Routes of the Underground Railroad

BACKGROUND

Iowa was a little known hotbed of abolitionist and Underground Railroad activity. Because of its illegal and somewhat unpopular nature, much of the activity is now just being discovered. The risk of discovery was great and the punishment severe. How many blacks, mostly from Missouri, were aided is not known. Records were not kept, for obvious reasons. Even though Iowa was a free state, the federal fugitive law applied. If you were caught aiding a runaway, the maximum penalty was six months in jail and a $1000 fine. There are many stories along Iowa’s section of the Underground Railroad, which was neither a railroad nor underground. Rather, in the years before the Civil War, it was the connecting point of abolitionists – people willing to risk arrest to help slaves on the run to Canada. Cedar County, especially the Quaker homes in Springdale and West Branch, was a major stop on the Underground Railroad. From Tabor near Council Bluffs to Lewis, Des Moines, Grinnell, Iowa City, West Liberty, Tipton, DeWitt and Clinton, Springdale and Davenport, anti-slavery Iowans ushered escaped slaves – many being pursued by owners – to freedom via Wisconsin or Minnesota routes to Canada.

 


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