an art. Hundreds of thousands of African dialects were spoken all over the continent.
The village culture was predominant with all children belonging to the village and everyone being a mother, father, daughter, son, sister or brother. There were no such things as aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents or distant relatives. There was no gender bias, no such thing as an ‘opposite’ sex. The language Medew Netcher reflected the strivings of the people and their reverence of a creator.
Nature was respected and revered and language spoken had to reflect such. Animals were not hunted for sport or trophy but were respected for their place in the world. The land was respected. Life existed on three levels – the deceased, the living and the yet unborn. And so was Africa before the invaders. Then, the invaders came, burning villages, temples, towns, books, artifacts, murdering the people and destroying Africa.
The European TransAtlantic Enslavement Trade was a holocaust which is the large scale and total destruction of a people. According to the Encarta Dictionary enslavement is “to take somebody prisoner and claim legal ownership of that person and his or her labor” and to “subject somebody to a dominating influence that takes away his or her freedom.”
The TransAtlantic Enslavement Trade was all encompassing and dealt with all aspects of life and death for the African based upon the fraudulent European theory of superiority built upon fraudulent African inferiority by the fraudulent title of manifest destiny.
It was a religious, economic, sexual and political construct of horrific European making as a means of subjugating and enslaving the African continent. In 1455, Roman Catholic Church Pope Nicholas – a European male – wrote Papal Bull “Dum Diversas” which rationalized sanctions, colonization and authorized the removal of huemanity from the African. It was written as if it were a divine god-edict rather than being a European man-made-up document.
Dum Diversas was followed by bull “Romanus Pontifex.” These bulls declared the African continent null, void, her inhabitants “heathens” and “pagans” and that the resources of the land belonged to Europe, in particular, Spain and Portugal. Enslavement contaminated the African’s spirit, soul and huemanity and removed the African from his correct cultural energy matrix.
These bulls divided up the continent with religious instruction to kill, maim, enslave, pillage, plunder and confiscate all of the natural resources. This was to be done with zeal and zest because the church ‘authorized’ it, making it divinely right. Within a religious framing and authorization, the need or desire to question the validity of such actions was removed by the church with the fraudulent writings of the bulls, themselves. By doing so, any European guilt would not be associated with the behavior.
Economically, this construct was to be an infinitum world-wide supply of free labor and uncontested access to Africa’s resources/wealth with Europeans being ‘employed’ for the extreme purpose of the total theft of Africa with an entire white world industry/economy being based upon this theft. Ships had to be built, masts to be sewn, navigation maps to be drawn, astrolabes and compasses to be produced, barrels to be made as were funnels for force feeding the enslaved, clothing and shoes for the crew along with rum, chains, ropes and whips. Dungeons/forts had to be built, guns and knives manufactured and gruel to be processed. Irons for chaining the kidnapped needed to be forged.
There would be a need for white carpenters, brick layers, cannon builders-and the economic list goes on and on creating an entire European enslavement industry. Insurance Corporation, Lords of London, would be instrumental in insuring this hueman economic blitz.
This hueman trafficking endeavor gave every European (male, female and child) uncontested sexual access to African men, women and children for abuse, exploitation and perverted pleasure. In hueman trafficking, there is no ‘peer review’ or equality of relationship-only power and powerlessness. This means that the sexual access to the African meant only one thing and one thing only – rape-pure and simple.
Enslavement was an external indicator of great wealth and status to those who (1) operated enslaving operations, (2) who traded in the enslaved and for (3) those who purchased huemans held captive in this hueman trafficking scheme. The more huemans one traded in and/or the more huemans one ‘owned’ the ‘richer’ one was. The farther removed from actual labor you were, the more powerful you were. American plantation owners were called ‘masters.’ Wealth was the determining factor or status where one could claim power, run for political office, make the rules and live off the ‘fat’ of the land. And, perhaps the richest ‘master’ of them all was England’s Lords of London.
Politics is the management, control, rule or subjugation of people without violence. Politics is war without violence whereas war is politics with violence. Politics is the politicization of a people. The TransAtlantic Enslavement Trade was INTERNATIONAL WAR DECLARED against Africa and the African. It was a religious and political war declared against her people, land, resources and wealth. It was the fight over the control of enslavement and who should/shall profit from it. It was trade via laws and regulations. It was the dividing up of Africa’s resources by the Pope for dominion. It was England, Norway, Sweden, Holland, Italy and Germany all having a hand in this hueman exploitation with England being the gatekeeper and middle man. All of Europe was endowed with a fraudulent, authoritative power over the African.
