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Follow the Drinking Gourd: The Role of the Underground Railroad in the Abolitionist Movement.

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Presentation on theme: "Follow the Drinking Gourd: The Role of the Underground Railroad in the Abolitionist Movement."— Presentation transcript:

1 Follow the Drinking Gourd: The Role of the Underground Railroad in the Abolitionist Movement

2 “When the sun comes back and the first quail calls, Follow the drinking gourd. For the old man is awaiting for to carry you to freedom, If you follow the drinking gourd.” …song of slavery, 1840s

3 “Follow the Drinking Gourd" was a song passed from slave to slave that gave the route for an escape from Alabama and Mississippi. Of all the routes out of the Deep South, this is the only one for which the details survive.

4 The Big Dipper consists of seven bright stars, forming a dipper, a small pot with a long handle.

5 Fugitive slaves before the Civil War knew it as "the drinking gourd", because it reminded them of the ladle used for drinking water, made from gourds.

6 It was used by runaway slaves a signpost in the sky pointing the way north to safety where slavery was outlawed.

7 They used the North Star, or Polaris, which could be found by locating the Big Dipper (the “drinking gourd” in the sky). Following Polaris, almost directly north in the sky, would lead them to free states or to Canada.

8 Let’s take a journey similar to one braved by thousands of runaway slaves prior to the Civil War…


10 You are a slave. Your body, your time, your very breath belong to a farmer in 1850s Maryland.

11 Six long days a week you tend his fields. You have never tasted freedom. You never expect to.

12 And yet... your heart lights up when you hear whispers of attempted escape. Freedom means a hard, dangerous trek. Do you dare try it?

13 It was a journey along the “Underground Railroad.”

14 You leave in the middle of the night… Every step seems louder. Twigs snap, leaves crackle.

15 But you walk on, till you see a group of friendly faces. You join them shyly and meet “General Tubman” herself.

16 Even if Moses can’t fit you into her next group, she’ll tell you how to follow the North Star to freedom in Canada.

17 She tells you how to sneak across the bridge over the Choptank River and where to find friends in a place called Delaware.

18 Your head says go, your feet say no. Harriet Tubman told you that a lantern on a hitching post means a safe house. But can you really knock on a white family’s door and trust them to help you?

19 A warm welcome, hot food, and hiding places within the house-that’s what you find. Guided by their conscience, the owners break the law by helping runaways.

20 Yet terror still haunts you. As you fall asleep you hear bloodhounds not far away. They are looking for fugitives, looking for you. Freedom is still a long way off.

21 But now you know the plantation is far away. Your host, a Quaker businessman named Thomas Garrett, smiles gently and promises you’ll reach Canada.

22 A good friend of Tubman’s, Garrett has worked on The Underground Railroad for almost 40 years. A few years ago he was arrested and fined. It didn’t stop him for a minute.

23 You’ve reached a free state, Pennsylvania, but United States law still sees you as your master’s property, and bounty hunters are everywhere.

24 You must get ready ready for another long stretch of travel.

25 Weeks of trudging, including a grueling passage of almost 250 miles through mountains, have brought you to Rochester, New York.

26 Eliza comes to tell Uncle Tom that she is sold, and that she is running away to save her child.

27 Antislavery friends give you warm clothing for the hard Canadian climate and make sure you’re taken safely to Lake Erie.

28 Across Lake Erie lies Canada—and freedom. A few weeks earlier you might have coaxed an easy ride from the ferry captain. But as winter takes hold, chunks of ice have begun to form…

29 You might find someone to row you across, or you could try leaping from one ice floe to another. Either way, you’ll be freezing cold. Yet staying exposes you—and your helpers—to slave hunters. Do you try going across?


31 You made it! It took courage, luck, help, and incredible stamina. Here in Canada, you can finally breathe free. Not only won’t the government return you to slavery, but you can vote and even own land.

32 The route you traveled— based on Harriet Tubman’s actual journeys— appears on the map (next drawing). Using modern roads,the trip would be 560 miles.


34 A strong, lucky runaway might have made it to freedom in two months. For others, especially in bad weather, the trek might have lasted a year. And there were many more routes to freedom, known as the “Underground Railroad.”


36 What was it like to live in a nation that allowed slavery? Why did so many people want to flee? How did the Underground Railroad work?

37 Injustices Under Slavery

38 The Anti-Slavery Record, published for the American Anti-Slavery Society, published images dramatizing the evils of slavery…








46 How did the Underground Railroad work?

47 In order to reduce the numbers of escaping slaves owners kept slaves illiterate and totally ignorant of geography. Owners even went so far as to try to keep slaves from learning how to tell directions.

48 The Underground Railroad saw an explosion of activity in the 1840s. In 1842, the Supreme Court ruled in Prigg v. Pennsylvania that states did not have to aid in the return of runaway slaves.


