African American Participation in the Underground Railroad
Free African American communities were already well established throughout the North by the 1830s. Wealthy families and free black sewing groups, school children, and benevolent societies donated large and small amounts. In Ithaca, New York, barber George A. Johnson was an agent on the Underground Railroad. In many upstate villages and towns, barbers served as ministers and as representatives of African American communities in black and white abolitionist networks.
Network routes were formed from the South through Ithaca, Cayuga Lake, Auburn, and Oswego. Some routes followed water transportation routes up the Hudson River valley to Albany and Syracuse and through Watertown to Canada. From cities in Ohio and Pennsylvania, routes focused on Buffalo or Rochester, New York. In the port cities of Oswego and Rochester boat transportation to Canada was arranged. Three prominent upstate New York conductors and stationmasters are known to us today.
Jermaine Loguen’s Syracuse stations were the most openly publicized in the state of New York. As a young man, Loguen escaped slavery in Tennessee by going to Canada but he did not stay there. In a bold move he returned to Rochester and Ithaca before moving with his family to Syracuse. There he worked as a minister in the African American Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. His home and church were stations on the Underground Railroad. Loguen published calls for aid for fugitives in the local newspaper, as well as accounts of how he spent the money he received.
Harriet Tubman escaped from a slave plantation in Maryland in 1849 and began leading her family and other groups of slaves from the Eastern Shore of Maryland to a settlement of free blacks in Canada. During the next ten years Tubman, as a conductor, led over 300 slaves from Maryland to Canada. After the Civil War, former Secretary of State William Seward purchased a home in her name in Auburn, New York.
Frederick Douglass embarked on an abolitionist lecturing tour throughout England to pay his master in Maryland for his freedom after publishing his life story as a slave in 1845. In 1847 Douglass moved with his family to Rochester, New York, where he published The North Star. Douglass personally assisted countless fugitives to freedom via the Rochester ferry to Canada, aided and supported by the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society. After their move from Philadelphia to Waterloo, New York in 1836, female members of the M’Clintock family joined Amy Post and others in the work of the society.