Pathways to Freedom: Maryland and the Underground Railroad
Secrets: Signs and Symbols
about the underground railroad
following the footsteps
eyewitness to history
figure it out
mapping it out
secrets: language, signs and symbols
create a quilt block
living history
underground railroad library
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Follow the
Drinking Gourd
Music The Language of Quilts Language of the Railroad Teacher Tips


Hidden in Plain Sight

Teacher Note: More recent information indicates that prominent researchers have time and again debunked the myth of the quilt code. There is no historical evidence to indicate that slaves used quilts to communicate information along the Underground Railroad. Additionally, many of the patterns and songs highlighted in this section have been shown to originate after the time of the Underground Railroad. We are endeavoring to make corrections to these sections of the site as soon as possible.


People planning to escape slavery had to be very careful. One word overheard by the wrong people could spoil even the most carefully-made plans.

In order to keep their escapes secret, slaves used many other ways to talk with others before and during their escapes.

To ordinary people, these forms of communication were very innocent. To escaping slaves, they might mean the difference between life and death.

In this section, you can explore some of these secrets.

  • You can find out how a simple song with hidden meanings helped escaping slaves find the path to freedom in Follow the Drinking Gourd.
  • You can read about and listen to other songs escaping slaves used as signals in Music.
  • You can investigate the theory that slaves used quilts as signals and maps on their road to freedom in The Language of Quilts.
  • You can find out about the language people involved in the Underground Railroad used to keep their work secret in Language of the Railroad.











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