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Underground Railroad Timeline

The Underground Railroad 

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*Harriet Tubman with a group of runaway slaves during slavery, seeking freedom (c. Lawrence E. Walker Foundation Collection).

Underground Railroad Timeline: 

First Africans brought to North America and enslaved at St. Augustine, Florida.
Shortly after this
Underground Railroad begins when some unknown aids first freedom seeker.
February 18, 1688
Mennonites in North America oppose slavery, aid freedom seekers (Disputed).
Quakers in North America condemn slavery, require manumission among Quakers.
First abolition society formed in Philadelphia.
Methodist Church in America states that slavery contradicts laws of God and man
People assisting freedom seekers begin to find one another and cooperate in the beginning of Underground Railroad networks.
Nine northern states abolish slavery and/or legislate emancipation.
March 1, 1781
Articles of Confederation, the first United States constitution, sidesteps the issue of slavery.
A motion put forth by a congressional committee headed by Thomas Jefferson to abolish slavery fails by a single vote in the United States in Congress Assembled, the nation’s first government.
November 20, 1786
George Washington writes of his acting as a slave catcher.
Rev. Absalom Jones, Rev. Richard Allen form Independent Free African Society.
July 13, 1787
Northwest Ordinance bans slavery in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin.
Presbyterian Church of America condemns slavery, begins promoting abolition.
June 21, 1788
United States Constitution ratified, fails to deal with slavery.
November, 1788
George Washington, an enslaver from Virginia, elected president.
Baptist Church of Virginia condemns slavery, urges abolition.
November, 1796
John Adams, only abolitionist among main Founders, elected president.
United States outlaws further importation of slaves
June 14, 1811
Harriet Beecher Stowe, future author of Uncle Toms Cabin, born in Connecticut.
African Methodist Episcopal Church founded, opposes slavery, aids fugitives.
February, 1818
Frederick Douglass, national hero, born enslaved on the Maryland eastern shore.
Probably 1822
Harriet Tubman, national heroine, born enslaved on the Maryland eastern shore.
John Russworm and Samuel Cornish, black journalists, publish Freedom’s Journal.
Russworm and Cornish publish The Rights of All, first black abolitionist periodical.
James and Lucretia Mott form Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society.
January 1, 1831
William Lloyd Garrison, 26, publishes first issue of his anti-slavery newspaper, The Liberator. Continues publication until Thirteenth Amendment is passed in 1865.
First known reference to the Underground Railroad when the enslaver of Tice Davids remarks that Davids “must have gone on some underground road” when the enslaver could not find Davids after pursuing him across the Ohio River at Maysville, Kentucky.
August 21, 1831
Nat Turner Rebellion in North Carolina alarms South, emboldens abolitionists.
William Lloyd Garrison, others, form New England Anti-Slavery Society.
Arthur and Lewis Tappan form the National Anti-Slavery Society in New York.
Vigilance committees formed in northern cities to prevent return of fugitive slaves.
1830’s Network aiding freedom seekers first takes on the name Underground Railroad.
June 17, 1833
Detroit Riots rescue Lucie and Thornton Blackburn from jail and slave catchers.
August 1, 1833
Great Britain abolishes slavery throughout its worldwide Commonwealth. Canada becomes magnet for United States freedom seekers.
Some other European powers abolish slavery at home and in their colonies.
November 19, 1842
First known appearance in print of the term Underground Railroad when Thomas Smallwood uses the phrase “our new underground railroad” in his November 19, 1842, letter to the editor of The Tocsin of Liberty.
Harriet Tubman escapes enslavement.
Beginning in 1850’s
Philadelphia businessman and safe-house operator William Still begins recording accounts of freedom seekers whom he assists.
Harriet Tubman makes at least nine successful rescues of Maryland freedom seekers. “Never lost a passenger”
September 18, 1850
Fugitive Slave Act passed requiring US citizens to aid in capturing freedom seekers.
April 1, 1852
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe published, sells a record 500,000 copies in months, same number abroad in two years. First international best-seller.
September 11, 1851
Blacks in Christiana, Pennsylvania, run off slave catchers, kill leader, alarm South.
Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company sued for aiding freedom seekers.
March 6, 1857
Dred Scott decision, authored by Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, strips blacks free and enslaved of citizenship.
October 16, 1859
Abolitionist John Brown seizes federal armory at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
December 2, 1859
John Brown hanged in Charlestown, West Virginia (then Virginia).
By 1860
Of the 33 states, 18 no longer permit slavery.
March, 1861
Abraham Lincoln inaugurated as 16th president. Southern states begin seceding.
April 12, 1861
Fort Sumter fired on, Civil War begins.
January 1, 1863
Emancipation Proclamation promulgated abolishing slavery in Confederate states.
July, 1863
Working as a Union scout, Harriet Tubman in a single week frees more than 750 enslaved people along Combahee River in South Carolina.
May 26, 1865
Civil War ends.
December 6, 1865
Thirteenth Amendment outlaws slavery, with Mississippi the only dissenting state.
William Still authors The Underground Railroad recounting 190 accounts of over 900 freedom seekers he had aided.
Reconstruction ends when northern members of Congress swing deals with southern members to gain vote for northern interests. Eighty-eight years of Jim Crow pseudo-slavery, racial discrimination, lynchings and persecution ensue.
February 20, 1895
Frederick Douglass dies.
July 1, 1896
Harriet Beecher Stowe dies.
Wilbur Siebert authors The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom, the first extensive cataloguing of Underground Railroad safe-houses, routes and people.
March 10, 1913
Harriet Tubman, national heroine, last living major figure of the Underground Railroad, dies at her home in Auburn, New York.
Larry Gara authors The Liberty Line: The Legend of the Underground Railroad, which recasts the Underground Railroad more into the experience of the freedom seeker. ℗ is your source to learn about the broad and beautiful spectrum of our shared History.