The painting re-creates the arrival of a group of refugees at a "station" on the Underground Railroad.

A group of refugee slaves is shown arriving at a "station" (or safe house) on the Underground Railroad. "Passengers" on this so-called "railroad" were escaped slaves. Usually, they travelled at night and often with a guide (or "conductor"). The distances between stations were just long enough to let the conductor go, on foot or in a wagon, and return home in a single night. On the back of the painting, the artist wrote: "This picture is painted for the love of my dear wife Frances Augusta Webber-C.T.W. Dec 22, 1891." This couple, who lived on the border of slave territory, may have been involved in the Underground Railroad.

Charles T. Webber
Cincinnati Art Museum
1891
Oil on canvas
132.6 x 193.4 cm
Subscription Fund Purchase Accession #: 1927.
© 2008, Cincinnati Art Museum. All Rights Reserved.


The Reverend John Rankin was a fierce old man who lived with his family on a steep hill in the "free" state of Ohio. From there, he could see down across the Ohio River to Kentucky, where slavery was legal. Every night, all night, a light shone from the Rankin house to guide fugitives to temporary safety on their way north.

The Rankins were “stationmasters” on the Underground Railroad, forming just one link in a secret chain of some 10,000 abolitionists. In the first half of the 19th century, this network carried as many as 100,000 refugees to freedom (around one-quarter of them coming to Canada).  It was risky work. Even in the free North, “stealing” slaves was a crime, and some abolitionists were physically attacked by armed slave-catchers who came rampaging north in pursuit of slaves.

The Underground Railroad had nothing to do with trains, though it borrowed railway lingo to describe the transport of fugitives, on foot or in wagons, from safe house to safe house on their journey north. Many of the early “stationmasters” were Quakers, whose religion condemned slavery outright. By the 1850s, however, Read More

The Reverend John Rankin was a fierce old man who lived with his family on a steep hill in the "free" state of Ohio. From there, he could see down across the Ohio River to Kentucky, where slavery was legal. Every night, all night, a light shone from the Rankin house to guide fugitives to temporary safety on their way north.

The Rankins were “stationmasters” on the Underground Railroad, forming just one link in a secret chain of some 10,000 abolitionists. In the first half of the 19th century, this network carried as many as 100,000 refugees to freedom (around one-quarter of them coming to Canada).  It was risky work. Even in the free North, “stealing” slaves was a crime, and some abolitionists were physically attacked by armed slave-catchers who came rampaging north in pursuit of slaves.

The Underground Railroad had nothing to do with trains, though it borrowed railway lingo to describe the transport of fugitives, on foot or in wagons, from safe house to safe house on their journey north. Many of the early “stationmasters” were Quakers, whose religion condemned slavery outright. By the 1850s, however, the movement was much larger and more general. In fact, it was the most massive example of civil disobedience (which is when citizens knowingly refuse to obey the law) in American history. Though many of the activists were white, the bravest – for they had the most to lose – were the Blacks themselves, both slave and free.

THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD. NATIONAL HISTORIC EVENT OF CANADA. DESIGNATED 1925. PLAQUE: WINDSOR, ONTARIO
© 2008, Virtual Museum of Canada. All Rights Reserved.

A portrait from a published report, "The Rev. Josiah Henson 'Uncle Tom' in Scotland"

Josiah Henson had dignity and presence. As a slave, he gained the trust and approval of his owners. As a free man, he worked hard and prospered. He was known to have returned south from Canada to lead other refugees out of slavery, and he invested energy and money in their settlement and education in Canada. However, his greatest fame came from his association with a fictional character in a famous novel. His picture was printed in a report after a meeting at City Hall, Glasgow, on April 20, 1877.

Publisher, George Gallie & Son
Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, Toronto Reference Library, Toronto Public Library
1877
Photograph (book)
Catalogue no.: 326.92 H25.3
© 2008, Toronto Public Library. All Rights Reserved.


When Harriet Beecher Stowe sat down to write a novel about slavery in the 1850s, she used many real people and events as inspiration. One of her models was Josiah Henson, whose life as a slave the novelist reshaped to create that famous fictional character, “Uncle Tom.”

Josiah Henson was a strong, intelligent man, and he was a successful slave. By demonstrating unwavering loyalty to his owners, he won their trust and advanced to the position of overseer on the plantation. He was shocked, therefore, when he found that his owner – whom he had trusted and served – was planning to sell him away from his wife and children. He took the heartbreaking decision to run.

