Traveling Along the Indiana Underground Railroad


Anna Zervos


July 24, 2001



Chesterton High School


Chesterton, Indiana


(Overall theme)

Indiana’s role in the Underground Railroad.

Classroom sessions or estimated time

3- 50 minute sessions.  Time can be lengthened or shortened based on need.

Grade Level(s)

7th –9th


To develop a deeper understanding of the role that Indiana played in the underground railroad while exploring Indiana Geography.

*Geography Standards Addressed


The World in Spatial Terms
1. How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective
2. How to use mental maps to organize information about people, places, and environments in a spatial context
3. How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on earth’s surface

Places and Regions
4. The physical and human characteristics of places
5. That people create regions to interpret earth’s complexity
6. How culture and experience influence people’s perceptions of places and regions

Human Systems
9. The characteristics, distribution, and migration of human populations on earth’s surface
12. The processes, patterns, and functions of human settlement
13. How the forces of cooperation and conflict among people influence the division and control of earth’s surface

The Uses of Geography
17. How to apply geography to interpret the past
18. How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future 

*Indiana Social Studies Academic Standards addressed


W.G. 1.6







1.      Students will explore Indiana geography by “traveling” through the state on the Underground Railroad. They will develop map skills by reading and interpreting the map of Indiana.

2.      Students will become familiar with various underground railroad sites and the basic geography of Indiana. 

3.      Students will become familiar with the difficulties faced by runaway slaves and the type of help that was available to them in the years prior to the Civil War.

4.      Students will develop speaking skills by presenting their trip to the class.

5.      Students will develop creative writing skills by submitting a written paper on their imaginary trip through Indiana on the Underground Railroad.


*Teacher Background Materials

Materials needed:


*      Indiana maps one per group

*      Yarn

*      Tape

*      Background Material

*      Envelopes  10 large and 20 small for each pair

*      Scissors one pair per group

*      Student copies of material

*      Resources:


1.       U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, National Register, History and Education.  Underground Railroad Resources in the United States: September 1998.  Washington:  GPO, 1998


2.      Division of Publications National Park Service.  U.S. Department of the Interior.  Underground Railroad.  Washington, D. C.  GPO 1998


3.  Bail, Raymond.  The Underground Railroad Site- Underground Railroad Routes 1860.  (1995)

                                     July 27, 20000



Teacher Background Material- The first Africans arrived in the New World as slaves in 1518 in the Caribbean.  Over the next 250 hundred years it is estimated that as many as twelve million Africans were brought to the New World.  Although for the vast majority of the slaves that were brought from Africa went to the Caribbean and Brazil about 450,000 Africans were brought to the United States.  Slaves that arrived prior to the 1800s probably had an easier time escaping then their descendants did. After the 1800’s federal and state laws made it much more difficult for slaves to escape.   Many slaves managed to escape from the early plantations and went to live with local Native American tribes, passed themselves off as free Blacks in the Northern states or escaped to French, Spanish or English held Territory.  The French, the Spanish and later the English refused to return runaway slaves or to allow slave catchers to come into their territory and recapture the slaves.  Spain for example, was heavily involved in the slave trade, yet they extended freedom to runaway slaves in places like St. Augustine, Florida.  They refused to return the slaves believing that it would prevent further expansion into their territory.  They believed that Americans would be reluctant to move into any area where there were so many runaway slaves.  The presence of these slaves might encourage others to runaway. The problem of Spanish Florida was eventually solved when Andrew Jackson invaded Florida and claimed it for the United States.  Slaves continued to runaway to Texas, Canada and the Caribbean until the Civil War.

     Another option for runaway slaves was to create a “maroon” society in areas that were uninhabited and difficult for slave catchers or soldiers to penetrate.  Some of these societies created permanent settlements and they even planted crops.   Most of these settlements were transitory.  Most “maroon” societies were eventually eliminated as American’s expanded westward.

     Slavery was first formalized as an institution in Maryland in 1663.  Slavery existed in all of the colonies in the early years, but most of the Northern colonies eliminated slavery after the American Revolution through gradual emancipation.  Even with emancipation, slaves could still be found in New Jersey as late as 1850. 

