Who used our network?
The African men, women, and children who had been kidnapped, enslaved, and brought to the Americas, and their descendants, used the Underground Railroad in the days preceding the American Civil War.
The African continent is home to the oldest civilizations known to man. Considered today the “cradle of humanity,” it’s first organized state, Ta-Seti (Nubia) pre-dated Africa’s Kemet (Egypt) as early as 4000 BC. African scholars developed early engineering, medicine, architecture and political systems.
Great civilizations such as Kush, Axim, Mali, Christian Ethiopia, and Great Zimbabwe flourished in Africa prior to European “colonization” in 1500.On the eve of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, there was great diversity across the continent and therefore societies at different stages and levels of development.
Enslavement had existed on the African continent for centuries prior to the European colonization. In ancient Kemet (Egypt) there are descriptions of European slaves being branded. Between the 7th and 15th centuries, the external Muslim trading demand for African goods included a demand for captives and those captured in war were exploited.
However, following the decimation of the enslaved native population in the Americas due to mistreatment and European-born diseases, the America’s turned their eyes toward Africa for a source of free labor.
In the early 1500, the capture, enslavement, and transportation of Africans to the Americas began. It is believed that, from 1501-1875, over 12.5 million African citizens were forced into slavery and transported across the Atlantic Ocean to North America, South America, and the Caribbean. It is estimated that between 1526 and 1808, North America received 400,000 of these men, women, and children.
The countries which participated in the transcontinental slave trade included Spain, Portugal, Great Britain, Netherlands, France, Denmark, and the United States.
12.5 Million Africans boarded ships to the Americas. 10.7 million disembarked. Nearly 2 million men, women, and children died in the Middle Passage. These figures do not include those who perished while being transported to the coast or awaiting transport in coastline barricados.
The Appalachian Mountain South
It was out of the Appalachian region that the majority of the freedom seekers who used the Indiana County Underground Railroad came.
Following the Missouri compromise of 1820, the southern border of Pennsylvania, marked by the Mason/Dixon line, became the demarcation between slave and free states. Ironically, enslavement still existed in Indiana County into the 1830s.
As a border state, the freedom seekers from Ohio, Maryland, and “Old Virginia” (West Virginia) traveled the network north to Canada. While there was no established “path”, the UGRR route through Indiana County originated in Westmoreland and Cambria Counties.
The documented stories of the Underground Railroad in Indiana County feature many freedom seekers who fled Hardy and Hampshire Counties in present-day West Virginia. It is believed that a well-established network north existed there, possibly established by Indiana’s Dr. Robert Mitchell.
Canada, the Final Destination
Following the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the only true safe haven for the enslaved seeking freedom was north of the United States in Canada.
In 1856, Benjamin Drew published a book entitled, “A North-Side View of Slavery” which includes the narratives of the people who fled enslavement to the freedom of the north.