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 RailroadThe name for the secret network of organizations and operations who helped slaves to escape slavery
Railroad LineLine referred to the route from one safe house to another
ConductorConductors were those who guided fugitive slaves between safe houses
Station masterThe station master was the owner of a safe house
Station / DepotStation and Depot were the secret names given to hiding places or safe houses used during escapes
Cargo / FreightCargo or Freight was the name given to fugitive slaves who received assistance from conductors on the Underground Railroad
PassengersPassengers was another name give to slaves traveling the escape routes
BaggageBaggage was another secret name for a fugitive slave
ParcelsTerm to indicate that fugitive slaves were on their way to a safe house
StockholdersThe name given to abolitionists who donated money, food, shelter and clothing to the Underground Railway
Ticket AgentsAgents was the name given to those who coordinated and planned escape routes. Slaves were  given a 'ticket'
Operator or EngineerOther names for a conductor (the guides)
Jumping off placePlace of safe shelter for fugitive slaves
Patty Rollers or Paddy RollersPatty 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
CanaanCanaan was a biblical term used to mean Canada
HeavenThe word used to describe the destination of a fugitive, usually referring to Canada
PreachersAbolitionists or leaders of the "Underground Railroad"
River JordanThe secret code word for the Ohio River
ShepherdsShepherds were alternative names for Conductors meaning those who guided fugitive slaves between safe houses
MosesMoses was the code name of Harriet Tubman, the most famous conductor
Gospel SongsGospel 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

 

Presidential Seal

 

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
AbolitionistA social reformer in favor of abolishing slavery
AntebellumAntebellum is the name given to historical era that preceded the Civil War
EmancipationEmancipation is the act of setting a person free from slavery
ManumissionManumission the formal act of freeing from slavery.  A written legal document freeing a person from slavery
Free StatesFree States that did not allow slavery
Slave StatesSlave States permitted slavery
The Mason-Dixon LineThe 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
SecessionSecession was the withdrawal of eleven Southern states from the Union in 1860 which precipitated the American Civil War
Fugitive Slave LawThe Fugitive Slave Laws were acts passed by Congress in 1793 and 1850 outlawing any efforts to impede the capture of runaway slaves
MulattoA 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
 
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Andrew Jackson Presidency from March 4, 1829 to March 4, 1837
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Underground Railroad Symbols for schools, homework, kids and children

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