     Slavery in the South grew dramatically after the invention of the cotton gin in 1703.  Slavery fueled an economic boom that lasted until the Civil War and sharply divided the United States.  The North in many ways was just as dependent on Slavery as the South.  Many Northerners feared ending slavery, because slaves might migrate North and take away jobs from whites.

     Militias were created to help maintain slavery in the South by capturing and returning fugitive slaves.  Runaway slaves proved to be a difficult and expensive problem for slaveholders.   There were serious consequences for both the runaway slave and anyone who helped them.  Runaway slaves were subject to beatings, mutilations, brandings, sale to the West Indies and even death.  Consequences for those who helped them include fines and imprisonment.

     Abolitionist societies began very soon after the formation of the slave trade.  These organizations grew steadily and were helped by the ideas of the Enlightenment and the Great Awakening.  Both of these movements emphasized the dignity and worth of the individual and undermined the whole notion of slavery.  In the beginning most abolitionists promoted the idea of gradual emancipation of the slaves with compensation to the owners.  Many believed that slave owners could be persuaded to release their slaves on moral grounds.  Over time the inability of moral persuasion split the Abolitionist movement into two groups one that advocated a gradual end of slavery and another that wanted the immediate unconditional emancipation of all slaves.  Many in the second group were even willing to use violence to achieve their ends.  Both groups supported the Underground Railroad. 

     The Underground Railroad was a term used to describe the formal and informal system set up to help runaway slaves.  Most runaway slaves came from the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Virginia, although there are a few stories of daring escapes from as far away as Georgia and South Carolina.  The Underground  Railroad began as soon as the first slave escaped from his master.  George Washington complained in 1786 that he had a difficult time capturing a fugitive slave who had hid out with people in the community and had aided him in his escape. 

     Assistance for slave owners who wanted to recapture their runaway slaves first came in the form of The Fugitive Slave Law of 1793.  Under this law a slave owner could claim that any black man or women was a slave and after making an oral statement in front of a magistrate that person would be returned to a state of bondage.  Slaves were unable to say anything in their own defense.  As slavery became more important to the Southern economy many Southern states passed even harsher laws. Many states allowed any white man to stop a black man and demand to see his traveling papers.  If the white man was not satisfied that the papers were authentic the black man could be jailed until his identity was discovered. 

     Despite these laws and the harsh punishments that often accompanied them, some slaves created ingenious methods for obtaining their freedom.  Henry Brown, a slave from Virginia, packed himself in a large wooden box and had himself shipped to Philadelphia.

     Most runaway slaves however need the assistance of others to make their way to freedom.  The lose coalition of people who helped runaway slaves became known as the Underground Railroad.  Some of the members of the Underground Railroad like Harriet Tubman actually traveled into the South to free slaves.  Such actions were very dangerous and most members of the Underground Railroad chose to assist slaves by giving them food and shelter to help them on their way.  Sometimes a runaway slave would walk the entire way to freedom.  More often then not they used some method of transportation.  Some runaway slaves used ferries and ships, while others used trains or wagons.  The vast majority of runaway slaves were young men who had the stamina to manage the harsh journey.  Other slaves often refused to leave if it meant abandoning wives and children.

     Most members of the underground railroad were free blacks, religious groups such as the Quakers or sympathetic whites.  They included simple farmers, merchants, ship captains, ministers, and even a porter in the U.S. Supreme Court. 

     The best organized stations were in the North.  Northern towns sometimes formed vigilance committees that organized the transportation and safe passage of runaway slaves to other Northern States and Canada.  These committees were often made up of both Blacks and Whites and in many cases they were under the control of Blacks.  These committees along with numerous individuals, religious groups and abolitionists societies made up what we now call the Underground  Railroad

      After the runaway slaves arrived at their final destination, they usually became part of the community or set up separate communities of their own.  Some stayed in Northern cities while others left for Canada.  It is estimated that over 100,000 slaves passed through the Underground Railroad and made it to freedom


Material to be placed in envelopes.


Positive Outcomes.


1.      You’re in luck, a Quaker family is willing to smuggle you to the next town.  They will put you in their wagon and hide you in a secret compartment under several bags of grain.  The space is cramp, but your happy to be riding.  They leave very early in the morning hoping not to be stopped by local militias.  Although they meet several people along the way no one suspects that you are hidden in the wagon.  You make it to the next town.


