TIMELINE RELATED TO THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD (1619 - 1990)

(adapted from J. Blaine Hudson's Encyclopedia of the Underground Railroad)

1619 The first Africans arrived in Jamestown, the British colony in North America, aboard a Dutch ship. They worked as indentured servants.

1641 Massachusetts became the first British North American colony to legalize slavery.

1642 Virginia made it illegal to help runaway slaves.

1661–1700 A series of laws passed institutionalizing American slavery and slave codes were enacted that gave owners the power of life and death over those enslaved.

1688 Pennsylvania Quakers signed the “Germantown Mennonite Resolution,” the first protest against slavery in the American colonies.

1705 Virginia laws allowed slave-masters to kill and destroy runaway slaves.

1735 South Carolina law mandated the death penalty for any fugitive slave who resisted capture with a weapon of any kind.

1776 Declaration of Independence stated that the United Colonies are free and independent states.

1777 First emancipation began. Vermont banned slavery, and for the next twenty-five years, other northern states emancipated their slaves.

1793 Congress passed the initial Fugitive Slave Act, allowing slave owners to cross state lines to recapture fugitive slaves.

1794 Eli Whitney patented the cotton gin, a machine that separated cotton seeds from cotton fiber. Cotton became a major cash crop and increased the demand for slave labor.

1798–1803 Slavery ended in Canada.

1818 In response to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, abolitionists used the Underground Railroad to assist slaves to escape into Ohio and Canada.

1826 Levi Coffin left North Carolina and settled in Newport, Indiana, and began his career to help fugitive slaves.

1833 Slavery abolished in the British Empire.

1845 Frederick Douglass published Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an account of his slave experience and escape to freedom.

1849 Harriet Tubman escaped from bondage and helped rescue others.

1850 Fugitive Slave Acts were updated. The Fugitive Slave Act was strengthened by requiring local governments to return fugitive slaves to their owners as well as increasing fines for those who chose to help them.

1852 Uncle Tom’s Cabin, written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, was published.

1861 The Civil War began.

1862 Slavery was abolished in Washington DC.

1863 The Emancipation Proclamation was a statement issued by President Lincoln that “all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and hence forward shall be free.” Enslaved people in states and territories under Union Army control (West Virginia, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and the District of Columbia) were not declared free and they remained in slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation did not actually free any slave, but it did change the course of the Civil War.

1864 The Fugitive Slave Acts were repealed.

1865 The Civil War ended. The 13th Amendment was ratified. The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution abolished slavery throughout the United States.

1868 The 14th Amendment to the Constitution required states to protect civil rights of former slaves.

1870 The 15th Amendment was ratified—This Amendment to the Constitution granted voting rights to all men regardless of race. African Americans were given the right to vote.

1990 United States Congress asked the National Park Service to study the history of the Underground Railroad so monuments could be identified and set aside.