The Hensons made it to Canada, Josiah walking the whole way with the two youngest children on their father’s back as the family struggled through a largely unsettled wilderness. In Canada, Henson proved just as successful a settler as he had been a slave. He worked, saved his money and bought land. He also returned south a number of times as a “conductor” on the Underground Railway and led others to safety. In later years, he founded the British America Read More

When Harriet Beecher Stowe sat down to write a novel about slavery in the 1850s, she used many real people and events as inspiration. One of her models was Josiah Henson, whose life as a slave the novelist reshaped to create that famous fictional character, “Uncle Tom.”

Josiah Henson was a strong, intelligent man, and he was a successful slave. By demonstrating unwavering loyalty to his owners, he won their trust and advanced to the position of overseer on the plantation. He was shocked, therefore, when he found that his owner – whom he had trusted and served – was planning to sell him away from his wife and children. He took the heartbreaking decision to run.

The Hensons made it to Canada, Josiah walking the whole way with the two youngest children on their father’s back as the family struggled through a largely unsettled wilderness. In Canada, Henson proved just as successful a settler as he had been a slave. He worked, saved his money and bought land. He also returned south a number of times as a “conductor” on the Underground Railway and led others to safety. In later years, he founded the British American Institute, where refugees learned the trades they needed to prosper in Canada.

As for Harriet Beecher Stowe, everyone read her book. It won so many northern abolitionists to the cause that it was held responsible, in part, for the Civil War.

JOSIAH HENSON. NATIONAL HISTORIC PERSON OF CANADA. DESIGNATED 1995. PLAQUE: DRESDEN, ONTARIO
© 2008, Virtual Museum of Canada. All Rights Reserved.

An image of Harriet Tubman (left) with her household, ca. 1887

After the Civil War, Harriet Tubman settled in Auburn, New York, and there she filled her household with needy Blacks – the old, the young and the sick. This picture shows Harriet with her adopted daughter, Gertie Davis, and her husband, Nelson Davies, at her side. Though less famous than her Underground Railroad adventures, Tubman's post-war work to promote civil rights for Blacks and women was equally brave and determined. Her last contribution was the establishment of the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged. That is where she died in 1913 at the age of 92.

William Cheney
Harriet Tubman Portrait Collection, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Library
c. 1877
Photograph
Digital Image ID: 569255
© 2008, New York Library. All Rights Reserved.


A group of escaped slaves lay hidden in a swamp. They were hungry and miserable, and one of the men was ready to give up. But their leader knew she couldn’t risk his talking. She stood up, put a gun to his head and said calmly: “Move or die.” He decided to keep going.

That little woman was Harriet Tubman, one-time field hand on a Maryland plantation. In 1849 – fearing that she was about to be sold into the Deep South, where a field hand’s life was short and terrible – she ran for it. The Underground Railroad brought her safely to the abolitionist haven of Philadelphia. There, she found work and launched the first of many journeys south to rescue other slaves. In her years as “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, Tubman made 13 incredibly risky expeditions and helped some 120 people to freedom. Other conductors were caught, but Tubman had an instinct for danger. Living for brief periods in Canada, she also worked there to help settle the growing flood of refugees.

With the outbreak of Civil War, Harriet Tubman went home to work as cook, nurse, scout and spy for the Union Army. After the war, she settled in Read More

A group of escaped slaves lay hidden in a swamp. They were hungry and miserable, and one of the men was ready to give up. But their leader knew she couldn’t risk his talking. She stood up, put a gun to his head and said calmly: “Move or die.” He decided to keep going.

That little woman was Harriet Tubman, one-time field hand on a Maryland plantation. In 1849 – fearing that she was about to be sold into the Deep South, where a field hand’s life was short and terrible – she ran for it. The Underground Railroad brought her safely to the abolitionist haven of Philadelphia. There, she found work and launched the first of many journeys south to rescue other slaves. In her years as “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, Tubman made 13 incredibly risky expeditions and helped some 120 people to freedom. Other conductors were caught, but Tubman had an instinct for danger. Living for brief periods in Canada, she also worked there to help settle the growing flood of refugees.

With the outbreak of Civil War, Harriet Tubman went home to work as cook, nurse, scout and spy for the Union Army. After the war, she settled in New York State, married and continued to work for the rights of Blacks (and women). Abolitionist John Brown had been an admirer, calling her “General Tubman.” It was a name she earned.

HARRIET TUBMAN. NATIONAL HISTORIC PERSON OF CANADA. DESIGNATED 2005. PLAQUE RECOMMENDED: ST. CATHARINES, ONTARIO
© 2008, Virtual Museum of Canada. All Rights Reserved.

Abolition, slavery, Salem Chapel, Salem Chapel British Methodist Episcopal Church, St. Catharines, Ontario

Salem Chapel in St. Catharines, Ontario, was one of several refugee-formed churches that organized relief for destitute Blacks when they arrived in Canada. Harriet Tubman worked at Salem Chapel when she came to Canada in the 1850s. It stood across the street from her lodgings.