2.      While traveling a slave catcher has caught sight of you and sent his dogs after you.  Lucky for you, you carried some onions with you.  You used the onions to scrub your feet, which threw the dogs off your sent.  You passed through several streams as well for good luck.  The dogs never find you again and you proceed to the next town.


3.      While you were hiding in the woods near the town you spot a young black women.  You call out to her and ask for help.  After looking around for strangers, she tells you to come to the last house on the right after the sun goes down.  There will be a candle in the window.  You do as she instructed and the Black family that lives there agrees to hide you for a few days.  You are very grateful for their help since you are very tired and out of food.  They provide you with a safe place to stay and some food.  After a few days they send you on your way to the next town.


4.      At the next town you use a set of forged papers given to you at your last stop.  These papers show that you are a freed slave and that you live in the next town.  Although you are stopped by the local authorities, the papers fool them and you are sent on your way to the next town.


5.      In this town you run into a hostile white family.  They verbally abuse you and your frightened that they will turn you in to the local authorities.  They tell you that they don’t support slavery, but that they don’t like blacks living near them.  They are not as helpful as the other families that you have met, but at least they don’t turn you in.  You go on your way to the next town.


6.      In this town your luck runs out.  You are captured by a local sheriff.  He puts you in jail and you sit there for two days.  The story of your capture quickly spreads though out the community and a local abolitionist group hears of your situation and attempts to raise enough money to pay for your bond.  It takes two weeks, but they manage to raise enough money to get you out of jail.  They then help you escape and send you on to the next town.


7.  In this town you are spotted by a white woman. 

She seems very angry with you and rants and raves about blacks and slaves.  She demands that you keep your eyes down and tell you that she doesn’t want you to be able to identify her.  You think that she is going to turn you into the authorities, but instead she keeps complaining about her husband.  Eventually, you figure out what she is talking about.  It seems that her husband has given large amounts of money to the American Colonization Society.  She furious that he has done this and is afraid that if he sees you he would spend what’s left of their money sending you back to Africa.  So rather than let her husband spot you, she gives you a little food and directions to the next town.  She warns you that if she sees you in this town again, she will turn you into the slave catchers herself.


8.      You are captured by a group of local farmers.  They quickly take you to the local jail.  Although they feed you at the jail and generally treat you fairly, you are sure that they are going to send you back to the South.  Two weeks after your capture they take you to the local courthouse and put you in front of a local judge.  You are not allowed to speak in your defense or have anyone represent you.  From the back of the courtroom a white man approaches and asks the judge if he can speak in your defense.  You have never met the man, but he tells the court that you are a free black living in the next town and that he has known you for years.  The judge believes him and sets you free.  You find out later that the judge was an abolitionist and often called in witnesses in order to have an excuse to free captured slaves.  You proceed on to the next town.


9.      You are caught by a local sheriff while you are in the woods.  You are more than a days ride from the nearest town so the sheriff decides to tie you up for the night and take you to jail on the following day.  After he ties you to a tree, the sheriff proceeds to get drunk and pass out.  The sheriff had done a poor job of tying you up and you manage to untie your bonds and escape.  You’re pretty sure that the sheriff will sleep to morning and by that time you will be long gone.  You proceed to the next town.


10.  Once again you hook up with the Underground Railroad.  This time it is a local banker who helps you out.  He hides you out in his house until your ready to make the final leg of your journey.  He gives you enough food, clothes and money to make it to Canada.  You’re Free.


Negative Outcomes


1.      You are hungry and decide to steal some eggs from a local farmer.  While you are in the hen house he captures you.  He then summons the local sheriff, who puts you in jail.  You are quickly tried and found to be a runaway slave.  A local slave catcher claims you and you put in chains for the trip back to Kentucky.


2.      You are spotted on the road by a member of the local state militia.  He quickly calls up other members of the militia who are in the neighboring woods.  They had been looking for runaway slaves.  You panic and run.  He shoots you in the leg and you are captured. Your wound is treated and the group turns you over to a slave catcher and you are taken back to Kentucky.