“Whereas, in his majesty’s plantations in America, slavery has been introduced and allowed, and the people commonly called negroes, Indians, mulattoes and mustizoes, have been deemed absolute slaves, and the subjects of property in the hands of the particular persons, the extend of whose power over such slaves ought to be settled and limited by positive laws, so that the slave may be kept in due subjection and obedience, and the owners and other persons having the care and government of slaves may be restrained from exercising too great rigour and cruelty over them, and that the public peace and order of this province may be reserved.” (1740 Slave Code of South Carolina. Introduction). http://www.duhaime.org/LawMuseum/LawArticle-1494/1740-Slave-Code-of-South-Carolina.aspx
- What Was the Underground Railroad
Long before the Underground Railroad was an effective and established means of escape from enslavement, the enslaved were escaping from being held as hostages on plantations. It is unknown how many were successful versus those who were not for surely those who managed to get away could not ‘boast’ about it lest they be returned to their enslaving prisons. And how many did escape who were not reported as such by the plantation owners lest it be known that that particular plantation was loosely guarded and/or that the enslaved had ‘outsmarted’ the plantation owner and overseer.
Per Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in his 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro, “…in 1693, the Spanish king, Charles II, attempted to systematically undermine the economy of the Carolinas, decreed Florida would be a religious sanctuary for fugitive slaves seeking true faith”; his royal proclamation declared that he was ‘giving liberty to all…the men as well as the women…so that by their example by my liberality others will do the same.’ virtually overnight this and unprecedented route to freedom was established. We can think as the first metaphorical ‘underground railroad’-the slaves’ first route to freedom-and it ran south.” (Pantheon Books NY 2017)
Many southern escapees organized “themselves into groups called Maroons and to live in communities, on the order of Palmares in Brazil. The forests, mountains, and swamps of the Southern states were their favorite locations, and they proved to be troublesome to the masters who sought to maintain strict order on their plantations.” (Franklin, J.H. & Moss, Jr., A.A. From Slavery To Freedom A History Of African Americans McGraw-Hill 1947 P. 143)
The Underground Railroad was less a thing than it was a construct of great hueman capacity. It was the seen and the unseen working together. It was the heard and unheard doing together. It was the spoken and unspoken. It was living and non-living entities joined at the hip while being hidden in plain sight. It was invisible routes and passages with specific houses here and there. It was barns and hidden attics, cellars, woodsheds and caves. It was some churches. It was free and enslaved blacks and whites who dared defy their counterparts.
It was a transportation system of feet, wagons, boats and when possible, trains. It was codes and disguises along with little known signals and the navigation of nature’s pathways. It was the northern US and Canada. It was further south to Mexico and the Caribbean. In other words, the Underground Railroad was a complete noun, i.e., it was a person, a place, a thing and an idea. It was the series of these disconnected people, places, things and ideas that, by the very focus of their intent and workings, created an invisible chain of networks that connected them together.
According to the African American Almanac it was a “vast network of individuals and groups developed throughout the country to assist African Americans in escaping from slavery. Abolitionists provided ‘stations,’ food, shelter, and financial assistance, while experienced ‘conductors,’ who were often themselves runaway slaves, led thousands of ‘passengers’ to freedom in the North, Canada, and the Caribbean.” (Estell, Kenneth (Editor) The African American Almanac. Gale Research International Limited. 1994. P.349)
According to From Slavery To Freedom, “The origin of the Underground Railroad goes back to the eighteenth century. Perhaps there were people to help fugitives as early as there were runaway slaves. By the end of the War for Independence, however, organized resistance seemed to be taking shape. At least George Washington thought so when he complained in 1786 of a slave, escaping from Alexandria to Philadelphia, ‘whom a society of Quakers, formed for such purposes, have attempted to liberate.’ By the following year Isaac T. Hopper had settled in Philadelphia, and though still in his teens he began to develop a program for the systematic assistance of slaves escaping from the South. Within a few years they were being helped in a number of towns in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Slowly these antislavery operations spread in various directions.” (Pages 183-184).
The Underground Railroad was people helping hueman beings escape the violence and barbarism of involuntary enslavement. These routes began wherever plantations were and ran current and concurrent to the north and further south in non-distinct patterns “up rivers and valleys and across mountains to some point on the Ohio or upper Mississippi River in the West, and to points in Pennsylvania and New Jersey in the East.” (Ibid, p. 185)
This hueman cargo was conveyed “in covered wagons, closed carriages, and farm wagons specially equipped with closed compartments. Blacks were sometimes put in boxes and shipped as freight by rail or boat. …When traveling by land-and at night-conductors and fugitives were guided by the North Star, by tributaries of the Ohio or other rives, and by mountain chains. On cloudy nights, when there were no other means of finding directions, they even resorted to feeling the moss on tree trunks and moving north upon discovering it.” (Ibid.)
