Underground Railroad Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Michele Harkins

Michele has taught G.E.D. classes and has a Master's degree in history.

In this American history lesson, we'll learn how slaves in the 1700s and 1800s found their way to freedom by way of the Underground Railroad. Read on to learn some interesting facts about the Underground Railroad.

Where Is the Train?

The Underground Railroad was not actually underground or a railroad. It was a system in the United States made up of secret routes that slaves took from the South to get to the North. In the South, slaves were not treated like people. They did not get a say in how to live their lives and were thought of as property, much like how your parents might own cars. However, not all white people felt that slaves were property, and they wanted slaves to be treated as people.

As a result, the Underground Railroad was created during the late 1700s to help slaves get their freedom. There were multiple routes that led to the North. Many times, former slaves (who had escaped already) and white people, known as conductors, helped the slaves safely make their way to the North. The route that the slaves took was known as the 'railroad.' The slaves could go by land or sea. One slave, known as Henry Box Brown, actually got in a box and was mailed to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, by his white doctor friend. The routes could be anything as long as the slave made it to the North.

Underground Railroad
Underground Railroad

A Dangerous Path

One of the most common routes was done by foot. Slaves would find out where 'stations' were. The stations were houses of people who supported the idea of freeing the slaves. It was against the law to help free the slaves, so many people who helped were putting their lives and the lives of the slaves at risk if they were caught. Under the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850, any escaped slave who was caught was immediately returned to his or her owner.

To avoid capture, the slaves would move at night, but it was hard to see. They did not have flashlights to help them, and the lanterns they were able to use might have given away where they were. The safest way was to look to the stars. Did you know that groups of stars in the night sky can look like different shapes? Well, one of the brightest stars is the North Star, which is close to a group of stars known as the Big Dipper.

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