3.      You catch pneumonia and die alone in the woods.


4.      A homeless man spots you in the woods.  He follows you for several days.  Each time that you think that you eluded him you see him again.  Finally, he surprises you at a bend in the river and captures you.  He is very angry and tells you that he used to be a carpenter in South Carolina, but that he lost his job when the local builder decided to hire slaves to do his job, because slaves work for less money.  He was unable to find another job and was forced to bring his family out to Indiana to look for work, where there would be no competition from slaves.  He decides to sell you to illegal slave traders in the next town and you are forced to go back to Kentucky.


5.      A young boy spots you and agrees to help you if you hide in a barn on his daddy’s farm.  You agree hoping that his father will help.  The boy tells his father, but the father panics.  His neighbor had just been caught adding a runaway slave.  The neighbor was fined over $500.00 and had to spend several weeks in jail.  The father contacts the local authorities and they capture you.  You are sent back to Kentucky.


6.      A local Quaker family agreed to hide you a secret compartment in their cellar.  The local slave catchers obtained a warrant and searched the house.  You are discovered and both you and the Quakers are put in jail.  You are sent back to Kentucky and the Quakers are put on trial for helping you.  They are sentenced to 1 year in prison.


7.      While you are in the woods you stumble over a tree branch and fall down a ravine.  You managed to crawl up to the top of the ravine, but realize that you have broken your leg.  You crawl to a nearby road hoping that a friendly face will help you.  A local farmer does pick you up, but turns you into the sheriff.  You leg is fixed up, but your sent back to Kentucky.


8.      This time your luck runs out.  A group of slave catchers from Kentucky spot you and hunt you down.  They are on horseback and it doesn’t take long before you are captured.   They don’t even bother with a trial and take you directly back to Kentucky.


9.      In this town you are directed by a friendly farmer to go to a local minister’s house.  Hoping to find another conductor on the underground railroad, you use a secret knock on the back door.  Instead of helping you the minister turns you in to the local authorities.  They pay him ten dollars for your capture.  You are sent back to Kentucky.


10.   Your out of food and haven’t had any sleep for three nights.  Slave catchers have been hot on your trail and you attempt to cross a flooded river.  You are too tired to go on and drown.


*Purpose of Materials

Materials needed:


*      Indiana maps- It would be more accurate to use historical Indiana maps.  If these are not available, Indiana road maps, which can be easily obtained from the Indiana Department of Transportation, will work just fine.  Any detailed road map that contains the cities listed will do.  Remind the students that many of the cities on the map did not exist in 1850.  You need one map for each pair of students.

*      Yarn- You need a small ball of yarn for each pair of students.   They should have enough yarn to stretch across the state of Indiana.

*      Tape or tacks-  Students will be required to attach the yarn to the map.  Scotch tape can be used but may distort maps after repeated uses.  Tacks can be used if maps are placed on cardboard.  Repeated use of tacks may also distort the maps.

*      Background Material – See above.  You need one copy for each pair.

*      Envelopes- 10 large envelopes and 20 small ones for each pair.  Make sure that the large envelopes are big enough to contain 2 of the smaller envelopes.

*      Scissors- one pair per group to cut the yarn

*      Student copies of material- See above. You need one copy for each pair.

*      Help Cards- You will need 3 cards with the word HELP on them for each pair of students.





*      Before class begins run off one copy of the positive outcomes, one copy of the negative outcomes and one copy of the background information for each group of students in the class.  Then cut up the outcomes and place them in one of the smaller envelopes.  Place one positive and one negative outcome envelope in a larger envelope.  It doesn’t matter which out come you put in the envelope as long as there is one positive one and one negative one with the exception of number ten.  Make sure that the number 10 positive out come and the number 10 negative outcome are in the last envelope and write 10. Auburn on it.   After you have completed the last envelope, write the following names on the other nine envelopes.  Make sure you include the numbers as well.


*      1.  Jeffersonville

*      2.  Madison

*      3.  Quakertown

*      4.  Greensburg

*      5.  Richmond

*      6.  Fountain City

*      7.  Marion

*      8.  Huntington

*      9.  Fort Wayne


Seal each of the envelopes so that students will not be tempted to cheat if they did not receive a positive outcome. 


