The Underground Railroad Symbols

President Andrew Jackson

Summary and Definition of the Underground Railroad Symbols
Definition and Summary: The Underground Railroad Symbols were secret codes, words, signals and signs used by pass hidden messages to and from slaves who were escaping slavery and those who were helping them in this very dangerous activity. The success of the Underground Railroad
was dependent on complete secrecy.

Underground Railroad Symbols
Andrew Jackson was the 7th American President who served in office from March 4, 1829 to March 4, 1837. One of the important events during his presidency was the emergence of the Underground Railroad
and the use of secret signs and codes to help help people escape from slavery.

   
  

Underground Railroad Symbols for kids: The Underground Railway History
There were harsh penalties for runaway slaves and their helpers - refer to the Fugitive Slave Act. Although slaves had been trying to escape from slavery for many years the name "Underground Railroad" only started to be used in 1831 following
the religious revival of the Second Great Awakening which resulted in the 1830 Abolitionist Movement which became active following Nat Turner's Rebellion leading to the establishment of the Underground Railroad.

For additional information also refer to Underground Railroad Maps

Underground Railroad Symbols for kids: The Name "Underground Railway"
The term "Underground Railroad" was chosen in 1831 as a secret code name for the escape routes used by fugitive slaves. The reason the name was chosen was this date coincided with
the time the first railroads began to run in America - refer to American Railroads. The word "underground" was added meaning a covert group organized to hide a secret operation.

Underground Railroad Symbols for kids: Symbols and Signs
The "Underground Railroad", operating under essential secrecy, adopted many symbols and signs that were made known to the fugitive slaves:

● Passwords were used to ensure the fugitives were genuine
● Messages were sent by drumming stones together
● The hoot of an owl was used to convey messages
● Certain Songs were sung as symbols of Underground Railway members
● "All Clear" was conveyed in safe houses using a lighted lantern in a certain place as this symbol
● Knocks on doors used a coded series of taps as symbols of identity
● Certain items, such as a quilt, were hung on a clothesline

Underground Railroad Symbols for kids: Quilt Codes
Unsubstantiated theories has been offered that quilts were made containing Underground Railway symbols. The use of symbols on quilts were said to be an effective way for slaves to communicate nonverbally with each other and  help each other to escape. This does make some sense in relation to quilts being hung on clotheslines. Symbols used to indicate routes:

Geese symbols flying North
Crossroads symbols that indicated Cleveland, Ohio
Bears Paw symbols conveying a message to take a mountain route
Bow tie symbols meaning it would be necessary to change from slave clothing
Broken dish symbols which would be used as directional symbols along the escape route
● Symbols of log cabins told slaves to look for this symbol on their journey to freedom
Box symbols that indicated it was time to pack (box-up) ready to escape
● Patterns called a monkey wrench were were symbols reminding slaves to prepare for the journey taking weapons or tools that would help on their journey
● North Star symbols indicating the way to freedom

Underground Railroad Quilt Symbols

Underground Railroad Symbols for kids: The Secret Code Names
Once the name "Underground Railroad" had been established, it was logical to use other secret words, phrases, codes, signs and symbols that referred to the operation of a real railroad. At this time everyone was talking about the new American railroad. It was essential to keep escape plans completely secret and by using these secret codes anyone who overheard such conversations would think they were talking about the railroad, not runaway slaves.

Underground Railroad Symbols: The Secret Language of the "Underground Railway"
The meaning of words and symbols used in the "Underground Railroad" relating to railways were as follows:

Underground Railroad Symbols for kids - Railways

Words, Signs and Symbols - Meaning and Definition

Underground Railroad - The name for the secret network of organizations and operations who helped slaves to escape slavery

Railroad Line - Line referred to the route from one safe house to another

Conductor - Conductors were those who guided fugitive slaves between safe houses

Station master - The station master was the owner of a safe house

Station / Depot - Station and Depot were the secret names given to hiding places or safe houses used during escapes

Cargo / Freight - Cargo or Freight was the name given to fugitive slaves who received assistance from conductors on the Underground Railroad

Passengers - Passengers was another name give to slaves traveling the escape routes

Baggage - Baggage was another secret name for a fugitive slave

Parcels - Term to indicate that fugitive slaves were on their way to a safe house

Stockholders - The name given to abolitionists who donated money, food, shelter and clothing to the Underground Railway

Ticket Agents - Agents was the name given to those who coordinated and planned escape routes. Slaves were  given a 'ticket'

Operator or Engineer - Other names for a conductor (the guides)

