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The Underground Railroad Project

The Underground Railroad from a Kentuckian


Elliot Burton
October 1, 2014
CIS 110-043

The Underground Railroad Project

The Underground Railroad from a Kentuckian


In 1798 Kentucky adopted a slave code known as chattel, which denied them of
the basic rights that all white citizens in Kentucky had such as; citizenship, education,
legality of marriages, control over property and even their own bodies. Some
Kentuckians made attempts to aid the abolishment of slavery, while others looked at it as
a status symbol like having money. This made the poor white Kentuckians more of an
aid provided to the slaves, this aid was provided in a way of trafficking the slaves to free
territory, more commonly know as the Underground Railroad.
Slave trafficking was very prominent in Kentucky because the slaves here
expressed their resistance towards slavery amongst themselves. Slaves in Kentucky were
known for having a cultural means that longed for freedom, meaning they would express
themselves through religion, songs, humor, and crafts. They found ways to express their
in contentment with out being oppressed by freely speaking of their ideas of freedom.
Some of the crafts they made, such as the quilts even had special coding on them.
Kentuckys aid through the slave resistance movement was much in part of the
Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad is defined as being a spontaneous,
highly organized, secret system that assisted persons in North America being held in
bondage escape from slavery. It has been said that the Underground Railroad came into
use as a result of the astonishing growth of railroad industry across North America in the
1820s.
For each decade that slavery was legal, more and more people were likely to give
aid and help them escape because they knew that morally what was being done to them

The Underground Railroad Project

was wrong. Recent studies have shown that there were more slaves escaping before the
American Revolution rather than afterwards. Although the early escapes were very well
known, the amount of time the Underground Railroad was most prominent was between
the years of 1830 and 1865. This time period was when anti-slavery advocates abandoned
their hopes for gradual emancipation and adopted that of immediate abolition.
Kentucky was the last slave state until reaching free territory in the North for most
all slaves because of its location. This state had more than 700 miles of border to states
that were free, with anti-slavery enforced laws. Cincinnati, Chicago, and Indianapolis and
other surrounding cities to the North were home to some 400 free black residents in each
city, all with the help of the Underground Railroad. It has been estimated that 300 slaves
per year escaped from Kentucky alone and thats not counting the number of slaves that
were returned after being caught.
The history of slavery in Kentucky dates all the way back to the earliest
permanent European settlement in the state up until the end of the Civil War. Although
Kentucky was a border state, 25% of Kentuckys entire population consisted of African
Americans until the Civil War, and that was mainly centered around Louisville. The slave
population was greater near the richer part of the state known as bluegrass region; this
part of the state was home to the best farmland, which required more labor. In 1850, 23%
of Kentuckys white males held slaves.
Kentucky exported a considerable amount of more slaves than most states did,
especially in the time frame between 1820 and 1850, when 16% of slaves were sold from
the Louisville slave market to the Deep South. This was due to reduced need for labor

The Underground Railroad Project

because Kentucky wasnt growing as many labor-intensive crops as they had at one time
such as, tobacco and hemp whereas in the south they were growing cotton which
demanded extra labor. Cotton was a very labor-intensive crop before the invention of the
cotton gen. If the access slaves were not sold to the Deep South then were to be sold
down the river where they were then transported by boat to slave markets in New
Orleans. The need for slaves in Kentucky never really was that great, Kentuckians didnt
see it as a staple in their economy, whereas it was an economic necessity in the Deep
Southern states.
When I was little I was fascinated to learn about the civil war and the importance
of the Underground Railroad and the freedom it provided these enslaved African
Americans. One name that comes to mind every time I hear the words Underground
Railroad is Harriet Tubman, the conductor. She escaped slavery herself and had the
bravery to make multiple trips back and forth to usher hundreds of the slaves to freedom.
The help that Kentucky citizens gave to the Underground Railroad laid the
foundation for generations of great relationships between African Americans and whites.
It is important as Kentucky citizens today to know our past and the struggle our state
went through to help slaves. We must fully understand our history to always be
knowledgeable so we can appreciate the sacrifices many made for the freedom of others.
The relationship between African Americans and whites today is amazing. They seem to
share a strong bond like brothers and sisters, and that could come from nothing less than
the deep roots we have connecting us all to the great cause of ending slavery.

The Underground Railroad Project

Multiple Authors from KET (May 9th, 2006). Kentucky and the Underground Railroad.
http://www.ket.org/underground/history/kyunderground.htm