People and Places in Indiana’s Underground Railroad


Kathy Satterlee


July 24, 2001


Allen Elementary


Marion, IN


(Overall theme)

An overview of Indiana’s geographic role in the Underground Railroad (UGR), and a closer look at specific people and places in Indiana’s UGR.

Classroom sessions or estimated time

3 sessions

     Session 1 – Minilesson on UGR (definitions of terms)

                         Read  parts of If You Traveled on the

                         Underground Railroad  (40 min.)

      Session 2 – Role-play fugitive slave situation with

                         map &card-drawing game, stopping

                          throughout to show photos, and read

                          first-hand accounts.  Discussion. (40


      Session 3 –  Read Freedom River.  Show UGR

                          website to class.  (40 min.)


                          Ju ly 26, 2001

Grade Level (s)



Students will use an Indiana map to understand why Indiana’s geographic location was important to its role in the UGR.  They will experience personal stories and feelings of the people involved in UGR through role-play and literature.

*Geography Standards Addressed

  1. How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective.
  1. How culture and experience influence people’s perceptions of places and regions.

13.  How the forces of cooperation and conflict      among people influence the division and control of Earth’s surface.


Explanation:  Standard 1 will be addressed in Session 2, when students role-play one fugitive slave group’s migration north.  The teacher will use an overhead map of Indiana to trace the route as the cards are drawn.

     Standard 6 will be addressed in all sessions, as students hear first-hand accounts of slaves, Quakers, and others on the UGR, and read non-fiction and literature concerning particular people in the UGR.

     Standard 13 will be addressed as students learn about forces of cooperation among people (e.g. free blacks, slaves, Quakers, other whites) and forces of conflict (between slaves and slaveholders, bounty hunters, etc.)

*Indiana Social Studies Academic Standards addressed

4.1.12 History Explain roles of various individuals, groups and movements in social conflicts leading to the Civil War.  (Levi Coffin, UGR, religious groups, abolition) 

Explanation:  This will be the main standard addressed in all three sessions.

4.2.9 Civics Define and provide examples of civic virtues or dispositions in a democracy. (e.g. respect for rights and dignity of all individuals, respect for the law, courage, compassion, etc.)

Explanation:  This standard will be addressed as students discuss how people active in UGR had to choose between important civic virtues – i.e. respect for the law and respect for the dignity of all individuals – when these virtues were contradictory.

(Done during Session 2)

4.3.2 Geography Estimate distances between two places on a map, using a scale of miles and use cardinal and intermediate directions when referring to relative location.

Explanation:  Using a transparency map of Indiana, the teacher wil guide students in tracing a route fugitive slaves may have taken, and measuring distances.  (Session 2)

4.5.5 Individuals, society and culture Locate and explain settlement patterns of various cultural, racial and religious groups in Indiana of the past and present.

Explanation:  This standard will be addressed in all sessions.  Teacher will tell students some of the reasons why free blacks, slaves and Quakers would settle in Indiana instead of staying in the South.

4.5.8 Individuals, society and culture Identify contributions and challenges experienced by people from various cultural, racial and religious groups in Indiana during different historical periods by reading biographies, historical accounts and stories.

Explanation:  This would be done mostly through literature, biographies and first-hand accounts of people active on the UGR.


¨      Students will demonstrate knowledge of the Underground Railroad – how it got its name, and basic terms and definitions by completing, with at least 80% accuracy, a fill-in-the-blank and short answer test.

¨      Students will demonstrate understanding of  how Indiana’s geographical location was important to its role in the Underground Railroad by locating important places on the map and explaining their importance during a class discussion.

¨      Students will experience (to a very small degree) the uncertainty that fugitive slaves experienced while traveling on the UGR by participating in a class card “game” where the next outcome of the “journey” is drawn from a stack of cards.

¨      Students will listen to first-hand accounts of people involved in the UGR and to stories about the UGR in order to better understand how slavery and escape to freedom affected those involved in the UGR.

*Teacher Background Materials

¨      Maps of North America, U.S. and Canada, Africa

For Adults:

¨      Coffin, Levi.  Reminiscences of Levi Coffin.  New York:  Arno Press, 1968.  Reprint of the 3rd ed., published 1898.)

For Children:

¨      Ringgold, Faith.  Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad.   (1992, Crown)

¨      Haskins, Jim.  Get on Board:  The Story of the Underground Railroad.  (1993, Scholastic)

¨      Stepto, Michele.  Our Song, Our Toil:  The Story of American Slavery as Told by Slaves.  (1994, Milbrook)

¨      http://www.nationalgeographic.com/features/99/railroad/j1a.html  July 26, 2001

¨      http://www.maah-detroit.org/  (African American History Museum of Detroit site)  July 26, 2001



*Purpose of Materials

¨      Maps of North America, U.S., Mason-Dixon line, Indiana and Michigan– to show students the big picture of the UGR in this area and to improve their geographic literacy, both past and present.

