On the Trail of Brooklyn's Underground Railroad





LAST month the City of New York gave Duffield Street in downtown Brooklyn an alternate name: Abolitionist Place. It’s an acknowledgment that long before Brooklyn was veined with subway lines, it was a hub of the Underground Railroad: the network of sympathizers and safe houses throughout the North that helped as many as 100,000 slaves flee the South before the Civil War.

With its extensive waterfront, its relatively large population of African-American freemen — slavery ended in New York in 1827 — and its many antislavery churches and activists, Brooklyn was an important nexus on the “freedom trail.” Some runaways stayed and risked being captured and returned to their owners, but most traveled on to the greater safety of Canada.

Because aiding fugitives from the South remained illegal even after New York abolished slavery — and because there was plenty of pro-slavery sentiment among Brooklyn merchants who did business with the South — Underground Railroad activities were clandestine and frequently recorded only in stories passed down within families. Corroborating documentation is scarce.


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