The New Student's Reference Work/Underground Railroad

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Un′derground′ Rail′road′, the name popularly applied to the system adopted by many persons in the north, before the Civil War, for aiding fugitive slaves to escape from their masters into Canada, beyond the reach of the fugitive-slave law. Sympathizing abolitionists furnished the fugitives with food, hiding-places, transportation and advice, while they refused information or comfort to their pursuers. The most favored routes lay through Ohio and Pennsylvania. The houses along these routes where aid was given came to be known as “stations;” those persons directly assisting the run-a-ways as “conductors;” those who made contributions of clothing and money as “stockholders” in the enterprise. Wm. Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips were stockholders. Among the most active officials was Levi Coffin, who claimed to have actively engaged in the work for 33 years and to have received an average of 100 fugitives annually; he was often styled the president of the concern. Seibert in his exhaustive work on “The Underground Railroad” gives the names of 3,211 “agents, station-keepers and conductors.” Many of them were heavily fined for violation of the law, but the practice continued to be one of the chief grievances of the south against the north.