Underground Railroad Timeline

Main Events

Cotton Invention

1794

Eli Whitney invented a device for pulling seeds from cotton. The invention turned cotton into a cash crop in all the Southern states. This invention created a huge demand for slave labour.

United States Banned Slave Trade

1808

Even though trading slaves was illegal, many people still smuggled slaves.

Missouri Compromise

1820

Missouri admitted to being a slave state to the Union. Slavery became illegal in any territories north of latitude 36°30´.

First Route of the Underground Railroad

1820

Vestal and Levi Coffin sent fugitive slaves with Quaker emigrants from North Carolina to Indiana. They created the first long distance route of the Underground Railroad.

Slavery Displeasure In South Carolina

1822

Freed slave Denmark Vesey protested against slavery in Charleston. His attempt failed and 35 participants were hanged.

Beginning of the Underground Operations

1826

Levi Coffin started helping slaves escape by transporting them through false-bottomed wagons or by hiding them in secret rooms.

The Liberator

1831

William Lloyd Garrison established the Liberator, in Boston. It was the first newspaper to support antislavery. This newspaper persuaded many people to fight against slavery.

The American Anti-Slavery Society

1833

The American Anti-Slavery Society was founded in Philadelphia, the first national conference of abolitionists in American history was held. Many members of that organization later became activists in the Underground Railroad.

Underground Railroad in New York

1839

David Ruggles created the African-American underground in New York City. He helped about one thousand fugitive slaves. One of his closest helpers was a man named Isaac Hopper.

Ohio River Activity

1840

Huge amounts of fugitive slaves escaped across the Ohio River. Ohio turned into one of the most active centers of underground activity.

Beginning of the Railroad Terminology

1844

The first representation of the Underground Railroad as an actual train appeared in an abolitionist newspaper in Illinois, the Western Citizen. As iron railroads spread across the North, the terms of railroading— “stations,” “station masters,” “cars,” and “passengers” —became the secret language of the underground.

Mexican-American War

1846 - 1848

Mexico lost the war and gave up huge amounts of their territories. Americans were left with a hard decision, should slavery be allowed in the new territories.

Harriet Tubman

1849

Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery in Maryland. She would later return at least 15 times to help her fellow slaves escape to the North. Harriet became one of the most well-known "conductors".

Fugitive Slave Act

1850

Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act. The law required all citizens to assist public officials in capturing and returning any runaway slaves. People in the North started sending large groups of people to help operate the Underground Railroad

Green Hopes to Extend the Railroad

1859

John Brown captured a federal armory at Harper's Ferry, Virginia. Among his men was a fugitive slave from South Carolina, Shields Green. He dreamed to extend the Railroad into the Deep South, with a chain of armed posts through the Appalachian Mountains. Brown and his men were eventually killed.

The Railroad's Symbolic Ending

1870

The Fifteenth Amendment extended suffrage to African-American slavery. Underground conductor Levi Coffin states that the Railroad met it's symbolic ending.