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Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad was not an actual railroad but rather a network of clandestine routes, often informal and impromptu, by which slaves were able to escape the United States and reach freedom either in states that protected fugitive slaves, or in Canada. The Underground Railroad consisted of secret safe houses and other facilities owned by anti-slavery sympathizers, and operated much like any other large-scale widespread resistance movement with independent cells that only knew of a few of their neighbours. Escaped slaves would pass from one way station to another, making their way north step by step. The main operators of the Railroad were free blacks and Quakers, who had a strong religious objection to slavery.

The Underground railroad was a major cause of friction between the North and South in the United States. Many northerners sympathized with those who helped bring slaves to safety. Southerners for many years pushed for strong laws that would force the reacpture of escaped slaves, and in 1850 Congress passed a law mandating the capture of fugitive slaves. This prevented slaves from settling in free states and forced them to escape to Canada.

The main destination of the escapees was southern Ontario around the Niagara peninsula and Windsor, Ontario. About 30 000 individuals successfully escaped to Canada. This was an important population increase to the still underpopulated Canadian colonies and these settlers formed the basis of the Black population throughout Ontario.

See also: Harriet Tubman, Levi Coffin, List of African-American abolitionists

For underground railroads and railways in the general sense (subways, metros), see metro.