Exploring the Underground Railroad

Posted on Wednesday, February 15, 2017 by Anne

map of Underground RailroadLiving in a world that is so connected through the internet and social media, it is difficult to imagine how in a world connected mostly by pen, paper and telegraph, the Underground Railroad, a collaboration of somewhat random individuals across the country, managed to connect and bring so many people to safety. Around 30,000 slaves managed to escape the binds of slavery on the railroad. Here are a few titles you can find in the library that explore the Underground Railroad, the people who found safe passage through it and the individuals whose courageous efforts made it possible.

Gateway to Freedom book coverOne of the amazing things about the Underground Railroad was how well it functioned given that it was made up of a variety of individuals who often had very different perspectives on how to run it. Historian Eric Foner’s book “Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad” looks at the Underground Railroad’s path through New York City, where economic ties to the South kept the grip of slavery on the city for longer than other areas in the North. Foner explores the key players and their infighting, as well as how decisions regarding the railroad ultimately came to pass in this especially divided community.

Freedom by Any Means book coverThe Underground Railroad offered many paths to freedom, but those paths were rarely easy. They required courage, cunning and daring on the part of the escapees and those who were helping them. “Freedom by Any Means: Con Games, Voodoo Schemes, True Love and Lawsuits on the Underground Railroad” by Betty DeRamus is a good read for those who want to flesh out their knowledge of the personal experiences of those trying to escape the bonds of slavery. Readers are sure to be gripped by these tension-filled stories that offer insight into the creative ways escaping slaves managed to get out of nearly impossible situations.

Mary Escape on the Pearl book coverKay Ricks’ “Escape on the Pearl: The Heroic Bid for Freedom on the Underground Railroad” tells the fascinating true story of one of the most daring slave escape attempts. In 1848, nearly 80 slaves attempted to slip out of Washington D.C. on a schooner. Their ship was captured, leading to a pro-slavery riot in the city. Ricks’ book explores what happened to the captured slaves, many of whom found themselves sent to the deep South. Abolitionists like Henry Ward Beecher worked to free them, and his sister Harriet Beecher Stowe found inspiration in the event to write the classic “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

From Midnight to Dawn book coverThe journey escaped slaves took on the Underground Railroad was often fraught with difficulties, which did not end once they obtained freedom. “From Midnight to Dawn: The Last Tracks of the Underground Railroad” by Jacqueline Tobin looks at the communities many of the escapees were making while on their way towards freedom in Canada. With the help of abolitionists, small towns sprung to life. Some thrived and some did not. Tobin’s book explores how these communities formed and the challenges they faced in trying to sustain their freedom.


Photo credit: Willbur H. Siebert, Routes of the Underground Railroad, 1830-1865 via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)