Not only was tree moss an indication of directional north but so was following the ‘drinking gourd’ or the North Star which could only be detected during the night when the vast majority of travel took place. Daytime was for hiding out in either a ‘safe’ house/way station or amongst forests and/or make-shift debris. Streams or any accessible body of water was used as a means of eliminating footprints and to throw off the escapee’s scent to the ensuing bloodhounds.
The actual number of escaped enslaved will never be accurately known but estimates have it as low as a thousand to as high as seventy-five thousand. The number of brave souls who aided and abetted in these escapes will also never be accurately known but by the success of the operation itself, we know that there were many an unsung hero.
This railroad was the proverbial slap in the face to the southern system of enslavement. It was a troublesome irritant that defied the laws, ideologies and practices of the southern aristocracy.
- Why Was the Underground Railroad
In the words of Frederick Douglass: “It rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and revived within me a sense of my own manhood. It recalled the departed self-confidence, and inspired me again with a determination to be free…He only can understand the deep satisfaction which I experienced, who has himself repelled by force the bloody arm of slavery. I felt as I never felt before. It was a glorious resurrection, from the tomb of slavery, to the heaven of freedom. My long-crushed spirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place, and I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact.” (Miller, Douglas T. Frederick Douglass And The Fight For Freedom Facts on File Publications 1988 p. 19)
Why was it necessary to form, create or otherwise ‘build’ an Underground Railroad? Why was it necessary to devise an invisible ‘underground’ system of escape for the enslaved? Why was it necessary to go against local, state and federal statutes in order to achieve freedom?
“Despite their inability to read, they knew there was a place ‘up north’ where black people were free, and that there were ‘damned abolitionists’ there who wanted to end slavery. But ‘up north’ was a thousand miles from Macon. Even if they could get past the patrollers who guarded the roads at night, even if they could fool the bloodhounds trained to catch runaways, there were still mountains and rivers and dark, impenetrable swamps to cross. Fugitives like Frederick Douglass and others whose activities were reported in the Macon newspapers, had escaped from the border states, never from the deep south.” (Sterling, Dorothy BLACK FOREMOTHERS Three Lives The Feminist Press 1988 P. 11)
Contrary to popular European religious history/doctrine and edicts, enslavement is not natural to huemankind (sic). It is neither ordained by a god nor a divine manifest destiny but a man-made behavioral construct. It is cruel, barbaric and infeariority (sic) producing and inducing while imbuing the enslaver with a false and fraudulent sense of entitlement and superiority over other hueman beings. It is a European male power equation that has been imposed in the false name of religion, politics and economics.
For the African whose lands were invaded and who was kidnapped, detained in dungeons for transporting to foreign lands and enslaved, enslavement was a life-long sentence of a cruel and unusual punishment at the hands of the European American male backed up by European dogmas and creeds that benefitted the European while denigrating the African.
American enslavement was the reducing of the African to chattel status while removing his huemanity. It was ‘ownership’ of one hueman being by other humans. It was oppression and lives stolen. It was violence, abuse and neglect directed at the African. It was deranged and racist ideologies of hueman degradation heaped upon innocent men, women and children.
The Underground Railroad, the aid to the escaping enslaved, became the symbol of and way to freedom. It was the means to escape a cruel and unusual punishment. It was the way to reclaim one’s huemanity in the midst of an illegal, hueman trafficking operation. It was the challenge to the equation of whites placing themselves in the top superior position and the African being forced forever at the bottom in the infeariority position.
A modern day and realistic working definition of the Underground Railroad is that it was defense of the huemanity of African men, women and children while defying the inhuemanity of the enslaving European white male’s fraudulent creeds, dogmas and practices of imposed infeariority to his fraudulent superiority.
We further read from From Slavery To Freedom that “The brutality that apparently was indigenous in a system of human exploitation existed in every community where slavery was established. The wastefulness and extravagance of the plantation system made no exception of human resources. Slaves were for economic gain, and if beating them would increase their efficiency-and this was generally believed-then the rod and lash should not be spared. Far from being a civilizing force, moreover, the plantation bred indecency in human relations, and the slave was the immediate victim of the barbarity of a system that commonly exploited the sex of the women and the work of everyone. Finally, the psychological situation that was created by the master-slave relationship stimulated terrorism and brutality because masters felt secure in their position and interpreted their role as calling for that type of conduct.” (Ibid. p. 141).
Few were the laws that ‘protected’ the enslaved from brutality and those few ‘laws’ were rarely enforced. Male and female masters/mistresses and overseers were known to be generally notorious in the maltreatment of this hueman chattel. Numerous are the accounts of tortuous mistreatment of the enslaved such as in 1827 when a Georgia plantation owner was charged with manslaughter in the death of an enslaved but was acquitted of the murder. Georgian Tomas Sorrel was found guilty of axe-killing his enslaved but ‘mercy’ was granted him by the court. Mistress Maxwell of Kentucky was well known for beating her male and female enslaved all over their bodies.
