The Underground Slave Railroad (URR)
was the name given to the network of escape routes by fugitive slaves on
their journey to freedom in Canada. The houses of those who would shelter
the runaways were called "stations," the home owners were
called "agents," and those that guided the slaves were
called "conductors" and the slaves themselves were called
"packages". There was no one single route to Canada. The slave
would start his journey on foot following the north star.
There were conflicting views about the
aiding of the runaways. It was no easy choice for an individual to
decide to break the law and be willing to risk everything to help the
fugitives. Many of these people were Quakers. As early as 1784 it was
stated that no Friend in America owned a slave.
Many well known Quakers were openly active in the Underground.
This great movement of runaways and the
humanitarians helping them peaked during the mid-1800's. There are an
estimated 50,000 to 75,000 runaways who reached freedom on the URR.
The map above shows the three prominent
lines of the Underground. The third route ( and the most likely taken by the fugitives)
passed through Sandwich. The Rev. O. B. Cheney, President of Bates College
was the agent for this route from 1843-45.
John Greenleaf Whittier wrote his short poem
"New Hampshire" to honor the Granite State's bold unique stand
against slavery in 1846, decades before the Emancipation Proclamation. The
final verse, often quoted, is a stirring call to arms against human
bondage with New Hampshire leading the battle: Courage, then, Northern
hearts! Be firm, be true; What one brave State hath done, can ye not also
The facts are less
glorious. New Hampshire's early track record in opposing discrimination,
would win no gold metals. Like its southern cousins, NH started out as a
slave state. Some of its stately seaport homes were built from slave trade
profits. By the Revolution, African-American slaves served white
owners in most prestigious families -- the Cutts, the Whipples,
the Ladds, the Lears, the Langdons, the Wentworths
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