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Discovering New Bedford’s Underground Railroad History

An estimated 300 - 700 escaped slaves lived in New Bedford between the mid -1840s and 1860. New Bedford was attractive to escaping slaves from the south for many reasons. The whaling industry made the city both wealthy and in constant need of labor. The city was an active part of a coastal trading system that regularly traded manufactured goods for raw goods in southern ports—providing opportunities for escaping slaves to stow away amid ships’ cargoes. Quakers, who controlled the city’s political and economic life into the 1820s, had taken an early stand against slavery and helped build anti-slavery sentiment in New Bedford. The city also had a large population of color that was very involved in anti-slavery activity since at least the 1820s. Discovering New Bedford’s Underground Railroad History takes park visitors on a mile journey from New Bedford’s waterfront, through the cobblestone streets of the historic district and to the first free home of Frederick Douglass after his escape from slavery in 1838. The program explores the alluring factors that contributed to New Bedford becoming a haven for escaped slaves and uncovers some of the untold stories from our nation’s past.

Visitor Information: Currently open to public.

Location: 33 William Street, New Bedford, 02747

National Park Unit: Yes

Ownership: John Piltzecker

Location Type: Program