During 1700s-1865, free African Americans and white abolitionists who were against slavery, developed a secret network of people who helped fugitive slaves in their escape from slavery. The people who aided the slaves were known as “conductors”. The fugitive slaves hid in private homes, churches, and schoolhouses. They would hide fugitives in secret tunnels and false cupboards. They also provided them with food and some clothing and then directed them to the next house, or “station”. The people who operated them were called “stationmasters”. The network then became known as the Underground Railroad.
Nobody knows exactly when the Underground Railroad began. “The earliest mention of the Underground Railroad came in 1831 when slave Tice Davids escaped from Kentucky to Ohio and his owner blamed an “underground railroad” for helping Davids to freedom” (History). Once slaves who were aided by the Underground Railroad were free, they would escape to border states such as Maryland, Kentucky, and Virginia. With the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, that had allowed the local law enforcement to capture escaped slaves within the free state borders, and then send them back to where they had escaped, then punish anyone who aided in their rescue. Most slaves had to escape to Canada, where slavery was prohibited, to escape slave bounty hunters who sought to track down runaway slaves. Many different types of people helped free African Americans through the Underground Railroad. They varied from white abolitionists to free slaves who have previously escaped from enslavement. One of the free slaves who aided in freeing African slaves was Harriet Tubman.
Harriet Tubman was one of the most famous conductors of the Underground Railroad.”Tubman risked her life to lead hundreds of family members and other slaves from the plantation system to freedom on this elaborate secret network of safe houses” (Biography.com). Her original name was Araminta Ross, but then changed it when she escaped a plantation in Maryland with two of her brothers. Tubman was born into slavery. In her early childhood, Harriet suffered a traumatic head wound from the blow of a heavy metal weight. Her injury caused her to suffer from dizziness, pain, and sleeping spells. She was said to have had visions and weird dreams , said to have been premonitions from God. She also worked as a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War. Harriet Tubman also went by the nickname “Moses” because of the bounty on her head for helping rescue the slaves. Tubman risked her life to help lead hundreds of African Americans slaves to freedom. In total, she made over 19 trips to the South and saved over 300 slaves from slavery.
The Underground Railroad then ceased to exist around 1863, right around the Civil War. Once again, Harriet Tubman played a significant role in helping the Union efforts against the Confederacy. She helped in the Union Army operations to free the emancipated slaves that were yet to be set free.