Thursday, 24 May 2012

The Underground Railroad Makes a Stop in Berlin, Ontario

A Contextual Detour.....

Slavery per se was officially outlawed in Canada in the 1830’s. I say “officially” since unofficially, there were ways around the legislation whereby slaves could still be hunted down and returned to their owners and often for a hefty reward e.g. Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. In the US, many states, especially those in the deep South, continued to practice slavery up until the end of the Civil War.

As the anti-slavery movement gained political support on both sides of the Canada-US border, some very brave individuals were taking action against slavery--risking everything to help those who searched for freedom. The impetus for the Underground Railroad had been firmly established and abolitionists (those who opposed slavery) were comprised of both black and white activists who helped fugitive slaves. Most were free but some were slaves, themselves.

The 19th century “Underground Railroad” was neither a railroad nor was it “underground.” Rather, it was a well-connected network of escape routes, many of which led to Canada. It has been estimated that as many as 100,000 slaves by 1850 may have found freedom because of the Underground Railroad’s brave “conductors”. Some researchers have suggested that the network was active as early as c. 1780, running until in and around the early part of the US Civil War (c. 1860-62).  Others suggest that it was Isaac Tatem Hopper who originated the Railroad in the 1790’s. Either way, it is generally accepted that it was at its height between the 1850’s to the 1860’s. Using his presidential power, Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 effectively freeing the slaves.

For more background information see:

For a Canadian perspective, a great site to check out:
It is clear that the topic of slavery in Canadian history is a broad one indeed and for the current purpose of this blog, I am going to limit my discussion regarding same only to those black slaves that were known to have made their way— or “escaped”—to Canada (particularly those who eventually took up residence in Waterloo and Wellington Counties). Further, it should be noted that not all blacks who settled here in the early days were slaves who came here via the Underground Railroad. Future posts will include stories and accounts of different black folks who settled or spent time here in (or near to) Waterloo County, as it was then known.

Soooooo, what does any of this have to do with the 1820 log schoolhouse?

1 comment:

  1. Your website is really cool and this is a inspiring article. Thank you so much.
    Dentist in Waterloo, ON