An Underground Introduction

Unsure of its origins, historians believe that in 1831, an enslaved African- American named Tice Davids ran away from his Kentucky master. After becoming frustrated in his attempts to recapture Davids, his owner complained that Davids had “gone off on some sort of an underground road.” Davids’s master’s story traveled far and was repeated over and over again among many. During a time in history when steam locomotives captured the attention and imagination of the general population, the so-called “underground road” became the “Underground Railroad.”

The passengers who traveled on the Underground Railroad did not hear the sound of a steam locomotive screeching along metal tracks; they did not hear the steam whistle blow; they did not feel the grinding halt as the train reached a station; they did not smell fiery coals burning into the night, and they never heard a conductor yell, “All aboard!” They never actually bought a ticket for a train. What those who traveled these “tracks” did hear was the sound of bloodhounds barking viciously in the distance; they did hear the constant snapping of twigs and rustling of brush beneath their feet; they did hear harsh voices of slave owners approaching, and they did feel the dampness on their clothing from seeking refuge in rivers, swamps and marshes. They made the decision to board the dangerous freedom train, and they traveled with the constant hope of seeing a dim light of a lantern on a hitching post that signified the next station was just around the corner. They never purchased a ticket for a train, but what they did purchase was a one-way ticket to freedom.