Underground Railroad

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The Underground Railroad was an informal network of secret routes and safe houses used by 19th-century black slaves in the United States to escape to free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists who were sympathetic to their cause.[2] The term is also applied to the abolitionists who aided the fugitives.[3] Other various routes led to Mexico or overseas.[4] Created in the early 19th century, the Underground Railroad was at its height between 1850 and 1860.[5] One estimate[5] suggests that by 1850, 100,000 slaves had escaped via the "Railroad". Canada was a popular destination with over 30,000 people arriving there to escape enslavement via the network at its peak,[6] though US Census figures only account for 6,000.[7] The Underground Railroad riders' stories are documented in The Underground Railroad Records.

Contents

Political background

Even at the height of the Underground Railroad, fewer than one thousand slaves from all slave-holding states were able to escape each year (just over 5,000 court cases for escaped slaves recorded), a quantity much smaller than the natural annual increase of the enslaved population. Though the economic impact was small, the psychological impact upon slaveholders of an informal network to assist escaped slaves was immense. Under the original Fugitive Slave Law of 1793, the responsibility for catching runaway slaves fell to officials of the states whence the slaves came, and the Underground Railroad thrived.

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