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The Underground Railroad

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The Underground Railroad is known as the path to freedom and one of the earliest factors of the antislavery movement. In the early decades of the 19th century, New York found itself adopting the nickname of the Empire State, with a surge in development in wealth and economic resources. Though it was the center of the economic revolution, New York was also dealing with a rapidly-growing anti-slave revolution that had been born out of the American Revolution.

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For most slaves, escaping meant scavenging for resources. The Underground Railroad was a large, organized system that helped hundreds of fugitive slaves escape North by providing them resources. Nicknamed after the rise in steam railroads, the Underground Railroad caused the South to lose approximately 100,000 slaves between 1810 and 1850. New York City’s first slave market opened by the East River on Wall Street in 1711 , and didn’t close until 1762.

The market opened only three years after the “Act for Preventing the Conspiracy of Slaves” law was passed, which was one of the first of it’s kind, saying any slave who attempted to murder his master would be given a death sentence. Within twenty years of the market’s opening, forty-two percent of the New York City population became slave owners.

Twenty percent of the New York City population became slaves. With the rise in the amount of enslaved people, slaves became a necessary part of the economy, literally paving the city’s streets. Even after the market closed, slaves were still sold and traded, and anti-black violence continued. The Underground Railroad was a network of churches and safe houses that helped over 100,000 African American fugitives.

It was used before the Civil War ended slavery in the United States, and provided guidance for men, women and children who were escaping slavery with access to hiding places, food and other resources, such as transportation. The history of New York’s Underground Railroad shows a narrative or slaves and their fights for freedom.

New York came to be at the front of the Underground Railroad Movement. With wealthy and influential white men such as John Jay leading, New York began seeing efforts to abolish slavery, such as the making of The New York Manumission Society in 1785 which was able to provide the colored community with legal assistance and open up the African Free School only two years later. In 1780, The New York Manumission Society importuned for a gradual manumission law and in 1827, slavery was abolished in New York.

New York was known as a gateway for slaves seeking freedom. It had access to Canada and other major water routes. With a network that ran from Champlain to Western Erie, with routes to Ithaca and Oswego and everything in between. The lines branches off into depots in New York, Albany, Troy, New Bedford, Boston and Long Island. This made it a bastion of the Underground Railroad and anti-slavery movement. There were two major lines out of New York City, but The Underground Railroad had regular lines with branches.

New York had many small black communities and progressive, mixed-race communities such as the Quakers. These populations became large, vocal, and present all over New York State after 1827. However, though vital, New York and Brooklyn were hardly safe havens. The streets of were covered with bounty hunters, and many New Yorkers were still being enriched by Southern businesses, which made them appreciate slavery as an institution. Even freed black New Yorkers felt unsafe, worrying about the possibilities of being kidnapped and mobbed by racists and anti-abolitionists.

However, there were also more Anti-slavery organizations in New York State than any other state. With reform politics and the push from progressive communities, the state allowed for active anti-slavery organizations. New York was also home for many strong leaders who helped build up the Underground Railroad, including influential black and white abolitionists like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Gerrit Smith, Henry Ward Beecher, Sojourner Truth and John Brown.

Frederick Douglass wrote about the branch in which he was connected to, with station in Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, New York, Albany, Syracuse, Rochester and Canada. He mentioned the importance of and connections with other leading agents such as Thomas Garrett, Melloe McKim, William Still, Robert Purvis, Edward M. Davis, David Ruggles, Isaac T. Hopper, Napolian (Louis Napoleon), the Mott Sisters, Stephen Myers, Samuel J. May, J.W. Loguen, J.P. Morris, and Hiram Wilson in Canada.

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