Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom. Icons used in advertisements for runaway slaves by the Planter's Advocate (P.G. Co., ca. 1850s)
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  • Lizze and Basil Wood, enslaved by Oden Bowie at Fairview.  Courtesy of Anna HolmesRecords of pursuit tell as that slave owners and their agents knew of this "conspiracy" against them, and presumed its agency in the flight paths those they sought may have taken. Maryland was uniquely situated to support such flight that operated "beneath" anything connected to a more formalized UGRR. Most importantly in this way was its access to major cities at Baltimore and Washington, DC. Free blacks generally, urban ones in particular were the usual suspects for those pursuing runaways. If a fugitive had free kinfolk in nearby big cities, the complicity of such kin was presumed. The cities of the upper south, particularly large cities, offered, perhaps the safest place, for the influence of northern UGRR's vigilance committees to be felt by those on the run. It is believed, for example, that free black street vendors in Baltimore acted as "agents," directing would-be passengers to people in Philadelphia, New York, and elsewhere. Indeed, activities that transpired in Maryland seem to have fed the Underground Railroad which most often picked up "passengers" once they had reached Pennsylvania, carrying them to New York, New England, or Canada. But free blacks could and did act independently in helping those on the run. Frederick Douglass's account of his escape from Baltimore demonstrates this clearly. Over its 30 year scope, taking into consideration the number of advertisements, notices of committal, and jail docket entries, our study has yielded a population "on-the-run" of greater than 4,500. While this number does not account for duplicate entries (those who appear in all three sources - ads, notices, and dockets, which is possible but not as frequent as one might assume) the actual number is also likely to rise when other Maryland jurisdictions are brought in later in the work. Many in this number were believed to have escaped and/or evaded recapture due to the complicity of other people. A conspiracy, indeed. 


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