The enslaved girl of Mrs. Alpheus Lewis was burned about her neck with hot tongs by the mistress. A drunken Kentucky ‘master’ dismembered one of his enslaved then threw the ‘pieces’ into the fire. There was the Mississippi ‘master’ who had his enslaved flogged in excess of 1,000 lashes. Such instances are not the exception but the norm in a white male cystem (sic) of violence, hueman ownership, irrationality, psychopathology and fraudulent superiority. Part of the psychology behind such behaviors is the enslaver’s need to continually and personally ‘prove’ his superiority and ownership of the hueman chattel and serve as a continual and imposing threat and intimidator to the enslaved.
It is normal and natural to be free as that is the natural and original state of huemanity. Hueman reactions to enslavement were wide and varied; from enforced ‘voluntary’ compliance to self-mutilation to defiance to running away to committing suicide. All of these behaviors are indicative of the soul yearning to return to its’ natural state. Many are the disturbing documentations of those cutting off fingers or toes to be less lucrative on the auction block or those who drowned themselves to avoid the lifelong sentence of enslavement. Mothers drowned their children that they should not be hueman stock in the fraudulent scheme of insatiable southern economic greed. The enslaved who stood up to the enslaving system in defiance of the degradation and de-huemanization, at risk of life and limb, were attempting to reclaim their huemanity.
By its very nature, American enslavement created the need, desire and inspiration for the enslaved to return to their natural environment and state of FREEDOM. Thus, the Underground Railroad was created by the very cystem (sic) that sought to quell it– the Peculiar and Pecuniary Institution- for the Underground Railroad became the symbolic object of and to freedom.
Enslavement escapee, Henry Bibb, found it necessary to correspond with his former ‘master’ explaining (!!!) why he was compelled to become a fugitive from the plantation system of de-huemanization and degradation. Not only is his speech eloquent but he is way too forgiving of a man participating in a horrific man-made system. Bibbs’ desire to live naturally and freely was the inspiration and instigation to risk life and limb to seek freedom and re-claim his hueman status.
“You may perhaps think hard of us running away from slavery, but as to myself, I have but one apology to make for it, which is this: I have only to regret that I did not start at an earlier period. I might have been free long before I was. But you had it in your power to have kept me there much longer than you did. I think it is very probable that I should have been a toiling slave on your property to-day, if you had treated me differently. To be compelled to stand by and see you whip and slash my wife without mercy, when I could afford her no protection, not even by offering myself to suffer the lash in her place, was more than I felt it to be the duty of a slave husband to endure, while the way was open to Canada. My infant child was also frequently flogged by Mrs. Gatewood, for crying, until its skin was bruised literally purple. This kind of treatment was what drove me from home and family, to seek a better home for them. But I am willing to forget the past. I should be pleased to hear from you again, on the reception of this, and should also be very happy to correspond with you often, if it should be agreeable to yourself. I subscribe myself a friend to the oppressed, and Liberty forever.” (Ibid. p. 144). (Emphasis is that of this writer.)
In 1830, David Walker, a literate free man, published his “Appeal” which was an appeal to the humanity of the good, white Christians to cease and desist their vile behaviors against their brethren of color. Not only did his appeal fall on deaf ears but spurned the ‘good’ whites to destroy his livelihood and Mr. Walker. “I ask every man who has a heart, and is blessed with the privilege of believing –Is not God a God of justice to all his creatures? Do you say he is? Then if he gives peace and tranquility to tyrants, and permits them to keep our fathers, our mothers, ourselves and our children in eternal ignorance and wretchedness, to support them and their families, would he be to us a god of justice? I ask, O ye Christians!!! Who hold us and our children in the most abject ignorance and degradation, that ever a people were afflicted with since the world began-I say, if God gives you peace and tranquility, and suffers you this to go on afflicting us, and our children, who never given you the least provocation-would he be to us a God of justice? If you will allow that we are MEN, who feel for each other, does not the blood of our fathers and of us their children, cry aloud to the Lord of Sabaoth against you, for the cruelties and murders with which you have, and do continue to afflict us.” (Ibid. p. 174) (Emphasis the authors.’)
W.E.B. DuBois, in his Talented Tenth speech (published in 1903 in The Negro Problem), referred to David Walkers’ appeal as “the wild voice that first aroused Southern Legislators in 1829 to the terrors of abolitionism,” effectively placing them on political guard against any voice/person in opposition to their irrationality and fraudulent doctrines of enslavement.
