In the late 1800s, the Underground Railroad emerged as a grouping of secret routes and safe homes.  Used by runaway slaves, they obtained their freedom by either escaping into Canada or living in a Northern State.

Escaped slaves did not act alone as hundreds of white and African Americans assisted along the way. Slaves traveled through the night and stayed in safe houses for protection. Due to Buffalo’s proximity to Canada, important routes on the road to freedom ran through the city. When the Fugitive Slave Act was signed by President Millard Fillmore in 1850, it mandated that all runaway slaves, even those found in free states, must be sent back to the owners. The Fugitive Slave Act served to apply more pressure on the issue of slavery and fueled tensions leading to the Civil War.

Facilitating the Underground Railroad tested the strength of one’s convictions, as by aiding total strangers one’s own life was on the line. A sacrifice many in the Western New York community were willing to take.