Abolitionist—A person who advocated to get rid of slavery in the United States.
Big Dipper—The constellation, Ursa Major, in the night sky was an important navigation tool for the Underground Railroad. Enslaved individuals who wanted to escape slavery were told to follow the “drinking gourd” north. The bottom two stars of the bowl of the dipper point to the North Star.
Bloodhounds—A breed of dog that was used to help find enslaved people who had escaped because it was used for hunting and good at following scents.
Bounty hunters—A person who is hired to track down and capture (or kill) other people for a reward. Bounty hunters were often used to help locate enslaved people who had escaped. Also known as slave catchers and slave hunters.
Civil War—This conflict was fought from 1861 to 1865 between the Union (northern) and Confederate (southern) states as a war of independence—the South desired to be its own nation and secede from the United States. The issue of slavery divided political parties. The Republican candidate for President ran on an anti-slavery platform. When President Lincoln was elected, southern states seceded, fearing he would end slavery. President Lincoln wasn’t against the institution of slavery, however, until 1863—then the Civil War became a fight to end slavery.
Conductor—These were people who were part of the Underground Railroad that guided people on journeys toward the freedom they sought.
Enslaved—The condition of being held against one’s will as the property of and wholly subject to another, often for the purpose of forced labor. Individuals who were purchased and used for work but were not paid and who could not leave.
Emancipation—The freeing of someone from slavery. President Lincoln gave this executive order January 1, 1863, that proclaimed to free more than three million enslaved persons from the institution of slavery.
Flogging—Enslaved individuals, as punishment, were often beaten with a whip, stick, or other items.
Free black—A free black was an African American individual prior to 1865 who was not enslaved.
Freedom seeker—This term, like “enslaved person,” is sometimes used in present-day conversations about the history of slavery as a way to recognize and honor the humanity and agency of men, women, and children who endured (and sought to escape) the unnatural condition of slavery. It is often used as an alternative to “slave” or “runaway slave”—terms which represent the historical view of those individuals as objects intended for ownership.
Frederick Douglass—He was born in Maryland into slavery but escaped later and became a prominent leader of the abolitionist movement, strong public speaker, and published author.
Fugitive—A person who has fled or escaped from a place. Escaped slaves were considered by the law to be fugitives.
Fugitive Slave Act of 1850—There were two federal laws that allowed for capture and return of runaway staves in the United States (even in free states). The first was enacted in 1793 and the second in 1850. These laws sparked the establishment and growth of the Underground Railroad. Both Fugitive Slave Acts were repealed by Congress in 1864.
Harriet Beecher Stowe—She was the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852, an antislavery novel. Born in Connecticut, Stowe was from a family that expected their children to make a difference. She became a published author (published two books in 1833 and 1835) before she married and had children.
Harriet Tubman—Born into slavery in Maryland, Tubman escaped at the age of twenty-nine. She became an abolitionist and Civil Rights advocate and helped many escape slavery as part of the Underground Railroad.
Henry Box Brown—He was an enslaved man in Virginia who escaped to freedom in 1849 by mailing himself in a wooden crate to abolitionists in Philadelphia.
Levi Coffin—He was a white Quaker born in North Carolina who believed that slavery was wrong. As an adult, he became an abolitionist while living in Indiana and Ohio. His home in Newport, Indiana, was known as the “Grand Central Station” of the Underground Railroad.
Mason-Dixon line—This was the boundary line between Pennsylvania and Maryland that was laid out by two English surveyors, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon in the 1760s. Before and during the Civil War, the line was symbolic between slave-holding and free states.
Signals—The Underground Railroad was a secret network of people and places that helped enslaved people escape to freedom. To keep information hidden, people used special signals/codes through language and song to communicate messages to others. Safe places where people could hide were called stations, and station masters were the individuals in charge of the station. Travelers were passengers. Spirituals and songs were also communication tools that contained hidden information. People sang about going home or being bound for the land of Canaan; they were really talking about fleeing north and heading to freedom in the free states or in Canada.
Spirituals—These are religious songs associated with African American Christians that are thought to derive from a combination of European hymns and traditional African music.
Sojourner Truth—Born into slavery in 1797, she walked to freedom in 1826 and lived in New York City until she decided to become an itinerant preacher speaking for abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, and more. She eventually settled in Battle Creek, Michigan, and continued to lecture until her death.
Station masters/station agents—These were people who took enslaved people who had escaped into their homes or stations to hide them.
Underground Railroad—A network of people (black and white) that helped enslaved people seeking to escape to freedom.
William Still—He was a free black man living in Philadelphia who kept records of people who escaped through the Underground Railroad. He wrote down their stories and later published them.