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American History: Under Ground Rail Road Provided A Scape To Slaves

1614 words - 7 pages

During the first half of the nineteenth century, slavery was one of the most controversial topics in the United States of America, where the questions of whether or not slavery should be abolished or permitted sparked much debate and tension between the North and South – that ultimately lead to the Civil War. The Underground Railroad was established in the mid-1800s as an informational system of clandestine that aided slaves in escaping towards the Northern States and Canada through secret pathways, routes and safe-houses. The system was referred to as the Underground Railroad because of the rapid and secretive way in which slaves were able to escape - where they mostly traveled during the ...view middle of the document...

.. consisting of three men and women and children,” (Joseph C. Bustill to William Still, March 24, 1856). The development and use of a surreptitious coded language and system became one of the most essential part of the Underground Railroad that determined its successfulness because not only was having any involvement in the system illegal but highly lethal. So, in order to protect themselves the conductor’s utilized terms like lines, to refer which routes they would take. One of the symbols that were utilized by the conductors to identify which homes were acting as safe-houses along the lines of the Underground Railroad were lanterns, which were lit and placed outside of the each station. Through the art of song, coded messages were passed along that detailed the escape paths of the Underground Railroad, where two of the most common hymns were, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," or "Follow the Drinking Gourd". The first chorus of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," states the following: Swing low, sweet chariot/Coming for to carry me home.../I looked over Jordan and what did I see/ A band of angels coming after me… once deciphered the lyrics would read: Come into the slave states, towards the Underground Railroad/ Take me to my freedom in the North away from my chains/ When I looked across the river, what do I see?/ The conductors of the Underground Railroad waiting there to save me.
Once traveling the Underground Railroad, the Passengers were faced with the challenge of surviving the long hazardous and perilous journey from the Southern states up North. The runaways had to travel an inordinate distance by foot in a short amount of time, where with one wrong turn or sound they faced the risk of being exposed and captured by slave catchers. If caught, they would be forced to return to their owners and face their impeding wrath in the form of either flogging, jail time, being sold back into slavery or killed. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was legislated by Congress as part of the Compromise of 1850, which provided slave owners with the legal right to demand the returning of their “property” as well as reprimand those who abetted fugitive slaves. The act of freeing an enslaved African American was seen by the courts and public as the theft the owner’s private property or belonging. If conductors were to be caught, they themselves would either be levied heavily, branded with the letters S.S (slave stealer), be imprisoned or put to death. In a letter between Levi Coffin and William Still, where Coffin described Seth Concklin’s fatal fate as a result of his involvement in the Underground Railroad, “I seriously doubt that he had made his escape. Language would fail to express my feelings… his heart is full of the milk of humanity; one of our best Anti-Slavery spirits,” (Levi Coffin to William Still, May 11, 1851). Another encumbering danger they faced was the threat of their surroundings as well as starvation. While itinerating along the paths utilized in the...

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