When we think about the history of slavery in the United States we often think of the Underground Railroad and attempts made by Abolitionists and others to help slaves escape from the South to the free states of the North and Canada. What we don’t realize is that despite the near mythic role popular history has ascribed to it, the Underground Railroad was in its heyday (1850-1860) the route to freedom for fewer than 30,000 slaves by most estimates – out of a slave population of 4.5 million.
There are many places throughout the Northeast and parts of the Midwest where the Underground Railroad’s stations and safe houses can still be seen.
The Bialystoker Synagogue
The Bialystoker Synagogue located in New York City, it was built as the Willett Street Methodist Episcopal Church in 1826. The building contains one of the railroad’s rest stops in a small attic above its balcony.
The Appoquinimink Friends Meeting House
The Appoquinimink Friends Meeting House, Odessa, DE: It is said that Harriet Tubman once hid in this still-functioning meeting house built in 1785.
The Erastus Farnham House
The Erastus Farnham House, Fremont, IN: Located just south of Indiana’s border with Michigan, this was an Underground Railroad stop. Indiana was a slave state, but Michigan was not.
The Octagon House
The Octagon House, Fond-du-Lac, WI: One of the many hidden passages in this 1856 house was used to shelter slaves heading to freedom.
Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge
Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, VA and NC: Runaway slaves did not only find refuge in brick and mortar safe houses, many hid in the swamp to escape detection until they could safely make their way to freedom. One of Harriet Tubman’s novels, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, is about the Maroon’s who lived here.
John Hossack House
John Hossack House, Ottawa, IL: Abolitionist John Hossack sheltered fugitive slaves in this house. In 1860 he was convicted in Federal Court of violating the Fugitive Slave Law.
Reverend George B. Hitchcock House
Reverend George B. Hitchcock House, Lewis, IA: Hitchcock was an Abolitionist who hid slaves here in the 1850s.
Mount Zion A.M.E. Church
Mount Zion A.M.E. Church, Woolwich Township, NJ: This historic 1799 church was an important stop on the Underground Railroad.