Colborne Powell Meredith
Library and Archives Canada
1925
Photograph
1968.067 / PA-026797
© 2008, Library and Archives Canada. All Rights Reserved.


Nazrey Methodist Church, Amherstburg, Ontario

Nazrey Methodist Church is a simple fieldstone chapel (now part of the North American Black Historical Museum) in Amherstburg, Ontario. The town faces Detroit and the United States across the river, and it was here that many Black refugees stopped when they first arrived in Canada. Churches like this were on the front line in serving the incoming flood of penniless refugees.

Parks Canada Agency
1999
Photograph
© 2008, Parks Canada Agency. All Rights Reserved.


Sandwich First Baptist Church, in Windsor, Ontario

Churches like that at Sandwich (now a suburb in Windsor, Ontario) had so many escaped slaves in the congregation that they kept a lookout during services. If slave-catchers were spotted, the refugees slipped out through a trap door in the floor.

Parks Canada Agency

Photograph
© 2008, Parks Canada Agency. All Rights Reserved.


Jarm Logue (later Jarmian Logue) grew into one of the boldest leaders of the Abolition Movement in the 1850s, but he remembered his first days of freedom in Canada as a time of poverty, hunger, loneliness and despair. “There I stood," he wrote later, “a boy of twenty-one years of age…with the assurance that I was at the end of my journey – knowing nobody, and nobody knowing me…” He wasn’t alone in his anxiety.

Many refugees arrived in Canada with literally nothing but the clothes they stood up in. Most couldn’t read or write. Some had trades, but virtually none had experience in finding work or working for wages. For many, Canada’s Black churches gave them what they most needed – food, clothing, shelter and friendship.

Two of the most important Black churches stood on the banks of the Detroit River. Sandwich Baptist Church (built in 1851), worked with a sister congregation in Detroit to move refugees across the river to what is now the community of Windsor. The Nazrey Methodist Church in nearby Amherstburg (1848) was the first Black Methodist congregation to break its ties with its pa Read More

Jarm Logue (later Jarmian Logue) grew into one of the boldest leaders of the Abolition Movement in the 1850s, but he remembered his first days of freedom in Canada as a time of poverty, hunger, loneliness and despair. “There I stood," he wrote later, “a boy of twenty-one years of age…with the assurance that I was at the end of my journey – knowing nobody, and nobody knowing me…” He wasn’t alone in his anxiety.

Many refugees arrived in Canada with literally nothing but the clothes they stood up in. Most couldn’t read or write. Some had trades, but virtually none had experience in finding work or working for wages. For many, Canada’s Black churches gave them what they most needed – food, clothing, shelter and friendship.

Two of the most important Black churches stood on the banks of the Detroit River. Sandwich Baptist Church (built in 1851), worked with a sister congregation in Detroit to move refugees across the river to what is now the community of Windsor. The Nazrey Methodist Church in nearby Amherstburg (1848) was the first Black Methodist congregation to break its ties with its parent church in the United States. Salem Chapel (1855) was the focus of Harriet Tubman’s work in Canada.

The little log-built church at Oro – the poorest of them all – is part of a different story. Here, a group of Black Loyalists settled just south of Georgian Bay after the American Revolution. The poor little log-built Oro Church (1849) speaks of the hardships those refugees faced in trying to farm in a harsh, inhospitable land.

NAZREY METHODIST CHURCH. NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE OF CANADA. DESIGNATED 1999. PLAQUE: AMHERSTBURG, ONTARIO

ORO AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH. NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE OF CANADA. DESIGNATED 2000. PLAQUE: EDGAR, ONTARIO

SALEM CHAPEL BRITISH METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH. NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE OF CANADA. DESIGNATED 2000. PLAQUE: ST. CATHARINES, ONTARIO

SANDWICH FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH. NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE OF CANADA. DESIGNATED 2000. PLAQUE: WINDSOR, ONTARIO

© 2008, Virtual Museum of Canada. All Rights Reserved.

Learning Objectives

After reading, viewing and listening to media files in the Learning Object, students will be able to:

• explain the concept of and the terminology used to describe activities in the Underground Railroad;

• discover the heroic Blacks who sometimes had to take extreme measures, risked life, freedom and security to help other slaves escape to the North;

• reflect upon the initiative and leadership Blacks demonstrated in their efforts to create institutions and organizations to support their fellow men and women in their pursuit of freedom;

• understand the significance of the church in helping Black refugees establish themselves in Canada; and

• identify some of the earliest churches established in Canada by the Black community.


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