¨      Primary Sources  – photos and quotes from people involved in the UGR will help students understand the personal decisions people had to make, the dilemmas they faced, their fears and triumphs.  (The specific primary sources needed are incorporated into the “procedures” section of the lesson plan.)

¨      Secondary Sources – excerpts from biographies, nonfiction trade books, and historical fiction picture books will bring students to a fuller understanding of the UGR times and the emotions people involved faced.  (These also are incorporated into the “Procedures” section of the lesson plan, or listed in the “Teacher Material” section.


Session 1 – 40 minutes


Set:  Show photos of slaves (Official National Park Handbook.  Underground Railroad.  Washington, D.C.:  Division of Publications, National Park Service, Handbook 156, pp. , 23, 32, 33.)

     Read first-hand accounts from slaves.  Http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/wpa/wpahome.html

July 26, 2001


Minilesson:  Give background on Indiana:  Indiana was officially a free state but some people did bring slaves into Indiana.  Using map, show proximity to Kentucky.  Explain how fugitive slaves were not safe because of the fugitive slave law.  Explain terms.

On map, show Indiana’s proximity to Canada.  Explain that Canada had abolished slavery. 


Explain UGR – that it is not underground nor a railroad.  Give approximate dates of operation (1830’s – 1860’s) but explain that slaves were escaping to freedom before that.  (Savarino, Malia.  “The Underground Railroad:  Indiana Focuses on Vital History.”  Outdoor Indiana Nov./Dec. 2000:  15.)  Define terms:  conductor, station, passengers, president, etc. in the context of the UGR. 


Read If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine.  (1992, Scholastic)


Closure:  Short question/answer period.


Session 2 – 40 min.


Set:  Darken room.  Explain to students that our class will take part in an activity that should help them imagine what fugitive slaves on UGR might have felt.  Explain that slaves traveled at night to avoid detection.   


Procedure for Activity:   Turn on overhead with transparency map of Indiana.  Put dot on an area in Kentucky, near Ohio River, where we will pretend to be slaves.  I will call on one student at a time to come up and draw a card, which will tell our fate as fugitives.  (Sometimes students can choose a card, as in A1 or A2.  Other times there will only be one card to draw, as in B.)  As cards decide our fate, I will stop after each card and provide brief explanation, show a photo, read a quote from a person involved in UGR.  Meanwhile, I will trace our progress on the overhead map.  We could go through this activity several times, depending on cards pulled, until we reach “freedom in Canada.”  Using map scale, we will also measure approximate distances traveled.


Activity:  (Text on cards will be in italics.  What the teacher reads or says is not.)

     Escape from slave master at night.

¨      Card A1:  We get caught by slave master and get whipped, or have to wear a bell.  Show photo of bells recaptured slaves might have to wear.  (Official National Park Handbook.  Underground Railroad.  Washington, D.C.:  Division of Publications, National Park Service, Handbook 156, p. 22.)

¨      Card A2:  Go to free black’s house that we heard would help us.  He tells us to follow a creek until we get to the Ohio River.  Explain that some black people in Kentucky were free, and that they often helped slaves escape.

¨      Card B:  We reach the Ohio River, and meet a white man who says he will ferry us  across the river.  Should we trust him?

¨      Card C1:  Yes.  He is a Baptist (briefly explain) who believes all people should be treated equally, and he is helping slaves across the river in his ferry.  You safely reach the other side.

¨      Card C2:  No.  He is a bounty hunter who will get a reward for returning us to our owner.  We are returned and whipped in front of all the other slaves.  Define “bounty hunter” .   Show “Wanted” poster. (Bial, Raymond.  The Underground Railroad.  Boston:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1995. P. 17)

¨      Card D:  We walk for several days until we reach the house of Lyman Hoyt near Lancaster, IN.  He is a Quaker who hides  us in his house and feeds us.  He sends us on our way to the next station on the UGR.   Explain who Quakers were, their religious beliefs, why so many had moved to Indiana, and how they helped runaway slaves.  Read excerpt from Lois Hoyt, daughter of Lyman and Asenath Hoyt:  “Father was a member of a aforesaid secret antislavery society and was a conductor on the Underground Railroad -–transferring escaped slaves from one station to another – always under cover of darkness and although he was suspected he was never caught”.   ( College Hill Gazette:  Newsletter of Historic Eleutherian College, Inc.  Spring 2001.  Vol. 2.  Issue 1.  P. 3)

¨      Card E – We’re in a region with a lot of Quakers and free blacks now, so we are finding places to hide and people are giving us food.  We’re still afraid the slave catchers will be after us, though.  People show us with a signal, such as a light in a window, that there are no slave catchers around and it is safe to hide in their house.  Show photo of old-fashioned lantern.

¨      Card F – Reach Levi and Catherine Coffin’s house in Newport, IN.  We are sick and weak, so Levi and Catherine have us stay for several days until we are healthier and can move on again. 

