Pathways to Freedom: Maryland and the Underground Railroad
About the Underground Railroad
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What was the Underground Railroad?

The Underground Railroad was a secret network organized by people who helped men, women, and children escape from slavery to freedom. It operated before the Civil War (1861-1865) ended slavery in the United States. The Underground Railroad provided hiding places, food, and often transportation for the fugitives who were trying to escape slavery. Along the way, people also provided directions for the safest way to get further north on the dangerous journey to freedom.

Possible safe house on the Underground Railroad
Slaves escaping North would often stay in “safe houses” to escape capture.

These houses were owned by people, both black and white, who were sympathetic to the cause.


The people who helped slaves escape were called "conductors" or "engineers." The places along the escape route were called "stations." Sometimes escaping slaves were called "passengers." Sometimes they were called "cargo" or "goods." Conductors helped passengers get from one station to the next. Sometimes they traveled with escaping slaves all the way from the South, where they had been slaves, to the North or to Canada, where they would be free. Sometimes the conductors traveled only a short distance and then handed the escaping slaves to another helper. Engineers, who were the leaders of the Underground Railroad, helped slaves who were running away by providing them with food, shelter, and sometimes jobs. They hid the slaves from people who were trying to catch them and return them to slavery.

A well-organized network of people, who worked together in secret, ran the Underground Railroad. The work of the Underground Railroad resulted in freedom for many men, women, and children. It also helped undermine the institution of slavery, which was finally ended in the United States during the Civil War. Many slaveholders were so angry at the success of the Underground Railroad that they grew to hate the North. Many northerners thought that slavery was so horrible that they grew to hate the South. These people who hated each other were ready to go to war when the time came.

Why was it called that?

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