The Underground Railroad was not just a means of escape but also a means by which to challenge, taunt and ‘reverse exploit’ a system of institutionalized hueman exploitation. It was huemans in opposition to humans.
“James Williams grew up on a Virginia plantation in the early 1800’s. After being sent to Alabama in the 1830’s, James Williams found that slaves there were treated much more cruelly than on his old plantation. The white overseer forced him to whip other slaves. Williams fond this intolerable, and one day seized the opportunity to escape.” (Hoobler, Dorothy & Thomas The African American Album. Oxford University Press NY. 1995.)
- Principle Players in the Underground Railroad- Directly & Indirectly
The Underground Railroad is not spoken of without conjuring up certain images and the most common image associated with the railroad has to be that of the indomitable Miss Harriet Tubman. Born into enslavement around 1821 in Dorchester County, Maryland on the Broadas Plantation, she was initially known as Araminta Ross or Minty and later changed it to Harriet.
As a child she suffered a head injury at the hands of her ‘owner’ and was left with lifelong seizures/blackouts as a result. The sleeping sickness or seizures would and could occur at any time, even during escape missions but her ‘passengers’ knew to lay low with her until she awoke.
As an adult, plans to purchase herself (!!!) went awry when her husband, John, found her hidden ‘purchase’ monies and absconded with it. When about 28 years old, Harriet decided she would re-claim her huemanity and left for the north-to freedom- on this Underground Railroad that she’d been secretly told about (by the elders). Upon reaching freedom, she is said to have looked at her hands and the world around her to know what it was like to ‘see’ herself in freedom land, comparing it to being in heaven.
However, once in ‘free’ territory, she was neither content nor selfish with her new found freedom, making the decision to repeatedly (approximately twenty trips) return to the south to ‘rescue’ more souls from the inferno of southern enslavement and bondage. It is estimated that she led more than 300 refugees to freedom and on one trip there was a party of 11 led all the way to Canada due to the government passing Fugitive Slave Laws. Out of necessity, Miss Harriet was aware of all of the secret stations and safe houses.
She was known for her fierce determination to free the captives and her determination that once you started out, there would be no turning back. A pistol was her constant companion to ensure this. Her famous saying is “I nebba lost a passenger and I nebba run my train off de track” even with a $40,000 bounty on her head.
It becomes necessary to add that Miss Harriet was not only conductor on the railroad but during the Civil War served as spy, scout, nurse and liberator with the Union Army. The 2nd South Carolina Volunteers, made up of primarily the formerly enslaved, had as their scout none other than Miss Harriet “as she supervised the removal of slaves from the Combahee River plantations.” (Litwak, Leon F., Been In The Storm So Long The Aftermath of Slavery Alfred A. Knopf NY 1979 p. 93)
Tuskegee Institute financial secretary, Robert W. Taylor, in 1901, wrote that Miss Harriet “stands without a parallel in history-solitary, majestic, sun kissed.” (Gates 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro . p. 66).
Perhaps because she is a woman, or perhaps because she was never caught nor had to sacrifice any of her charges and even the fact that she repeatedly traveled on foot, in the dark of night with the old, young, well and infirmed, Miss Harriet or “Moses” has the distinct honor of being known as the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad, with an estimated 300 passengers having been in her care. Though she is the most famous, she was not the only conductor on this invisible railroad.
Wilmington, Delaware Quaker, Thomas Garrett, provided food/shelter and hiding for those escaping along the route. John Hunn was known as a ‘chief engineer’ on the northern end of this railroad herding those who reached Wilmington further on into Canada. William Still, a free black man who operated his home as a way station and safe house for those escaping was the secretary of the Vigilance Committee. He kept meticulous records on those he intersected with in this clandestine affair by recording the dates, the year, their names and the number in the escaped party and from whence they escaped.
“In New York City many white sympathizers and free Negroes like Charles Ray stood ready to help a refugee. In upstate town were Gerrit Smith, Stephen Myers and the Reverend J. W. Loguen, himself an escaped slave. When runaways got as near the border as Rochester, Frederick Douglas or Susan B. Anthony would shelter them until they could make the ‘last jump’ into Canada. On the western escape route that ran through Cincinnati, Levi Coffin helped more than 300 Negroes to continue northward.” (Ibid.)
