Pathways to Freedom: Maryland and the Underground Railroad
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People of the Underground Railroad in Maryland

Use the links below to quick jump to a particular person:
Harriet Tubman | Frederick Douglass | Thomas Garrett | William Still
Samuel Burris

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Harriet Tubman, who was born a slave near Cambridge, Maryland, was one of the most famous Underground Railroad conductors. After making her own successful escape, she came back to Maryland many times to lead family members, friends, and other slaves to freedom. She knew many routes through the woods and fields. She usually traveled at night. It was safer when it was dark and when fewer people were outside working or going from one place to another. At night, she could follow the North Star. She always carried weapons to defend herself and her group in case they were attacked. It is estimated that she led several hundred people to freedom. It is said that she never lost a single passenger.

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The man we know today as Frederick Douglass was born in Tuckahoe, Maryland. His given name was Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. Most likely, he was born in 1818, but we do not have any records to prove this. Douglass himself did not know the year of his birth. Douglass suspected that his father was his white master, Captain Aaron Anthony. His mother, Harriet Bailey, was a slave who was hired to work on a farm 12 miles away from Anthony's plantation. His mother died when Douglass was about seven years old. As a result, Douglass was cared for by his grandparents for most of his early years.

Captain Anthony eventually sent Douglass, who was eight years old, to live in Baltimore with the Auld family. Mrs. Auld helped the young boy learn how to read and write. These were important skills for any person to have. Eventually, they would help Douglass as he fought against the oppression of slavery. When Frederick Douglass was about 14 years old, Captain Anthony died. Douglass was returned to the Eastern Shore to live with Thomas Auld, who was the son-in-law of Captain Anthony. Now a teenager, Douglass began to be acutely aware of the incredible brutality and inequality of slavery. He decided that he needed to find his way to freedom. After a plot to escape from Auld failed, Douglass was sent to Baltimore again. There, he worked among free Black men in a Fells Point shipyard. Because he was a slave, the money he earned was sent to his master.

Douglass decided to try to escape north to freedom. A free black woman named Anna Murray encouraged him. He dressed as a free Black seaman, like the ones he worked with in the Shipyard. One of them gave him identification papers that said he was a free man. Douglass left Baltimore on September 3, 1838. He traveled by train and steamboat to New York City. Once he had arrived in the North, Douglass changed his last name from Bailey to Johnson to avoid recapture from southern slavehunters. Frederick and Anna were married by former slave James W.C. Pennington. Eventually the two moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts. There, Douglass changed his last name a second and final time.

By 1843, Douglass was a widely recognized national speaker. He traveled throughout the North giving vivid firsthand accounts of slavery, abolition, segregation, and discrimination. When his autobiography, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave was published in 1845, Douglass moved to London, England. He was afraid someone would capture him and return him to slavery. In 1846, friends in London raised over $700 to purchase Douglass' freedom from Thomas Auld. Douglass was finally and officially free. Anna and Frederick Douglass came back to the U.S., and settled in Rochester, New York. There he began to publish an abolitionist newspaper called The North Star. Douglass also served as a "conductor" on one of the last stops on the Underground Railroad before slaves found freedom in Canada. After the Civil War, Douglass and his family moved to Washington D. C. He continued to work for national and international efforts seeking freedom for all people.

Frederick Douglass died at his Cedar Hill home in Washington, D. C., on February 20, 1895. He was 78.

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Thomas Garrett, a Quaker from Wilmington, Delaware, worked closely with Harriet Tubman and other conductors who led slaves out of Maryland. Tubman and other conductors led people to Garrett's house. Garrett would then arrange to move the group on to southern Pennsylvania. He forwarded many people to Philadelphia, where there was a very active Abolition Society and many people who worked with the Underground Railroad.

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William Still, a free black man who lived in Philadelphia, was at the focal point of Underground Railroad activities in the East. He received many fugitives from Maryland, where his mother was born. He helped fugitives who stayed in Philadelphia find homes and jobs. He arranged for many escaping slaves to continue their journey on to Canada.

He kept very careful records and published them in a book after the Civil War. His book, called The Underground Rail Road, includes accounts of the fugitives he received, letters from fugitives and Underground Railroad helpers such as Thomas Garrett and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. It also contains biographies of some of the men and women who worked with the Underground Railroad. This book is a wonderful source of information for people who want to learn about the Underground Railroad.

Read an excerpt from William Still’s account.

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Samuel Burris was a conductor on the Underground Railroad leading down into Maryland. He was a free black man. Born in Delaware, Burris moved to Philadelphia where his family could live in a free state. He became active in the operations of the Underground Railroad. Burris journeyed south into Maryland to lead slaves to safe houses in Delaware and Pennsylvania. He worked closely with Benjamin Still and Thomas Garrett.

It was particularly dangerous for free blacks to work with the Underground Railroad. If they were caught, they could be sold as slaves. Burris did get caught trying to smuggle fugitive slaves through Delaware. He was put in jail where he remained for many months. At his trial, he was convicted. The judge ordered that he be sold to serve for seven years. Members of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society got together to help their friend. They collected money and sent an abolitionist named Isaac Flint, to the auction where Burris would be sold. Here is William Still's account of that auction.

Burris later moved to California and sent contributions to help destitute former slaves.

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