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Underground Raiload

Started 1787

The Underground Railroad was the name given to the system by which escaped slaves from the South were helped in their flight to the North.

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Slavery Abolition Dates


Vermont - Abolished slavery outright in its constitution, dated July 8, 1777. The relevant section is Chapter I, subtitled "A DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF THE INHABITANTS OF THE STATE OF VERMONT"  

I. THAT all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and unalienable rights, amongst which are the enjoying and defending life and liberty; acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety. Therefore, no male person, born in this country, or brought from over sea, ought to be holden by law, to serve any person, as a servant, slave or apprentice, after he arrives to the age of twenty-one Years, nor female, in like manner, after she arrives to the age of eighteen years, unless they are bound by their own consent, after they arrive to such age, or bound by law, for the payment of debts, damages, fines, costs, or the like. 

Massachusetts  - The constitution of 1780’s case law abolish slavery in 1781.  The constitution of 1780 was never actually amended to prohibit slavery. Even so, with the support of the courts clearly removed, slavery in Massachusetts was a hopeless endeavor. The Massachusetts Legislature did debate on whether to clarify the constitution's meaning, but choose to do nothing understanding public opinion as being strongly anti-slavery.


Northwest Ordinance – Abolished Slavery in what was to be 5 states in 1787, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.   On July 13, 1787 Arthur St. Clair’s Confederation Congress passed, after three years of long debate, “an Ordinance for the government of the Territory of the United States northwest of the River Ohio.”  This vast territory which was conceded by Britain in the 1783 Treaty of Paris now comprises the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.  One of the major stumbling blocks in the Ordinance’s passage was due to Article 6 which prohibited slavery and involuntary servitude throughout the entire territory. Despite the final language in Article Six excepting fugitive sales, this new ordinance meant that a Black American could swim or walk into the Northwest Territory and this new law would protect their claim to freedom until proven a fugitive.  Many slaves did just that and as the Northwest Territory, beginning with Ohio, became Free States the exportation of fugitives became quite impossible and illegal as new laws were enacted to protect all former slaves. This trek north and west became so popular that it was named the Underground Railroad by the 1830’s.

In addition to the Underground Railroad many slaves gained their freedom through their “masters” north and westward migration. The Northwest provided these settlers with unprecedented advantages of inexpensive land and government incentives to settle in the new territory.  Those citizens with slaves were forced to emancipate them to comply with Article Six of the Ordinance. This rare emancipation manuscript which has been carefully preserved was consequently forced upon David Enlow by the territory of Indiana resulting in the freedom of Sarah.  

Pennsylvania – Abolished Slavery in 1808 – The Pennsylvania Abolition Act of 1780 stayed slavery but excluded existing slaves in the state. Even those born a few days before the passage of the act had to wait 28 years before the law set them free. This allowed their masters to recoup the cost of raising them.


Maine – It constitution abolish slavery from its statehood inception on March 15, 1820.


New York -  In 1827 slavery abolished in New York State. Like Pennsylvania New York began the trek for abolishing slavery much earlier in 1799 choosing to emancipate slaves gradually.


Rhode Island – Like Pennsylvania and New York this state choose gradual emancipation in1784.  Their were still 5 slaves on their roles in 1840.


New Jersey - In 1846 slavery was permanently abolished in New Jersey. In 1804, New Jersey passed its "gradual emancipation" act, essentially freeing any child born of slaves.


Connecticut  - Finally abolished slavery entirely in 1848. In 1784, the abolition forces in the state tried a new tactic and presented a bill for gradual emancipation as part of a general statute codifying, in great detail, race relations.  


New Hampshire – 1857? - The 1783 state constitution declared "all men are born equal and independent." This was the language that led, via the courts, to the end of slavery in Massachusetts. But there are no judicial records from New Hampshire to indicate that this was construed there as ending slavery. Many clearly felt it did, but whether for all slaves, or only to children of slaves born after 1783, was not clear.  Slaves were removed from the rolls of taxable property in 1789, but the act appears to have been for taxing purposes only. The 1790 census counted 158 slaves; but in 1800, there were only 8. Portsmouth traders participated legally in the slave trade until 1807. No slaves were counted for the state in 1810 and 1820, but three are listed in 1830 and one in 1840.


Washington DC - April 16, 1862, slavery was abolished in Washington D.C.  This included compensation to slave owners for their lost “property” in the amount of $993,407 dollars.


Tennessee – Abolished Slavery in 1864. In order to balance Lincoln’s Union ticket with a Southern Democrat, the Republicans nominated him for vice-president. After his victory as Lincoln’s running mate, he summoned a convention that set up a new state government and abolished slavery in Tennessee.


Maryland - The third state constitution, which abolished slavery in Maryland, received approval of the voters on September 18, 1864, and took effect November 1, 1864.


DelawareThe Union's victory in the Civil War resulted in freedom for slaves throughout the country. But in Delaware, many black people continued in bondage for months after the war's end.  But slavery continued in Delaware and Kentucky until December 1865 - eight months after the war ended - when the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery in all the states.


Kentucky -  The Union's victory in the Civil War resulted in freedom for slaves throughout the country. But in Kentucky, many black people continued in bondage for months after the war's end.  But slavery continued in Delaware and Kentucky until December 1865 - eight months after the war ended - when the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery in all the states.

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