Pathways to Freedom: Maryland and the Underground Railroad
About the Underground Railroad
about the underground railroad
following the footsteps
eyewitness to history
figure it out
mapping it out
secrets: language, signs and symbols
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What is slavery?

Slavery is a system of labor in which people are forced to work for someone else without pay and without the freedom to leave if they want to. Slaves have to work and live as their masters tell them to. They have no freedom to make their own decisions about where they will live, what they will do, or where they will go.

In the United States, slavery began during the early colonial years, in the early 1600s, and lasted until the mid-1860s. It lasted almost two hundred and fifty years. The system of slavery here was particularly harsh. Slaves were considered property, like cows and sheep, or like the furniture in someone's house. They could be bought and sold just like other property. This meant that families could be separated. Children could be sold to one owner while a mother or father, sister or brother could be sold to other owners. The family members might never see each other again.

Also, slave owners were allowed to inflict very severe punishments on slaves whenever they wanted to. Masters could beat slaves whenever they wanted to. No one made sure that slaves had enough to eat or warm clothes or decent places to sleep. In many places, slaves were not allowed to learn to read and write. They were not protected by the laws that protected free citizens. They did not have the rights that other people did. Most slaves suffered a great deal.

Have other countries ever had slavery?

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