Following the Path to Freedom

‘I had reasoned this out in my mind, there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.’    Miss Harriet Tubman

Though our trip to Niagara Falls was a purposeful excursion while dropping our daughter off at her home-away-from-home for the semester, it also provided us with another great opportunity: a tour north along the path of the Underground Railroad.   Since my own words would pale in light of the experience we had, I chose instead to use quotes from the Conductor herself.

We begin here, in Cincinnati, Ohio.


underground railroad freedom center


The story of the Underground Railroad begins somewhere around here.


slavery in the earliest days


‘I’ve heard ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ read, and I tell you Mrs. Stowe’s pen hasn’t begun to paint what slavery is as I have seen it at the far South. I’ve seen de real thing, and I don’t want to see it on no stage or in no theater.’   Miss Harriet Tubman


anti slavery press


escape to freedom


The stories of freedom quilts and their alleged role in slave escape routes is still questionable, but these were too beautiful to not capture in a photo.  (I’m sure an actual freedom quilt would not have looked like this, but we get the point, huh?)


freedom quilts


This last picture, taken in the Freedom Center, was a letter from one plantation owner to another regarding the sale of slaves.   Natchez, Mississippi was the wealthiest antebellum city in America during this time.   You can see here the lavish lifestyle of the slaveowner as I blogged about it in an earlier visit to Natchez.  (Forgive the fuzzy pictures; I was much newer to both blogging and photography back then).


letter from natchez mississippi slaveowner


We move on–to Buffalo, New York.


michigan street baptist church


The Michigan Street Baptist Church was the oldest building in Buffalo, NY, built, owned, and continuously occupied by the city’s black residents.   The congregation raised the money and constructed the church in 1844. The city was a major supporter of the Underground Railroad system and antislavery activism.

A slave’s next feat, as if this journey were not enough, was to cross the Niagara River into Canada.


the bridge to canada and freedom


‘I had crossed the line. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land.’   Miss Harriet Tubman


Canada, in and of itself, did not mean true freedom; there were still stops to make, and provisions to be made.  As Miss Tubman observed, ‘Most of those coming from the mainland are very destitute, almost naked. I am trying to find places for those able to work, and provide for them as best I can, so as to lighten the burden on the Government as much as possible, while at the same time they learn to respect themselves by earning their own living.’


bertie hall shot 1


The marker shown above states that the Fugitive Slave Act meant that slaves could only stay temporarily in homes like Bertie Hall, pictured below.  The danger of traders crossing into Canada was still too great.


bertie hall collage


This is as far as we made it, with an understanding that our ancestors had to keep moving.   Though we would never get a true picture of what this horrific era of American history must have been like for many African-Americans, we can still take courage from Miss Tubman, who began a mighty work with a simple dream.


‘I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say; I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.’

(all quotes taken from


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