As the United States celebrates Black History month, I thought it would be interesting to explore South Jersey's role in the fight to end slavery.

I was surprised by what I learned.

The Underground Railroad wasn't an actual railroad, nor was it underground.  It was a series of secret routes and safe houses that slaves used in the early to mid-1800s to escape slavery.  They say that approximately 100,000 people used the Underground Railroad to escape slavery by the mid-1800s.

Those who used the Underground Railroad used it to get to places like Canada, Mexico, as well as Northern free states.

Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland in 1822.  After enduring beatings and whippings, she escaped and made it to Philadelphia in 1849.  Incredibly, despite the risk to herself, she returned to Maryland to help groups of family and friends escape.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Eventually, Harriet Tubman made her way to Cape May and began to work as a cook.    Harriet Tubman used the money earned to help others escape.  She learned more secret routes and is credited with helping over 300 slaves escape bondage.  Harriet Tubman made 19 trips assisting others to escape and it is said she didn't lose one slave.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Historians believe that a boat was operated out of Lewes Delaware, and slaves would use that boat to cross over from Delaware to Cape May in the cover of night.  New Jersey served more as a stop along the way to other Northern regions for slaves.

As I prepared to write this article, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of the history of that time.  Since doing my research, I came away with an even greater respect and admiration for those who helped with the Underground Railroad.

Escaping to the North, wasn't a guarantee of freedom.  The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, for instance, allowed slave owners to recover their slaves, even in the Northern states.  Those who helped slaves faced harsh punishment.

You can learn more, by visiting the Harriet Tubman Museum on Lafayette Street in Cape May.


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