Harriett Tubman stands out as the icon of the Underground Railroad. She was born into slavery about 1820. She feared being sold and separated from her husband. She escaped to Philadelphia in 1848. She returned approximately twenty times to the eastern shore of Maryland. She led more than three hundred runaway slaves to freedom preceding the Civil War. She finally settled in Saint Catherine's, Canada. During the war, she returned to the United States and served in the Union Army. Harriett Tubman was spy, nurse and a scout. She died in 1913 at the age of 93.
Countless others both black and white, slaves, freed men and women risked their lives for the nations leading principles: the quest for freedom. Runaway slaves escaped to the North using a loose network of routes through the southern border states. Those who traveled east headed to places such as Philadelphia, New York and Boston. Others fled into Ohio, Illinois and Michigan. Some fugitives continued onto Canada. Slavery was outlawed in 1834 in Canada. On a small scale some fled south to Florida, Texas and even Mexico. Most fugitives traveled on foot at night, and hid in the woods and swamps along streams and rivers. All fugitives had stories to tell of their escape, but most of them didn't publicize what they had done. Two major routes extended from Kentucky to Virginia, across Ohio to the North, also from Maryland through Pennsylvania into New York or New England to Canada.
In 1793, the Fugitive Slave law was out into effect. Anyone who interfered with an arrest of a fugitive was fined $500.00. This was Congress's way of acknowledging the existence and power of the Underground Railroad. There isn't an accurate account of the number of runaways. Estimates are as low as 1,000 - 2,000 to a total of 100,000.
During the 1830's and continuing into the next decade, Washington D.C., was a very active part of the Underground Railroad. They established an aggressive network consisting of predominantly black leaders who held positions in white society. These positions were held in high esteem. They allowed thousands of slaves from the plantations bordering Virginia and Maryland to be led to freedom. The Washington Network was mostly blacks, who held positions in white society. They masked their illegal activities because of the positions they had.
Congress again passed a law. This was called "The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850." There were stricter consequences for those who broke law. The law violated many personal rights and the punishment was quite severe. The thirteenth amendment was approved in 1865 which was supposed to abolish slavery in the United States. In 1868 another law, 14th amendment, was passed that promised to protect all citizens. In 1870 the 15th amendment was passed which was suppose to give African American men the right to vote.
The tension between the southern and northern states grew stronger. The Underground Railroad activity increased after 1850. More whites joined the networks run by blacks. More funding became available. New stations and routes were established. Lawyers offered services to fugitives captured for aiding them. Blacks were settling along the eastern seaboard. There were a growing number of blacks, who developed their own separate communities. These communities were located in Philadelphia, New York and Boston. Self-reliance became the word in the community. Blacks also founded and supported their own newspapers. Four, in particular, were Freedom's Journal, North Star, The Colored American, and The Anglo-American. Black institutions and organizations fostered racial pride and identity. They became the center for leadership.
Frederick Douglass was one of the elite, and a veteran of the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad continued throughout the Civil War and into the Reconstruction Era.