Author Explores a ‘Gateway to Freedom’

UNITED STATES

Historian Eric Foner’s new book, Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad, explores “[t]he struggle of people to make this a better country.” (NPR)

Explore the Underground Railroad as a runaway slave in our Underground Railroad: Journey to Freedom interactive.

Teachers, use the interactive’s Educator Guide to help students engage with the activity.

This terrific map shows general routes of the Underground Railroad, a series of loosely coordinated local networks helping African Americans escape enslavement in the mid-1800s. Map by National Geographic Maps

This terrific map shows general routes of the Underground Railroad, a series of loosely coordinated local networks helping African Americans escape enslavement in the mid-1800s.
Map by National Geographic Maps

Discussion Ideas

  • Explore our Underground Railroad interactive. What are some methods of transportation fugitive slaves and the people who helped them may have used on the Underground Railroad? Did the Underground Railroad use actual railroads?
    • “[T]hey escaped using every mode of transportation you can imagine,” says historian Eric Foner.
      • canoes and other boats. Foner says groups of passengers on the Underground Railroad stowed away on boats from Virginia or the Carolinas, others crossed Chesapeake Bay by steamship or sail, and even more used canoes to navigate the network of rivers emptying into the Chesapeake. The Underground Railroad in the upper Midwest included steamships across the Great Lakes, while in the South, the network included oceangoing vessels to Caribbean islands. Fugitive slaves used boats to navigate the Mississippi, MIssouri, Ohio, and even Rio Grande Rivers. (Read more about the perilous Ohio journey here.)
      • vehicles. Many fugitive slaves traveled on wagons. Others, Foner says, used horse-drawn carriages.
      • horses, mules, or other beasts of burden
      • walking
      • railroads. Yes, Foner says, “The railroad network was pretty complete by this point [the mid-1800s] and quite a few of these fugitives managed to escape by train, which is a lot quicker than going through the woods . . .”
    • FYI: The great American writer Frederick Douglass’ escape from slavery in Maryland included:
      • rail travel from Baltimore to Havre de Grace, Maryland;
      • a ferry across the Susquehanna River;
      • a train to Wilmington, Delaware;
      • a steamboat along the Delaware River to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;
      • and finally a train to New York City.
        • Use our MapMaker Interactive to plot Douglass’ journey to freedom.
Your map might look something like this. (We approximated his journey using modern rail lines—this is just a guide, not an accurate map of Douglass' actual trip.)

Your map might look something like this. (We approximated his journey using modern rail lines—this is just a guide, not an accurate map of Douglass’ actual trip.)

 

  • One of the surprises that Foner had when researching his book was how small Underground Railroad networks were. “What amazed me is how few people can accomplish a great deal,” he tells NPR. In playing our interactive, what were some surprises you came across?
    • Some answers might mention the role of
      • gender
      • weather and seasons
      • transportation
      • free blacks
      • education
      • money and other supplies
      • the church . . .
    • (editor’s note: I read Frederick Douglass’ first book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, for the first time last year. The aspect that most surprised me was the degree to which everyday urban society was interdependent. Slave and non-slave, black and white, male and female members of urban communities interacted every day in professional, social, and political manners. Sometimes we tend to think of slaves as being very isolated from non-slave communities outside interactions with their owners, but this was rarely the case. Real life is much more complex.)

 

2 responses to “Author Explores a ‘Gateway to Freedom’

  1. Pingback: Χάριετ Τάμπμαν: Μια πρώην σκλάβα στο νέο 20δόλαρο | karchilaki.comkarchilaki.com·

  2. There is a mansion in my town that has a little room in the wall of the basement the was used to hide slaves. Its location is in Jerseyville, IL. Its about an hours drive from STL.

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