“Among those outstanding in conducting ‘the business of Egypt,’ (the Underground Railroad), …. (1) Isaac Hopper of Philadelphia and New York; who was active as early as 1787; (2) Calvin Fairbank, who served, all told, seventeen years in prison for his abolitionist activities; …(4) Samuel D. Burris, a daring Negro conductor; (5) Thomas Garrett, the Delaware station-master, who aided 2,700 fugitives and paid more than $8,000 in fines; (6) Salmon P. Chase, the ‘attorney general’ for fugitive slaves, who later became Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury; (7) Abigail Goodwin; (8) J. Miller McKim; (9) William Whipper; (10) Daniel Gibbons; and (11) Elijah F. Pennypacker.” (Ibid., p. 133)
Though he served not as a conductor on the railroad, William Lloyd Garrison was a staunch opponent of enslavement and as such was a supporter of the freedom of enslaved Africans. His newspaper, The Liberator, served as a mouthpiece for the abolition of enslavement and the right of the African to his own huemanity.
Students of Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio, were proponents of abolition and practiced what they were taught by going against the grain of the day and participated in Underground Railroad activities and taught black youth to read and write. Oberlin College became an anti-slavery center.
Quakers were instrumental in the operation of the railroad by raising funds to feed, clothe and transport the ‘fugitives.’
“Philanthropists contributed, as did the conductors and other ‘officials’ of the Railroad. Harriet Tubman, one of the greatest of all conductors, would take several months off whenever she was running low in funds and hire herself out as a domestic servant in order for conveying slaves to freedom.” (From Slavery To Freedom. P. 185)
“The Underground Railroad did not seem to suffer for want of operators. Wilbur H. Siebert has catalogued more than 3,200 active workers, and there is every reason to believe that there were many more who will remain forever anonymous. Outstanding among the white workers was Levi Coffin, a Quaker and the so-called president of the Underground Railroad. His strategic location in southern Indiana, as well as his remarkable zeal, made it possible for him to help more than 3,000 slaves escape. Calvin Fairbanks, who had learned to hate slavery as a student at Oberlin College, began to travel in the south in 1837 on the dangerous business of freeing slaves. In Kentucky he engaged in a regular business of transporting slaves across the Ohio River. On one occasion, with a teacher from Vermont known as Miss Webster, he helped three slaves escape by posing as her servants. It was said that not one of his fugitives was ever recaptured, though he spent many years in jail because of his work.” (Ibid., p. 186).
White John Fairfield, from a family of hueman enslavers, was considered a ‘daring’ railroad conductor because of his refusal to NOT aid those escaping bondage. He was dually wanted: by whites for arrest and by blacks for assistance. He’d convey as many as fifteen ‘fugitives’ at a time due to his ability to pose as various characters including: slaveholder, trader, traveling evangelist or even peddler of farm produce. His working disguises took him to Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky and Mississippi to ‘retrieve’ his hueman cargo and then deliver them north to freedom.
“John Jones was born free in North Carolina in 1817 and died in Chicago in 1879, one of the country’s wealthiest Negroes. An Apprentice tailor, he taught himself to read and write and waged a relentless struggle against slavery. A friend of John Brown and Frederick Douglass, Jones made his home in Chicago an Underground Railroad station.” (Hughes, L., Meltzer, M. & Lincoln, C.E., A Pictorial History of Black America. P. 52.) Jones also led the fight to repeal the Illinois black Laws and later became a County Commissioner.
There are endless untold stories of those who escaped and those assisting in those escapes. Countless ways and means were enacted out of necessity in order to ‘fool’ owners and patrollers and paid slave catchers. One of the most ingenious of these is the case of William and Ellen Craft, a married couple enslaved in Macon, Georgia. Ellen was the mulatto daughter of a mulatto mother who could pass for white. Desiring freedom, she disguised herself as an injured white male with her husband as her ‘servant’ and was forced to carry out this impersonation from the deep south to freedom, even with the bounty hunters on their trail.
“The scheme that they evolved was a daring one. Ellen, who could easily pass as white, would disguise herself as a planter’s son, an invalid gentleman traveling north to consult doctors, while William went along as her servant. They had savings sufficient to pay their fares as far as Philadelphia.” (Sterling BLACK FOREMOTHERS p. 12)
“Just before dawn on December 21, 1848, they left the cabin. When William locked the door for the last time, the enormity of the undertaking overcame Ellen. Recovering from the moment of panic and grief that seized her, she squeezed William’s hand. They parted to take separate routes down the hill to the railroad station….She must have paused, wondering if she would ever see her mother again. But the first rule for runaway slaves was ‘no good-byes,’ and she walked on.” (Ibid., p. 13).
There is the ‘president’ of the underground railroad, Levi Coffin, who was certainly an aberration for his day and time. A wealthy Quaker businessman, he became actively involved in the secret railroad operations even using his home as a way station. His available monies were used to help fund the railroad’s operations and even his wife, Catherine, aided in the effort by holding sewing circles for the express purpose of making clothing for the fugitives.
Though Josiah Henson, an escaped fugitive himself, never ‘rode’ on the Underground Railroad, he established a safe haven township in Canada called the Dawn Community, for those who did.
