Choose a link below to access printable PDF versions of these materials including additional information, color images and citations. Underground Railroad Primary Source Set. This booklet underground railroad map pdf provide a window into the past through a variety of primary sources regarding the Underground Railroad. These primary sources consist of broadsides, reward posters, newspaper clippings, historical documents, sheet music, photographs and narratives pertaining to the Underground Railroad.
These items are found within the digitized collections of the Library of Congress. The Underground Railroad was a secret system developed to aid fugitive slaves on their escape to freedom. Involvement with the Underground Railroad was not only dangerous, but it was also illegal. So, to help protect themselves and their mission secret codes were created. The term Underground Railroad referred to the entire system, which consisted of many routes called lines. The free individuals who helped runaway slaves travel toward freedom were called conductors, and the fugitive slaves were referred to as cargo.
The safe houses used as hiding places along the lines of the Underground Railroad were called stations. A lit lantern hung outside would identify these stations. Traveling along the Underground Railroad was a long a perilous journey for fugitive slaves to reach their freedom. Runaway slaves had to travel great distances, many times on foot, in a short amount of time. They did this with little or no food and no protection from the slave catchers chasing them.
Slave owners were not the only pursuers of fugitive slaves. In order to entice others to assist in the capture of these slaves, their owners would post reward posters offering payment for the capture of their property. If they were caught, any number of terrible things could happen to them. Many captured fugitive slaves were flogged, branded, jailed, sold back into slavery, or even killed. Not only did fugitive slaves have the fear of starvation and capture, but there were also threats presented by their surroundings. While traveling for long periods of time in the wilderness, they would have to fend off animals wanting to kill and eat them, cross treacherous terrain, and survive severe temperatures.
For the slaves traveling north on the Underground Railroad, they were still in danger once they entered northern states. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 allowed and encouraged the capture of fugitive slaves due to the fact that they were seen as stolen property, rather than abused human beings. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 also outlawed the abetting of fugitive slaves. Their safety and freedom would not be reached until they entered into Canada.
Not all slaves traveled north. There were also Underground Railroad lines that lead south en route for Mexico and the Caribbean. One of the many fugitive slaves impacted by the Fugitive Slave Law was Anthony Burns. He was taken from his northern residence, arrested, and tried under this law in Boston, Massachusetts. His arrest spurred black and white abolitionists and citizens of Boston to riot and protest. After the trial, Burns was taken back to cruelty of the south which he thought he had escaped from. While he was enduring his return to slavery, abolitionists were working to raise funds and within a year of his trial they had enough money to buy his freedom.
Library of Congress American Memory and America’s Library. Frederick Douglass was another fugitive slave who escaped slavery. He escaped not on the Underground Railroad, but on a real train. He disguised himself as a sailor, but this was not enough. Luckily, the train conductor did not look closely at the papers, and Douglass gained his passage to freedom. Unfortunately, not all runaway slaves made it to freedom. But, many of those who did manage to escape went on to tell their stories of flight from slavery and to help other slaves not yet free.