The Underground Railroad (UGRR) was a vast network of individuals who helped fugitive slaves escape to the northern states and Canada. The name was dubbed in 1831 after the emergence of steam railroads; and terms used to describe the operation such as “conductors,” and “stations” were quickly adapted.
The success of the UGRR was dependent upon clear and careful communication about safe hiding places that had to be ever changing and kept secret. Luckily, much has been uncovered about this amazing system of ingenuity, and in Auburn, NY, historic sites and museums with National Historic Landmark status share their fascinating story.
After her own escape to freedom was behind her, Harriet Tubman made numerous trips south, to rescue family members and slaves. For her bravery and cunning, Tubman was dubbed the “Moses of her People,” and has become an international icon. During the Civil War, Tubman rendered invaluable service to the Union Army as a spy, scout and hospital nurse. After the war, her friend William H. Seward encouraged her to settle in Auburn, where she started a home for aged blacks, which visitors now tour.
William H. Seward, who served as President Lincoln’s Secretary of State, and as Governor of New York, had the extraordinary vision to purchase Alaska from Russia, thought then by some to be “Seward’s Folly.” Seward was also a devoted abolitionist who offered his own home to hide escaping slaves. Take a guided tour through 17 rooms, and see the family’s intact collection showcasing four generations of original furnishings, silver, porcelain and fine arts.
Two miles west of Seward House visitors can tour Fort Hill Cemetery. Set on a hill overlooking the city of Auburn, this land was the site of Native American burial mounds dating back to 1100AD. Gravesites there include those of William Seward, Harriet Tubman, suffragette Martha Coffin Wright, and Myles Keogh, who fought with General Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn. There is also a stone monument dedicated to the Native American orator, Chief Logan.
Visitors can spend the night or dine at Auburn’s historic Springside Inn, known for gracious hospitality as well as classic cuisine and charming guest rooms. Galpin Hill, located just beyond the Inn, witnessed long tense nights in the years before the Civil War, when Harriet Tubman hid escaping slaves in the thickets surrounding the back yard. Although it has not been documented, legend has it that the Springside Inn was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Report on Uncovering the Freedom Trail in Auburn and Cayuga County, NY
Judith Wellman, a professor emeritus of history at SUNY Oswego, researched and published a full-length report surveying sites relating to the Underground Railroad, abolitionism, and African American life in Auburn and Cayuga County, NY. To view the report visit http://www.co.cayuga.ny.us/history/ugrr/report/index.html
When Harriet Tubman came to Cayuga County, she found a well-established Underground Railroad network that had been operating for more than thirty years. It had three key attributes: a key geographic location, a cohesive African American community, and supportive European American allies- many of them of Quaker background. Visit this website for driving tour maps, site descriptions and links and resources for more information.