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The Fugitive Save Acts

Underground Railroad Maps




In 1793, the first parliament of the province of Ontario passed "An Act to Prevent the Further Introduction of Slaves and to Limit the Term of Forced Servitude within This Province." This statute confirmed the ownership of slaves then held, but provided that the children of slaves, upon reaching the age of twenty-five years, automatically would be set free. This legislation remained in force until 1834 when, by power of the Imperial Parliament's Emancipation Act, slavery was abolished in all parts of the British Empire. Thus Canada was the closest place for slaves to escape.

The Fugitive Slave Act and the Underground Railroad

In 1899, Harriet Tubman purchased a home in Auburn, New York. Tubman, after escaping slavery, lead, on 15 trips to the South, hundreds of Blacks to freedom, via The Underground Railroad, in the North and Canada. MAPS

This webpage discusses the Underground Railroad (UGRR). It was the Fugitive Slave Act which increased the necessity of the UGRR.

Amy Post (1802-1889) and Isaac Post (1798-1872) moved to Rochester from Long Island in 1836. They were active advocates of temperance, spiritualism, and abolition. They were close friends of Frederick Douglass and their home on Sophia Street was a station on the underground railroad. A list of: UNDERGROUND RAILROAD AGENTS IN WESTERN NEW YORK. More recently the New York History Net has published a very interesing list of "all" persons and places connected with the Underground Railroad in New York.

The Underground Railroad

For the 240 years from the first African slave until 1860, slaves ran and some escaped to freedom. In 1850, the value of a trained slave was around $2500 - an enormous sum at a time more than ten times the average person's annual earnings. Thus, slaves were chased by their masters or bounty hunters. Because intelligence agencies placed single men and women in domestic jobs in cities like Syracuse and towns as Geneva, the transportation of slaves to freedom obviously had to be done under the utmost secret of conditions. The transport worked much like a railroad and so it was called The Underground Railroad. Once a slave escaped and managed to make contact with sympathizers, he or she became a part of the underground railroad and would hopefully be transported to freedom.Similar to an actual railroad, the act of transporting the escaped slaves incorporated all the terms used during a railroad journey. The routes from safe-house to safe-house (houses where fugitive slaves were kept) were called lines and were roughly 15 miles long, but the distance shortened considerably the further north one got. Stopping places were called stations (Catherine Harris' home). Those who aided fugitive slaves were known as conductors. In order to keep terms as clandestine as possible, the fugitive slaves were known as packages or freight. Though the road to freedom, called The Underground Railroad, was organized prior to 1950, the organization became widespread after The Fugitive Slave Act.

Harriet Tubman with escaped slaves at an Underground Rail Road station

In 1842, William Wells Brown carried sixty-nine fugitive slaves on a steam boat to Canada. It is estimated that between 1850 and 1863, the Underground Railroad movement was responsible for helping approximately 70,000 slaves escape and journey safely northwards into Canada and subsequent freedom. The cities of Buffalo, Rochester and their surrounding areas helped to play a leading role in the Underground Railroad movement. As they are conveniently located close to the Canadian border, they served as one of the stations of the Underground Railroad. Certainly one of the last stops before fugitive slaves could be considered free men.

The entire area of western New York was filled with stops or stations of This Underground Railroad. With the help of Harriet Tubman, Rochester became a main station. In 1868, Frederick Douglass said he knew of major stations in Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, and in Canada, St. Catherines, Ontario. In Buffalo, Broderick Park (at the foot of Ferry Street and the Black Rock Canal) was a site for a crossing the Niagara river into Canada.

At the "stations", the weary slaves were given food, rest, and a change of clothing. Instances often occurred in which common citizens did not have direct contact with the fugitive slaves, but were nonetheless equally vital in attaining their eventual freedom. There were various fundraising events. Further, there were informants who had knowledge about police activity and who would pass this information on to the "conductors" who saw that the "freight" received safe passage.

James and Eber Petit established stations along the Lake Erie shoreline in Western New York. Dr. James Petit, born 1777, practiced in both Madison and Onandaga Counties. His son Eber, born 1802, ran his station in Versailles New York for nearly 25 years. In 1839 James lived near Fredonia. With Eber and James had a local organization called the Society for the Abolition of Slavery.

Eber Petit's book Sketches in the history of the Underground Railroad tells numerous stories of slaves who passed through their station. Here is one:

Margaret was born on a slave ship from Africa. She was described at 18 as jet black, tall, and well-formed, very bright and learned things quickly. She served as a maid to a young woman. When Margaret refused sex with her mistresses husband, Margaret's husband was sold and she was put into the fields under a strick overseer.

Margaret was worked hard up until the day her baby (by her husband) was born. A week later she was put back to work. It was customary that babies be cared for by broken down slaves; but Margaret was forced to leave the baby Samuel in the shade of a bush by the field, returning to it only twice the entire day she worked.

On returning to Samuel one day she found him senseless, exhausted with crying, and a large snake covering him. She then decided to run away with her baby or see it dead. She ran and the tail was magnificient. At one time she, with her baby on her shoulders and in a river, kills the favorite salave hunting dog of her master, an old mastiff.

She escapes to her freedom and her finds a home in New York where her son was given education. Her son receives more education and becomes a great man, Frederick Douglas once called "the ablest man the country has ever produced" - Samuel Ward (right), author of Autobiography of a Fugitive Negro: His Anti-Slavery Labours in the United States, Canada, & England.

references: [Allen], [Bennett], [Clift & Low], [Farley], [Pettit], [Rollin], [History Net Ugrr]

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