Preparation- Before you begin lesson, have students visit the websites on the Underground Railroad in Indiana.  Have them familiarize themselves with the experiences of slaves that escaped their bondage.  Stories about Harriet Tubman, “Box” Brown, Sojourner Truth, Fredrick Douglas, William and Ellen Craft and others will help them to imagine what life would be like to be a runaway slave.  Have the students brainstorm about what it would be like to be a runaway slave and possible ways that a slave could escape.  Remind them that it would have been much more difficult for a slave from Georgia to escape to Canada than it would be a slave from Kentucky.  Ask them what types of skills would a slave need in order to escape and elude his captors.  Explore with them what factors might prompt a person to escape and what factors might force a person to stay a slave.

   After you have reviewed material on the Underground railroad, divide the class into groups of two.  You can also use larger groups of have the students work as individuals depending on the type of class that you have.

     Give each student a Indiana map, a pair of scissors, a ball of yarn, tacks or scotch tape, three help cards and the ten prepared envelopes with Indiana cities written on them.

     Starting at Jeffersonville, have the students open only one of the smaller envelopes inside the envelope marked Jeffersonville.  If the outcome is positive have the students tape a piece of yarn to place on the map where Jeffersonville to the name of the town on the next envelope which is Madison.  If the outcome in the envelope is negative the student can put a help card in the envelope and proceed on to the next city.  Remind the students that they only have three helps during the game.  Have the students continue in the same manner until all of the students either make it to Freedom, die or are sent back to Kentucky.  Review their work.

*Teaching Strategies

1.      Research- Have students do research on the Internet and through other sources for material on the Underground Railroad.


2.      Brainstorm- Have students come up with ideas about how it would feel to be a runaway slave.


3.      Work in pairs- Have the students develop cooperative learning skills by working in pairs.


4.      Develop map skills- Students become more familiar with the map of Indiana by using it during the game.


5.      Creative writing skills- Students will be able to practice their writing skills in their narrative of their trip on the Underground Railroad.


6.  Speaking skills- Students will be able to practice their speaking skills when they present their trip to the class.

*Assessments (key questions to simulate critical thinking)

1.      Review the students map work.  Make sure that they followed the instructions carefully and linked the cities on the Underground Railroad to one another in the proper order. 


2.  Have the students write a short story about their trip on the Underground Railroad in Indiana.  Have them include the cities were they traveled and their experiences along the way.  Encourage them to embellish on the material and make up their own stories, but do not allow them to change the outcome at each stop.  Have them give the participants in the stories names and have them describe the physical environment around them.  Have them then make up a story about what happened to them after they left Indiana.  If they were captured did they try to escape again?  If they made it to Canada were they able to make a home for themselves?  Evaluate their answers on the basis of creativity, effort and historical accuracy. 


3.       Have the students present their trip to the class.  Have them explain what happen to them on the trip where they had to use their help cards and where they ended up.  Have them tell the story in first person and give them higher marks for more detailed stories.


Adaptations and/or Extensions

1.      Students can expand this lesson by researching individuals or groups you assisted runaways on the Underground Railroad.  Students can write biographies of these individuals or groups.

2.      Students can present first person accounts of individuals involved in the Underground Railroad by dressing up as the individuals and telling their story to the class.

3.      Students can create larger maps of the Underground Railroad and include neighboring states or even the entire country.

4.      Students can make posters about the groups involved in the Underground Railroad and hang them up in the classroom.

5.      Students can research other sites along the Underground railroad in Indiana and present alternative routes to Canada.  They could create maps showing these alternate routes.

6.      Student’s can research laws about slavery in Indiana and show how these laws developed in response to events that were occurring across the nation.

7.      Students can research the role of slave owners in the formation of the State of Indiana and how they tried to make Indiana a slave state.

8.      Students can research Black communities in Indiana and how the local and state governments treated Blacks.

9.      Students can research Article 13 of the 1851 Indiana Constitution and how it affected Blacks who lived in Indiana and the runaway slaves who passed through here.


For further information:


Related Internet Sites












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


Larry Gara-  The Liberty Line:  The Legend of the Underground Railroad. (Lexington, KY:  University of Kentucky Press. 1967)


Solomon Northup- Twelve Years a Slave. (Baton rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1968.)


William Still- The Underground Railroad. (Chicago 1872; Johnson Publishing Co. 1970)