Underground Railroad Shelter Used by Runaway Slaves

The time period that included slavery was an awful time for our country; there was much hate through a false sense of superiority. The Underground Railroad was able to bring the best out of some great individuals in our country in which others decided to follow suit. The lives of slaves who lived under cruel masters had some of the harshest living conditions. They were overworked, beaten, and malnourished because the white masters thought slaves were inferior to them. In “The Slaves Narrative” on page 108 we are given an idea; “ We raise de wheat, Dey gib us de corn; We bake de bread, Dey gib us de cruss; We sif de meal, Dey gib us dey huss; We peal dey meat, Dey gib us de skin, And dat’s de way, De takes us in” (Gates and Davis 108).

Another entry suggests similar things; “Old master eats beef and sucks on de bone, And gives us de gristle, To make, to make, to make, To make de nigger whistle” (Gates and Davis 108). In both accounts we can see that the slaves are being treated like animals as they are the ones preparing the meals, but are only allowed to consume the scraps given to them by their masters. We can also see that they are uneducated due to the poor grammatical usage they wrote in the letter. In another story it is depicted that the children and adults needed to stay busy in order to avoid from being whipped; “My grandfather…would tell us things!

To keep the whip off your backs, you know…children , work, work, work, and work hard.

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You know how you hate to be whipped , so work hard” (Gates and Davis 106). Due to both accounts depicting the unruly actions of the slave masters we can only imagine the fear and torture the slaves endured. Many slaves tried to escape these conditions, but were unsuccessful and eventually returned to their master. Once they were in back in the custody of their master, they were beaten and starved worse than they were before their attempted escape. Only time would tell when there would be an organized escape route for the slaves longing for their freedom. The Underground Railroad was an informal, yet iconic get away that was utilized by runaway slaves during the late 1700’s through the mid 1860’s. To be clear, this was not an actual railway system that slaves boarded to escape their master. Slaves that were on the run usually traveled the Underground Railroad at night so they were able to stay under the radar. This system did just not consist of African American slaves, but many white people played a large role in assisting in regards to attaining their freedom. The “fugitives” from the southern states were looking to head to the northern states as well as Canada.

During the 1830’s the rail systems were introduced in the United States and it became nationwide phenomena because the trains were shipping cargo all over the place. The name Underground Railroad was created due to the phenomena of the railways because of the trail the slaves traveled to escape to their freedom.According to the text “Fleeing for Freedom; “When trains were introduced into the United States in that year, the steam engine and rail lines connecting cities and towns began to capture the American imagination, and those running the mostly secret operation for helping slaves escape began to adopt railroad terminology using such terms as “passenger,” ”“depot,” or “station,” “ticket agents,” “station master,” and “conductor” (Coffin et al 3). At the time the Quakers were the main group that assisted with helping the fugitives and they were able to keep somewhat of a low profile (PBS). They used the common railroad terminology to run their operations; the homes and businesses where fugitives would rest and eat were called ‘stations’ and ‘depots’ and were run by ‘stationmasters,’ those who contributed money or goods were ‘stockholders,’ and the ‘conductor’ was responsible for moving fugitives from one station to the next (PBS).

The slaves were not the only ones who needed to be careful as they made their way to freedom. There were religious groups that helped slaves escape to their freedom; Quakers, Unitarians, Presbyterian, and any other church members who disagreed with slavery. The slaves were not the only ones who needed to be careful, but the select religious groups and other individuals assisting them had to cover their tracks accordingly. In 1787 sixteen or seventeen year old Quaker named Isaac T. Hopper decided to dedicate his life to helping fugitive slaves. He was very proactive when it came to helping the slaves and he was very aggressive about helping the slaves to freedom. This account describes his work; “Once, when informed that an escapee had been captured by his master and was soon to be moved south, Hopper rushed to the tavern where the slave was being held, bounded up, and was summarily thrown out the window by six guards. Although bruised, he raced again to the second floor room, broke down the door, startled the guards, and freed the slave”(Coffin, Hendrick, and Still 6). He was also known for using the legal system in regarding the slaves rights once they were freed in the northern states and would even have the slave masters in court for months (Coffin, Hendrick, and Still 6). Two fairly famous Quakers named Levi and Catharine Coffin were known for assisting slaves to their freedom.

Their home is located in Fountain City, Indiana and it was known as the “Grand Central Station” of the Underground Railroad (Levi and Catharine Coffin). They would house, clothe, and feed the slaves as they would come through their town. Mrs. Coffin and other abolitionist women would join together and sew clothes for the fugitive slaves that were coming through their town (Coffin, Hendrick, and Still 11). The location of their house was a crucial part of their success; it was right in the middle of the Quaker community. This allowed for the neighboring houses to serve as “look outs” when the Coffins were bringing in new slaves for the night.

The slaves that were coming through Fountain City were on their way to Canada (Levi and Catharine Coffin). The Coffins were even known for paying for the slave children to attend school so they could be properly educated. During their facilitation of the Underground Railroad; it is estimated that they successfully assisted over 2,000 slaves. Many white people hated the idea that the Coffins were helping slaves escape and they were letting the local authorities know. Then there were other white people who disagreed with the facilitation, but they looked the other way to keep their hands clean for both sides (Levi and Catharine Coffin). Below is a picture of the Coffin Home (Amundsen): To carry out these acts, Levi and Catharine had to be extremely careful as they completed their daily tasks. In the text “Fleeing For Freedom” Levi depicts the secretive work completed by his wife; “Our house was large and well adapted for secreting fugitives. Very often slaves would lie concealed in upper chambers for weeks without the boarders or frequent visitors at the house knowing anything about it.

My wife had a quiet unconcerned way of going about her work as if nothing unusual was on hand, which was calculated to lull every suspicion of those who might be watching” (Coffin, Hendrick, and Still 11). Levi explains that Catherine would even transport food in a secretive manner by putting the items in a basket to keep the perishable items concealed without suspicion. The basket of food was described to look like a “basket full of clean clothes” (Coffin, Hendrick, and Still 11). As mentioned before, the Underground Railroad led slaves to the northern states and to Canada (slavery was abolished in 1833). There were three significant routes that went through Indiana; they went from Posey to South Bend, from Corydon to Porter, and Madison to Dekalb County. There were a great amount of “pit stops” in between the routes for the slaves to safely take breaks for food, water, shelter, clothing, etc (National Geographic Society).

The path to freedom in Indiana looked more like a “spider web” rather than three specific paths; the slaves would have to travel through unfamiliar contour, going back and forth directions to make sure they safeguarded themselves. Below is a map of the Underground Railroad that went through Indiana (Footsteps to Freedom): As we can see the Underground Railroad was a great tool that the African Americans could take advantage of as they fled for freedom. They would not have been able to travel the terrains of the Underground Railroad without the help of many abolitionist; such as the Coffins and the Hopper boy. By creating this trail it allowed for thousands of slaves to travel to their safety and freedom. The Underground Railroad was a turning point in our country because it brought white and black people together to achieve something great.

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Underground Railroad Shelter Used by Runaway Slaves. (2022, Feb 11). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/underground-railroad-shelter-used-by-runaway-slaves/

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