The underground railroad is a figurative term used to refer to the escape route of African-American runaway slaves to the free North, Canada, Mexico and overseas between 1790 and 1865. The network of secret routes and safe houses, known as stopping stations, criss-crossed much of the US. The fugitives, identified as ‘packages’ or ‘freight’, were conducted along the ‘railroad’ by abolitionists, many of whom were Quakers, Methodists and Covenanters (reformed Protestants). The most active support was from ex-fugitives and freed slaves. These included the former slave Harriet Tubman, who reportedly went on 19 missions. It is believed that by 1850 as many as 100,000 slaves had used the railroad to successfully escape. The fugitives only represented a small proportion of the total slave population and the anger generated by the railroad amongst white southerners led to the draconian Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. Slavery was abolished in the US in 1865 and the underground railroad was no longer needed.
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