50 In an attempt to appease the South, Congress passed the Compromise of 1850, which revised the Fugitive Slave Bill. The law gave slaveowners "the right to organize a posse at any point in the United States to aid in recapturing runaway slaves.



53 The Underground Railroad was not underground. Because escaping slaves and the people who helped them were technically breaking the law, they had to stay out of sight. They went “underground” in terms of concealing their actions.

54 The Underground Railroad, a vast network of people who helped fugitive slaves escape to the North and to Canada, was not run by any single organization or person. Rather, it consisted of many individuals -- many whites but predominently black.

55 One of the most curious characteristics of the Underground Railroad was its lack of formal organization. No one knows exactly when it started, but there were certainly isolated cases of help given to runaways as early as the 1700s. Much of the early help was provided by Quaker abolitionists in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

56 The name probably originated from the popularity of the new railroads; they were not via the railroads. The system even used terms used in railroading…

57 …the homes and businesses where fugitives would rest and eat were called "stations" and "depots." They were run by "stationmasters," those who contributed money or goods were "stockholders," and the "conductor" was responsible for moving fugitives from one station to the next.

58 Many clever and creative ideas helped slaves during their escape. When abolitionist John Fairfield needed to sneak 28 slaves over the roads near Cincinnati, he hired a hearse and disguised the group as a funeral procession.

59 Escaping slaves were well hidden for their travels in this wagon when grain bags were piled around the hiding area.

60 Famous “Conductors” of the Underground Railroad

61 In 1849, Harriet Tubman escaped from the Eastern Shore of Maryland and became known as "Moses" to her people after making many trips to the South to help deliver at least 300 fellow captives and loved ones to liberation. She later served as a nurse and spy for the Union Army during the Civil War…

62 Harriet Tubman & Passengers

63 JOSIAH HENSON (1789-1883) So trustworthy a slave that his owner made him an overseer. In journeys to the North, he aided fellow slaves in their escape. Harriet Beecher Stowe attributed an episode about him in her novel. Henson eventually escaped to Canada, led others to safety, and traveled as abolitionist and businessman.

64 JERMAIN LOGUEN (1813-1872) “No day dawns for the slave, nor is it looked for. It is all night—night forever,” said this fugitive, Underground agent and ordained minister. He helped 1,500 escapees and started black schools in New York State.

65 Born free, William Still was a successful merchant, leader in the fight against slavery, and part of the Underground Railroad.

66 African American abolitionist John Parker of Ripley, Ohio, frequently ventured to Kentucky and Virginia and helped transport by boat hundreds of runaways across the Ohio River.

67 By the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, about 500 people a year were traveling throughout the South teaching routes to slaves. Scholars estimate that 60,000 to 100,000 slaves successfully fled to freedom.

68 The Abolitionists…

69 The Pennsylvania Abolition society, was one of the many abolitionist groups that assisted fugitive slaves in their attempts to find freedom in the Free States. People who contributed to the cause of emancipation or freeing of slaves were called "abolitionists."


71 In addition to published speeches, books, and sermons, the abolitionists wrote songs that told about the evils of slavery…

72 “Am I not a man and brother? Ought I not, then, to be free? Sell me not to one another, Take not thus my liberty. Christ our Saviour, Christ our Saviour, Died for me as well as thee.”

73 “Come all ye true friends of the nation, Attend to humanity's call; Come aid the poor slave's liberation, And roll on the liberty ball-- And roll on the liberty ball-- Come aid the poor slave's liberation, And roll on the liberty ball.”

74 Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin with the encouragement of her sister-in-law who was deeply affected by the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law.

75 “On the shores of our free states are emerging the poor, shattered, broken remnants of families,--men and women, escaped, by miraculous providences, from the surges of slavery,--feeble in knowledge, and, in many cases, infirm in moral constitution, from a system which confounds and confuses every principle of Christianity and morality.” …Uncle Tom’s Cabin


77 Frederick Douglass wrote his autobiography, in 1841, telling of his life as a former slave. He became an orator for the Anti-Slavery Society. His book was probably the best-selling of all the fugitive slave narratives: 5000 copies were sold.

78 John Brown was an American abolitionist, born in Connecticut and raised in Ohio. He felt passionately and violently that he must personally fight to end slavery. In 1856, in retaliation for the sack of Lawrence, he led the murder of five proslavery men on the banks of the Pottawatomie River.

79 Brown did not end there. On Oct. 16, 1859, Brown and 21 followers captured the U.S. arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Brown planned this takeover as the first step in his liberation of the slaves, but his plan was defeated the next morning by Robert E. Lee and his troops. Brown was hanged on Dec. 2, 1859.

80 Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth president of the United States. He was our president during the Civil War.

81 Preserving the Union became Lincoln's main concern during his term in office. But the Union was not Lincoln's only concern. A year earlier, he had signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which legally freed the slaves in the rebel states.

82 “Follow the Drinking Gourd…

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