A few years ago my wife and I had a reason to be in Detroit. A side trip took us to explore The Underground Railroad. The Underground was a series of secret passages, safe houses, secret church hiding places, and locations where over one hundred-thousand slaves escaped slavery into parts of Mexico, Canada, and Florida.
Much has been written about Black Wall Street but less has been written about the skill and brains of African slaves such as the adventures of The Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad provides evidence of the brilliance of so-called slaves who were often smarter than the so-called masters who were, in fact, nothing more than criminal kidnappers with guns, whips, hanging ropes, and a willingness to use violence.
On our trip to Detroit, I saw a museum and a church with hiding places in the floor of the church leading to a secret basement. The river was the dividing point where volunteers ushered Slaves from slavery to freedom. The research into the Underground Railroad tells of adventures like the one where William and Ellen Craft dressed Ellen in men’s clothing and they traveled from Baltimore to Philadelphia with Ellen pretending to be the male servant of William.
Another adventure in the winter of 1857 was played out when a female slave in Philadelphia boxed up as freight and sent herself to the depot in Baltimore, to Mrs. Myers where the box was opened and the resurrection took place.
These creative adventures were often met with questions about what or who the parties were. This event was like the shipping of Henry Box Brown who had shipped himself to freedom, earlier.
Three slaves in 1854 from one household escaped. They stayed in a cave for two weeks choosing to live with wild animals and reptiles for a period. They were captured but escaped a second time. One was shot but eventually found freedom. The jail they were placed in was rickety and provided easy escape opportunities.
Steamboats were a favorite source of escape. Legs for running were also a favorite and convenient method of escape.
One slave named Pete had a bad experience with an Ox. His owner threatened Pete with a gun. Pete was angry and found a place to buy a gun with one of the three dollars he had acquired. Come nightfall, Pete went on a long journey. He encountered a former slavemaster and decided it would be better to be in prison than live a slave’s life. He landed in Canada.
More stories of life in the Underground Railroad can be found in William Still’s book, The Underground Railroad Records.