Owen Brown, father of the infamous John Brown, operated a safe house on the Underground Railroad route. It was the family’s religion and involvement in anti-enslavement activities that formulated and inspired the younger John to follow in his father’s liberating footsteps.
There was Harriet Jacobs, born enslaved, who, upon learning that she was enslaved, sought freedom for herself and her children. She spent seven years ‘hidden’ in a box on the plantation until able to make her way north via the invisible railroad to live as a fugitive until being ‘purchased’ by a ‘friend.’ .
W.E.B. DuBois tells us that “Too little notice has been taken of the work which the Talented Tenth among Negroes took in the great abolition crusade. From the very day that a Philadelphia colored man became the first subscriber to Garrison’s ‘Liberator,’ to the day when Negro soldiers made the Emancipation Proclamation possible, black leaders worked shoulder to shoulder with white men in a movement, the success of which would have been impossible without them. There was Purvis and Remond, Pennington and Highland Garnet, Sojourner Truth and Alexander Crummell, and above all, Frederick Douglass-what would the abolition movement have been without them?” (Gates, Henry Louis Jr., & West, Cornell The Future Of The Race Alfred A. Knopf 1996 p. 137)
There were Northern and (some) Southern sympathizers who were charitable towards anti-enslavement societies such as the Anti-Slavery Society. There were countless individuals who aided and abetted the cause for freedom in some measure, large and/or small whose identities are lost in history.
- Efforts to Stop the Escape of the Enslaved
Escape was factored into the Peculiar Institution as it- enslavement- goes against everything hueman. The architects of this system knew this and attempted to put ‘safeguards’ in place, assuring that what they were doing was right –for them.
Enslavement states enacted specific laws or Black Codes intended to regulate captive life within the enslaving territories. These laws established the master/enslaved relationship and granted the ‘owner’ all power over the hueman chattel. They also established the limited boundaries within which the enslaved could exist. To list a few: reading, writing, possession of any weaponry, growing one’s food or having any self-determination was prohibited. These were designed to contain the enslaved physically and psychologically (keep him dependent upon the cystem that enslaved him) and to minimize/quell the likelihood of any occurrences, rebellions or uprisings.
There were statutes for restricting the movements of the enslaved within the jurisdiction of the plantations. This was to not only reduce their exposure to the ‘outside’ world but also reduce their mental capacities for thinking of any possibilities outside enslavement. Horses, bloodhounds, rifles and rations were needed for those who were hired to return the runaways to their respective plantation prisons. These things were costly ‘equipment’ needed to retrieve hueman property called chattel.
Because we are in South Carolina, I will primarily concentrate on those laws and state statutes. South Carolina made it a crime for anyone of color – free or enslaved- to “feloniously” steal another’s hueman property and to do so was punishable by death.
Any white person could ‘correct’ any slave even if it meant killing him or her. Any white person injured, hurt or in any manner wounded in the apprehension of any slave charged with anything, including running away, would be generously compensated for his lofty and heroic actions. This compensation would come from the public, private or even legislative coffers. Should the injured party not be able to accept this public offering his progenitors would receive such.
The 1740 Slave Code of South Carolina, Article 25, reads: “And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that it shall and may be lawful for every person in this Province, to take, apprehend and secure any runaway or fugitive slave, and they are hereby directed and required to send such slave to the master or other person having the care or government of such slave, if the person taking up or securing such slave knows, or can, without difficulty, be informed, to whom such slave shall belong;”
Article 29 reads: “And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that if any free Negro, mulatto or mestizo, or any slave, shall harbor, conceal or entertain any slave that shall run away or shall be charged or accused with any criminal matter, every free Negro mulatto and estizo, and every slave, she shall harbor, conceal or entertain any such slave, being duly convicted thereof, according to the directions of this Act, if a slave shall suffer such corporal punishment, not extending to life or limb, as the justices who shall try such slave shall, in his or their discretion, think fit;
Article 45 reads: …Be it therefore enacted by the authority aforesaid, that all and every person and persons whatsoever, who shall hereinafter teach or cause any slave or slaves to be taught, to write, or shall use or employ any slave as a scribe in any manner of writing whatsoever, hereafter taught to write, every such person and persons shall, for every such offense, forfeit the sum of one hundred pounds current money.”
