Abolitionists did more than just go to anti-slavery conferences and give speeches. They formed a whole rescue network of safehouses for runaway slaves. It was known as the underground railroad, but was neither underground nor an actual train. The name was just part of the series of codes that were used in the operation. Everyone who helped along the way had codenames and specific assignments from agent, station master, conductor, stockholder, and more. Places and groups of slaves themselves also had codenames so that very specific updates could be communicated in letters and public conversations. People, who were not who were not even part of the network, were known to do spontaneous acts of kindness to help the runaway slaves. Helping strangers that they would probably never see again is humanity at its best.
Harriet Tubman, codename Moses, was the most famous of all conductors but certainly not the only one. A conductor had an extremely dangerous job of directly transporting slaves. The fact that Harriet herself was a former runaway slave meant sure death or worse, if she were to be caught.
Over a period of 10 years, she took 19 trips to escort slaves to freedom. On one of her later trips, she was finally able to rescue her parents. Her father, Ben Ross, was already a free black man living in Maryland but her mother, Rit, was a slave. Her mother was supposed to be freed at age 45 according to the will of Eliza’s Brodess’ grandfather but Eliza refused to free her. In 1855, Ben was able to buy his wife’s freedom for $20, approximately $589 in today’s currency. By 1857, Ben was in trouble with the authorities for suspicion of harboring fugitive slaves, so it was time to go. This trip was exceedingly difficult because her parents were elderly and could not walk very far without needing to take a break. Harriet was able to get a carriage and got them all the way to Canada where they had with other relatives waiting for them.
Her last trip in 1860 was to rescue her sister, Rachel, and Rachel’s two children. Rachel had already passed away and her children could not be located, so Harriet brought another family in their places. The next year, the Civil War began, and Harriet took on a new role as spy! See link below for more information on Harriet Tubman.
This week’s song pick:
“Shadowland” from the Lion King https://youtu.be/OPJqaxkBRro
Episode 10 Sources:
links to the underground railroad codes and the coded song sung by slaves to pass information
Short biography of Harriet Tubman and her many accomplishments