Show postcards and personal photos taken at the Coffin House.  Also read from the lesson plan given to us at the Coffin House.  (Levi Coffin House State Historic Site, Levi Coffin House State Historic Site:  An Underground Railroad Station  - Lesson Plan for Grades K- 12 Text and Activities, pp. 3-5)

¨      Card G:  The Coffins take us in their false-bottomed wagon to the next stop, a free black settlement in Randolph County called Cabin Creek.  Show photo of false-bottom wagon at Coffin House.  Also show students map of black settlers in Indiana.  (The Indiana Junior Historian.  Indiana Historical Bureau, State of Indiana. P.1)

¨      Card H1:  We travel for several days through the woods.  We are no longer in an area with a lot of Quakers and free blacks, so we have to hunt for our own food and look for berries, sleep outside, and be on our guard against slave catchers and bounty hunters.  We finally stay a few days at a free black person’s house.  Then we continue on north, following the drinking gourd.  Explain what the “drinking gourd” is and how it pointed to the North Star.  Show picture of the Big Dipper and show how it points to the North Star.  

¨      Card H2:  We travel for several days through the woods.  We are no longer in an area with a lot of Quakers and free blacks, so we have to hunt for our own food and look for berries, sleep outside and  be on our guard against slave catchers and bounty hunters.  We find a bush that looks like berries and eat several, but the bush really was Poison Sumac.  We all get sick.  Two people die because they are so sick and exhausted.  We bury them in the woods and keep moving north, following the drinking gourd.  Show picture of Big Dipper and North Star.  Explain “drinking gourd”.

¨      Card I:  Reach Michigan.  Continue walking through woods, occasionally finding a free black person or settlement, or a white sympathetic family to help us.  After 6 days, reach Detroit, on the border of Canada.  Show map of Michigan and Ontario, Canada.  Show students how fugitives would actually travel south into Canada here, even though they have been “following the drinking gourd” – going north,  for their entire journey.

¨      Card J1:  We reach the Detroit River, the border between Michigan and Canada.  There is nobody to help us get across the river so we swim.  Those that have children carry them on their backs and swim across the river .  One person drowns.  Another dies from exhaustion as soon as she reaches Canada.  She’s dead, but she’s free!  Tell story told to us at interpretive program at the African American History Museum in Detroit, about the woman who swam across the Detroit River to Canada with two children on her back.

¨      Card J2:  We reach Detroit, and go to the Second Baptist Church, where we are hidden, fed and nursed back to health.  The church members know a free black man with a ferry.  They lead us to the ferry and we are taken to freedom. We are taken to the Sandwich Baptist Church in Windsor, where we are fed, clothed and cared for until we can get jobs and get started in our new free lives in Canada.  Show students the pamphlet, Abbreviated History of the Second Baptist Church of Detroit (Leach, Nathaniel.  2001)  also show them personal photos taken of Mr. Leach and the Second Baptist Church.   Tell students the story he told us about the free black man who owned a ferry but had to hire a white oarsman to row across the river, in order to avoid detection by slave catchers.  Show students personal photo of the Sandwich Baptist Church in Windsor


Closure:  Turn on lights.  In table groups of four or five, students will share their feelings during the activity.  Each child will get a minute or two to share.  Then, ask for volunteers to share with the class something they felt or learned during the experience.


Session 3 – 40 min.

     Read Freedom River by Doreen Rapapport (2000, Hyperion) to give students another personal experience of the UGR, based on fact.

     Also, go to http://www.undergroundrailroad.com/ (July 26, 2001) and demonstrate how students can explore the site to learn more about the UGR.



*Teaching Strategies

¨      Direct instruction using primary and secondary sources

¨      Read-alouds from non-fiction and fiction picture books

¨      Class Participatory Activity (simulation of fugitive slave journey north)

¨      Small group discussion

¨      Large group discussion

¨      Modeling:  How to explore a website

*Assessments (key questions to simulate critical thinking)

¨      Informal Assessment:  group discussion as to what students learned about UGR through literature and the participatory experience.

¨      Fill in the blank and short answer test concerning definitions (e.g. conductor, railroad, passenger, free black, Quaker, etc.) and ideas (e.g.  Why did the Coffins move to Indiana from North Carolina?)

¨      Map Assessment:  Students locate the Ohio River, Detroit River, Indiana, Newport (now called Fountain City), Michigan, Kentucky, and Canada on a map.



Adaptations and/or Extensions

Extension:  During writing time, students could write a fictional piece about a character they learned about (or a made-up character) in the UGR.  This would also be a good assessment of how well they understood the feelings of the people involved in the UGR.

Extension:  Before beginning Session 1, teach a lesson on why slave trade began.  Using world map, show and explain midwest passage.

Extension:  Apply the UGR to today.  Compare and contrast slavery and the UGR to illegal immigrants (especially Mexican immigrants) coming across the U.S.-Mexican border to the United States today.  (Compare the reasons for migration, the dangers, the coyotes and conductors, the place that people of faith play in protecting those journeying north, etc.)