Jumping off place - Place of safe shelter for fugitive slaves

Patty Rollers or Paddy Rollers - Patty Rollers, Pattyrollers or Paddy Rollers were slave catchers. Probably a derivation of patrollers but 'Roller rigs' was used for the investigation of steam locomotives

Words, Signs and Symbols - Meaning and Definition

Underground Railroad Symbols Facts for kids - Railways

Underground Railroad Symbols: Code words and phrases relating to Religion
Just as the American railroads provided secret words and symbols relating to the "Underground Railroad" it was also safe to apply religious words, signs and symbols to extend the vocabulary of the organization. The words, phrases and symbols used in the "Underground Railroad" relating to religion were as follows:

Underground Railroad Symbols for kids - Religious

Words, Signs and Symbols - Meaning and Definition

Canaan - Canaan was a biblical term used to mean Canada

Heaven - The word used to describe the destination of a fugitive, usually referring to Canada

Preachers - Abolitionists or leaders of the "Underground Railroad"

River Jordan - The secret code word for the Ohio River

Shepherds - Shepherds were alternative names for Conductors meaning those who guided fugitive slaves between safe houses

Moses - Moses was the code name of Harriet Tubman, the most famous conductor

Gospel Songs - Gospel songs like "Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus", "Swing low, sweet chariot" and "Wade in the Water" were used to indicate that an escape plan was about to be carried out or give reminders to use water to travel by. The song "Follow the Drinking Gourd" was a reminder to follow the North Star - as this would always lead the way to freedom

Words, Signs and Symbols - Meaning and Definition

Underground Railroad Symbols for kids - Religious

Underground Railroad Symbols: Other Code words and phrases
Other secret words, phrases and symbols relating to the "Underground Railroad" were also used to extend the vocabulary of the network as follows:

Underground Railroad Symbols and Phrases

Phrases - Meaning and Definition

"The river bank makes a mighty good road" - A reminder to travel by water

"The wind blows from the South today" - An alert that fugitive slaves were in the area

"The dead trees will show you the way" - A reminder that moss grows on the North side of dead trees useful when the stars were not visible

"Left foot, peg foot" - A description of a certain conductor

"The friend of a friend sent me" - Password used by slave fugitives

Phrases - Meaning and Definition

Underground Railroad Symbols for kids - Religious

Underground Railroad Symbols: Other Useful Words and Phrases
Other useful words and phrases associated with the "Underground Railroad" are as follows:

Underground Railroad - Meaning of Useful Words and Phrases

Words and Phrases - Meaning and Definition

Abolitionist - A social reformer in favor of abolishing slavery

Antebellum - Antebellum is the name given to historical era that preceded the Civil War

Emancipation - Emancipation is the act of setting a person free from slavery

Manumission - Manumission the formal act of freeing from slavery.  A written legal document freeing a person from slavery

Free States - Free States that did not allow slavery

Slave States - Slave States permitted slavery
The Mason-Dixon Line - The Mason-Dixon Line is the boundary line dividing the northern free states from the southern slave states

The 'Gag rule'  - The Gag Rule was a provision that prevented the discussion of a topic in Congress, such as abolishing slavery

Secession - Secession was the withdrawal of eleven Southern states from the Union in 1860 which precipitated the American Civil War

Fugitive Slave Law - The Fugitive Slave Laws were acts passed by Congress in 1793 and 1850 outlawing any efforts to impede the capture of runaway slaves

Mulatto - A word used to describe a child of a black person and a white person

Words and Phrases - Meaning and Definition

Underground Railroad - Meaning of Useful Words and Phrases

Black History for kids: Important People and Events
For visitors interested in African American History refer to Black History - People and Events. A useful resource  for teachers, kids, schools and colleges undertaking projects for the Black History Month.

Underground Railroad Symbols for kids - President Andrew Jackson Video
The article on the Underground Railroad Symbols provides an overview of one of the Important issues of his presidential term in office. The following Andrew Jackson video will give you additional important facts and dates about the political events experienced by the 7th American President whose presidency spanned from March 4, 1829 to March 4, 1837.

Underground Railroad Symbols

● Interesting Facts about Underground Railroad Symbols for kids
● Underground Railroad Symbols for kids
● The Underground Railroad Symbols, a Important event in US history
● Andrew Jackson Presidency from March 4, 1829 to March 4, 1837
● Fast, fun, interesting Underground Railroad Symbols
● Picture of Underground Railroad Quilt Symbols
● Underground Railroad Symbols for schools, homework, kids and children

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