|2010 photo courtesy of origamidon (thank you!)|
I promised that today I'd mention how to find out whether the "hiding place" in your own home or neighborhood is linked to the Underground Railroad. Here are two directions to try:
1. If you are IN VERMONT, your best resource is Rokeby Museum, which you can visit while the gentle weather lasts. Director Jane Williamson and her knowledgeable staff will welcome you to the evidence that history provides there. If you can't go in person, check out this report from the director, an essay on Rokeby's website.
Also available at Rokeby are copies of "Friends of Freedom." This 99-page spiral-bound report was issued by the State of Vermont in 1996. It's a history detective's treasure, because the investigators involved tracked down the evidence for 174 people and places around the state that thought they had ties to this most exciting history adventure: the effort before the Civil War to make sure that black Americans leaving the slaveholding South could find freedom and safety, whether in other parts of the United States or in Canada. Check the lists in this report to find out whether your location, like Rokeby, is well supported as "really truly" part of the Underground Railroad effort. And brace for the possibility that, like the cave at Hildene (a Lincoln family home in Manchester, Vermont), connections may be more based in oral tradition and wishful thinking, without real evidence.
2. If you live OUTSIDE VERMONT, check this site provided by the Smithsonian Institution, providing good facts and exposing a lot of myths. For instance:
The reality of the Underground Railroad was much less romantic. Escaping enslaved individuals often had no help or guidance from anyone throughout the majority of their journey. While it is a common belief that white Northerners were going into the South and bringing slaves from the farms and plantations into the North, the truth is that most enslaved individuals left on their own. When the enslaved did have assistance, the aid they received varied from being given a place to rest in barns and sheds to being provided with a small amount of food and sent on to the next location. Those seeking freedom would have had to place a good amount of trust in the people who were assisting them, for at any moment their safety could be compromised, leading to recapture.
It is also a common misconception that all people working to assist escaping individuals were white Northerners. The fact is that the majority of the conductors on the Underground Railroad in the South were Black, often still enslaved themselves.
You can also check with the National Parks Service, which answers questions on specific sites and also invites you to share information you might have. Here's the website for help from this group.
More comments and questions? Leave a comment here on the blog. I'll get back to you, time permitting!