Route Map of the ugrr another view… This map by A. C. Flick shows more escape routes to Canada

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Route Map of the UGRR


  • This map by A.C. Flick shows more escape routes to Canada;

  • Hudson-Mohawk-Niagara

  • Susquehanna River-Finger Lakes

  • Lake Erie-Niagara

  • Hudson-Champlain

  • What other possibilities are there?

Comparing the Physical Landscapes

  • Ohio (and other Mid-Western States) have a low-relief topography.

  • New York State has several mountain ranges, with narrow valleys in between.

  • This forces escape routes along a few distinct pathways, with a limited number of deviations possible.

  • Another challenge was crossing through Pennsylvania’s Appalachian Mts.

New York’s Glacial Landscape

  • Like everywhere on Earth, New York’s landscape was carved by plate tectonics and millions of years of erosion.

  • In the last million years, New York was invaded several times by massive ice sheets.

  • This created a landscape “fit” for an Empire State.

…the Finger Lakes!

The Great Lakes

Natural Corridors

  • The flood waters from the melting glaciers carved an escape route to the sea.

  • At one point most of the drainage went to New York City.

  • This helped create three natural corridors: Hudson Fjord, Champlain Valley, and the Mohawk River.

Routes that make sense…

The Susquehanna Corridor

  • The Susquehanna River (and its tributaries) have carved another break through the Appalachian barrier.

  • This was a third escape route that led into NY’s Southern Tier and beyond.

  • Glacial troughs in the Finger Lakes Region extend this pathway north and west toward Canada.

Two More Routes…

Underground Railroad Map 1

The Human Factor

  • Where is New York in relationship to other “free” states and to the “slave” states?

  • Does this separation have an impact on the UGRR in New York State?

What groups of people were involved in this very illegal activity?

  • What groups of people were involved in this very illegal activity?

  • What means of transportation were used?

  • Did all routes lead to Canada? Was it a two-way door?

The Quakers

  • The Society of Friends was the first organized religious group to ban slave-holding.

  • They soon aided Freedom Seekers in their escape from slavery.

  • The Quakers were especially active on Long Island and in eastern New York State.

Quaker Communities in NYS

The Comeouter Churches

  • Charles G. Finney led the Second Great Awakening in New York State.

  • These evangelicals considered slavery to be a sin, and they were committed abolitionists.

  • They separated from traditional churches to form their own comeouter places of worship.

Where were these churches?

African-Americans in NYS

  • Slavery was introduced into New Netherlands in the mid-1600s.

  • It remained an entrenched institution until after the Revolution.

  • Slavery was finally abolished in NYS in 1827.

  • New York had a substantial free-black population before the Civil War, especially in the downstate region.

The Distribution of African-American Communities

African-American Churches

UGRR Map #2- Combined

Transportation Used on UGRR

  • Freedom Seekers certainly walked hundreds of miles on the quest for liberty.

  • By the 1800s, New York had a system of roads that led across the state.

  • There were those who assisted them (wagons, carriages).

Escape by Water

  • Another legacy of the Ice Age are the numerous waterways throughout New York State.

  • Freedom Seekers would follow streams to the next stations.

  • In 1807, Robert Fulton launched his steamboat, and soon there were many “stowaways.”

Crossing the Great Lakes

  • Lake Ontario and Lake Erie form a long border with Canada.

  • In the mid-1800s many steamboats carried passengers and “freight” over to “Canaan.”

  • The celebrated Jerry Rescue ended with his boarding a steamer in Oswego.

The Grand Erie Canal

  • The construction of the Erie Canal revolutionized travel in New York.

  • It provided easy transportation for fugitives, and many people willing to help them. Many UGRR stations were close to the canal routes.

  • The canal brought “subversive” ideas - like abolition and equal rights for all citizens.

The Above-Ground Railroad

The Fugitive Slave Law 1850

  • With the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law, no African-American was safe south of Canada.

  • The law mandated that everyone help in the recapture of runaways.

  • Many free blacks fled north of the border.

  • But not everyone! How can this be explained?

What Does Census Data Tell Us?

A Hypothetical Escape

  • Freedom Seeker is sent to New York City by William Still in Philadelphia.

  • He is sent to Brooklyn (Lafayette Church) and to Queens with the Quakers.

  • A boat takes him across the Sound to Westchester County.

The Hudson Valley

  • The Quakers decide it is safest to send the Freedom Seeker to Tarrytown’s black community.

  • They direct him north to Peekskill. A tunnel leads him to the river and he stows away on a steamer to Albany.

Into the Mohawk Valley…

  • Stephen and Harriet Myers home was a few blocks from the harbor.

  • They put him on a train bound west along the Mohawk. He gets off at Rome.

  • A conductor there takes him by wagon to Peterboro, home of famed abolitionist Gerrit Smith.

Central New York Trail

Canal Country

  • The escape route lead north to the Erie Canal in Wayne County.

  • Palmyra was an important crossroads with several safe houses.

  • This Freedom Seeker was sent north toward Lake Ontario.

The Last Leg of the Journey

  • Using drumlins as compasses, the Freedom Seeker walks north.

  • He receives shelter in Marion, and then is sent by wagon to Griffith Cooper’s home near Williamson.

  • Then he follows Salmon Creek to Pultneyville, where he is hidden by the Cuylers. Horatio Throop’s ship takes him to Kingston, Canada.

But did it end there?

  • Many Freedom Seekers embraced Canada as their new home.

  • But census records show that many returned to the free states near Canada, such as New York.

  • Our “fugitive” could have married a free-born woman, and then had children born in New York.

Any Other Routes?

“Was my house on the UGRR?”

  • There is no substitute for doing the research from primary sources.

  • But also consider this: Does it make geographic sense?

  • Does the Abel Post Home meet this criteria? Does it fit in with any patterns discussed in this session today?

Thank You for Attending this Workshop!

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