Role in The Underground Railroad
Railroad . . .
Paths To Freedom
Slaves on Southern plantations passed information
about methods of escape by word-of-mouth, in stories and through songs.
No actual trains existed or ran underground, but guides on the Underground
Railroad were called conductors
and hiding places were called depots
Guided north by the stars and sometimes singing traditional songs like
Follow the Drinking Gourd, most runaways traveled by night
on foot and took advantage of the natural protection of swamps, bayous,
forests and waterways. Some escaped slaves were able to pass into the
in The Underground Railroad
Ohio was crucial to the Underground Railroad saga. It has been estimated
that 40,000 runaway slaves escaped to Canadian freedom through Ohio. A
secret and successful network of over 700 safehouses and depots
waited for those fugitives fortunate enough to make it toand acrossthe
Although a free state, a designation indicating only that
its residents could not own slaves, Ohio was a distinctly dangerous host
to the escapees. Bounty hunters criss-crossed the state. Pro-slavery factions
existed in many villages and cities. The Ohio Black Laws rewarded those
who turned in or reported runaways. Lake Erie was a formidable obstacle
to attaining Canadian freedom. Vigilante groups scoured the state, targeting
all African-Americans. Law officers were aggressive, particularly following
the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.
In 1804 the
Ohio General Assembly enacted laws to regulate the lives of African-Americans
in the state. The laws were passed to discourage the immigration of blacks
to the state. Their application affected both runaways and free men. Blacks
already living in Ohio had to register with a county clerk; blacks had
to pay a fee to be registered. Whites were enjoined against employing
blacks who had no proof of freedom. Whites were mandated to turn in any
runaway slaves, and were prohibited from harboring or protecting them.
Blacks were forbidden to be a part of any court case involving whites.
They were denied public education. In 1807 the laws were expanded. The
stringent additions made it virtually impossible for African-Americans
to settle in or work in Ohio. Then, in 1850, the National Fugitive Slave
Law was enacted, directing law officers to aggressively hunt for runaways
in the states.
The Fugitive Slave Act
Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 permitted the recapture and extradition of
escaped slaves with the assistance of federal marshals. To combat the
perceived success of the Underground Railroad, one of the provisions of
the Compromise of 1850 levied fines and prison sentences on individuals
who helped runaways. The spectacle of African-Americans re-enslaved on
the slightest pretext brought the reality of slavery forcibly into northern
life. Unscrupulous traders also kidnapped free African-Americans during
this period and sold them south into slavery. The Fugitive Slave Law forced
runaways to flee to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and even Europe.