Article 46 reads: And whereas, plantations settled with slaves without any white person thereon, may be harbours for runaways and fugitive slaves; Be it therefore enacted by the authority aforesaid, that no person or persons hereafter shall keep any slaves on any plantation nor settlement, without having a white person on such plantation or settlement, …
Article 47 reads: And whereas, may disobedient and evil minded Negroes and other slaves, being the property of his Majesty’s subjects of this Province, have lately deserted the service of their owners, and have fled to St. Augustine and other places in Florida, in hopes of being there received and protected; and whereas, many other slaves have attempted to follow the same evil and pernicious example, which, (unless timely prevented,) may tend to the very great loss and prejudice of the inhabitants of this Province;…
All enslaving states enacted their specific versions of slave laws and Black Codes whereas the Federal Government enacted the 1850 the Fugitive Slave Act. Bounty hunters abounded in their ‘hunt’ for fugitives. Bounties with descriptions were placed on escapees. Plantations tightened security during the day but even moreso at night. Overseers, night patrollers and hired mercernaries were always on the scout for escapees and potential escapees.
“After all, Article 4, Section 2 of the Constitution expressly called for the return of fugitive slaves: ‘no person, held to service or labour, in one state, under the law there of escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation thereof, be discharged from such service or labour, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to which such service or labour may be due.” (Woods, Thomas E, Jr., 32 Questions About American History Crown Forum NY 2007 p. 32)
This essentially meant coercion for any stranger to join in the capture of fugitives/ suspected fugitives or be fined for not doing so. This further politicized an already unlimited power whites had over the enslaved. There were pecuniary incentives for federal commissioners returning the accused to captivity.
- Economic Effects of Escape from the Plantation
Enslavement was/is a pecuniary business for the profit of the enslaver. It is the trading in hueman trafficking to one’s economic advantage and to the total disadvantage of the victim. It is an investment in hueman stocks and bonds. The investor/plantation owner’s wealth, current and future, is directly tied to this hueman cash and capital investment property meeting his total economic and pecuniary needs, wants and desires. The more huemans under his ‘ownership’ to work the plantation the wealthier he is considered.
When this hueman property is lost, stolen or otherwise made not available to the ‘owner,’ it is a personal loss in his ‘investment.’ Without the hueman to work the plantation, there is no plantation. This writer feels safe in saying that the enslaved ARE the plantation for without hands to WORK the plantation there is no production/output, thus assuring there is not an ensuing and ongoing profit.
Did the insurance companies cover this loss of property? Was it considered ‘theft’ if one stole him or her ‘self’ away from a life of enslavement? Surely, it was against the law to do so.
Escapes from the plantation meant fewer hands to do the work which meant less production. Sure, one could force the others to work harder but plantation work in itself meant being overworked. Plantation escapes meant a failure in the security system. Escapes were sources of anxiety, anger and embarrassment to the plantation owner as this implied that the fugitive outsmarted the cystem that dehuemanized him. Escapes also meant that the escapee was suffering from the enslavement-inducing complication of drapetomania.
Escape also meant inspiration for others to do the same and could have a ripple effect. Psychologically speaking, escapes blighted the white-sponsored myth of the ‘happy,’ ‘contented’ and ‘satisfied’ slave. And lastly, were the enslaved ‘insured’ as potential runaways in that the plantation owner would be compensated for his ‘loss’ were the fugitive not found and returned?
In A Pictorial History of Black America, we are told that “It was the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution which finally abolished slavery everywhere in the United States. Before his death Lincoln had urged Congress to take such action. On January 32, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment passed the House of Representatives, was ratified during the year by the required number of states and on December 18 was proclaimed in effect. Slavery was now no longer legal anywhere in America. The long fight of the white abolitionists, the black runaways, the Negro and white Underground Railroad workers had at last reach its fruition. The Thirteenth Amendment declared, ‘Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” (P. 185).
“The Underground Railroad was not the nineteenth century’s equivalent of Grand Central Terminal. ‘Running away,’ as Blight summarizes, ‘was a frightening and dangerous proposition for slaves, and the overall numbers who risked it, or for that matter succeeded in reaching freedom, were ‘not large.’ It did succeed in aiding thousands of brave slaves, each of whom we should remember as a hero of African-American history, but not nearly as many as we commonly imagine-and most certainly not enough.” (Gates 100 Amazing Facts About The Negro p. 76)
This Underground Railroad was a movement, indeed, but by the very clandestine nature of its operations, defied ‘movement’ in the traditional sense. It was clearly one in the ethereal (ideology) and hidden in plain sight (way stations) sense for there could be no public or open gatherings, large or small. There could be no protests or demonstrations in support of it. There would be no pamphlets or flyers advertising its whereabouts with contact names. There could be no public coffers for its maintenance and operation by way of donations.
It was through its invisibility that it connected escapees and helpers to form a nationwide hueman fence and force of protection. Once again, the Underground Railroad was less about escaping a vile, inhuemane cystem (sic) of enslavement than it was about running towards the revitalization, reclamation and restoration of one’s huemanity.
Written by Makeda Cheryl Baker, RN MA