Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Liberty Line

The Liberty Line: The Legend of the Underground Railroad

Copyright Date: 1961
Pages: 216
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Liberty Line
    Book Description:

    " The underground railroad -- with its mysterious signals, secret depots, abolitionist heroes, and slave-hunting villains -- has become part of American mythology. But legend has distorted much of this history. Larry Gara shows how pre-Civil War partisan propanda, postwar remininscences by fame-hungry abolitionists, and oral tradition helped foster the popular belief that a powerful secret organization spirited floods of slaves away from the South. In contrast to much popular belief, however, the slaves themselves had active roles in their own escape. They carried out their runs, receiving aid only after they had reached territory where they still faced return. The Liberty Line puts slaves in their rightful position: the center of their struggle for freedom.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4355-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    Larry Gara
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-18)

    Thousands who attended the Columbian World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893 saw a painting by Charles T. Webber entitled “The Underground Railroad”; this dramatic picture showed a large family of fugitives arriving at the home of Levi Coffin of Cincinnati, who, with his wife and friends, was guiding the shivering and frightened Negroes through the snow to shelter. Obviously these poor fugitives from southern slavery had had a difficult trip, but the central characters in the painting—the heroic figures—were the Quaker friends of the fleeing bondsmen. The picture portrayed two of the most familiar stereotypes in the legend...

    (pp. 19-41)

    The legendary underground railroad carried its passengers “from Slavery to Freedom.” The phrase, quoted from the title of Professor Siebert’s history of the underground railroad, implies a simple and dramatic contrast. According to this pattern of thinking, the slaves were all straining under their bonds, yearning to be free; their inherent love of freedom inspired their escapes. Yet seldom did the bondsmen act from such clearcut motives. The desirability of freedom for its own sake was apparently not nearly so obvious to those born in slavery as to Professor Siebert. In actual fact, many additional considerations, far more prosaic than...

  7. Chapter Three THE ROAD TO THE NORTH
    (pp. 42-68)

    Thirty years after the Civil War an aged Illinois abolitionist recalled “I do not know of any fugitives ever being transported by anyone, they always had to pilot their own canoe, with the little help that they received.”¹ His statement rightly called attention to the fugitives’ own exertions in the interest of their freedom. A mass of reminiscences and articles have emphasized the importance of abolitionist aid to fugitive slaves, but in many cases it was the slaves themselves who took things into their own hands, planned their escapes, and during the greater part of their journeys arranged for or...

  8. Chapter Four A DEEP-LAID SCHEME
    (pp. 69-92)

    Looking back across the years, a veteran of the underground railroad described it as a “deep-laid scheme, having in view the restoration of God-given rights to helpless, hunted fugitives, . . . resulting in gradual emancipation, and finally in total abolition with the consent of the slaveholders themselves.”¹ The concept of a “deep-laid scheme” is an important part of the underground railroad legend, for the road is assumed to have had a highly organized network of regular stations dotting the North and even penetrating into the South. Occasionally passengers were even enticed aboard the freedom train by its zealous conductors....

    (pp. 93-114)

    The Underground Railroad appears to be quite a flourishing institution," reported theNational Anti-Slavery Standardin the fall of 1856. The occasion for the comment was the arrival of a notice from a Negro vigilance committee in Albany. The committee reported that in a period of ten months 287 fugitives had passed through the city on their way to Canada.¹ The story called attention to the contribution of free Negroes in the matter of assisting fugitive slaves. Significant, too, was its emphasis on a local vigilance committee, for the history of the underground railroad primarily concerns persons and events in...

  10. Chapter Six THE FUGITIVE ISSUE
    (pp. 115-142)

    If Ohio is ever abolitionized,” wrote Samuel May, Jr., “it will be by the fugitive slaves from Kentucky; their flight through the State, is the best lecture,—the pattering of their feet, that’s thetalk.”¹ Despite differences within the movement on the value of fugitive aid work, many antislavery leaders came to recognize the dramatic potential of the fugitive as a means of reaching new converts and keeping the morale of the movement high. “There are only a few, unfortunately, who can understand an abstract idea or comprehend a general principle,” wrote one of them. “To make our antislavery idea...

  11. Chapter Seven THE ROOTS OF A LEGEND
    (pp. 143-163)

    The legend of the underground railroad began to take form in the period preceding the Civil War. Stories of the exploits of those abolitionists who actually assisted fugitive slaves were repeated by word of mouth and in antislavery publications, often with considerable embellishment. Nevertheless, the existence of such regionally organized assistance did give the legend a basis in fact. Repeatedly described, the exciting incidents seemed more numerous and more significant than they actually were. Distortion entered the picture in the ante bellum period because of repetition and exaggeration rather than pure fabrication of underground railroad adventures.

    In addition to actual...

    (pp. 164-194)

    When asked by a writer of local history where his mother had obtained her sources forUncle Tom’s Cabin, Charles Edward Stowe replied that he did not know. “You know the recollections of old men consist for the most part of Wahrheit and Dichtung,” answered Stowe. “Old men dream dreams and young men see visions, and that gets history in a devil of a mess.” His mother had insisted, he recalled, that she had heard Lincoln in 1862 give a speech which had not been delivered until several years later. “That,” continued Stowe, “is the reason that the historians have...

  13. INDEX
    (pp. 195-201)