The Underground Railroad

A Reference Guide

by Kerry Walters


"I never went off track and I never lost a passenger." So boasted Harriet Tubman when speaking of the nearly 20 times she led Southern slaves to freedom along what came to be known as the Underground Railroad. Hers is just one of the many compelling stories to emerge from what is now regarded as the first sustained act of American civil disobedience.

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Cover image for The Underground Railroad

March 2012


Pages 223
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics American History/Race and Ethnicity

Full of true stories more dramatic than any fiction, The Underground Railroad: A Reference Guide offers a fresh, revealing look at the efforts of hundreds of dedicated persons—white and black, men and women, from all walks of life—to help slave fugitives find freedom in the decades leading up to the Civil War.

The Underground Railroad provides the richest portrayal yet of the first large scale act of interracial collaboration in the United States, mapping out the complex network of routes and safe stations that made escape from slavery in the American South possible.

Kerry Walters' stirring account ranges from the earliest acts of slave resistance and the rise of the Abolitionist movement, to the establishment of clandestine "liberty lines" through the eastern and then-western regions of the Union and ultimately to Canada. Separating fact from legend, Walters draws extensively on first-person accounts of those who made the Railroad work, those who tried to stop it, and those who made the treacherous journey to freedom—including Eliza Harris and Josiah Henson, the real-life "Eliza" and "Uncle Tom" from Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.


  • Original documents, from key legislation like The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 to first-person narratives of escaping slaves
  • Biographical sketches of key figures involved in the Underground Railroad, including Levi Coffin, William Lloyd Garrison, Robert Purvis, and Mary Ann Shadd


  • Provides the most current, fully researched, yet exciting and accessible account of the Underground Railroad for both students and general readers
  • Portrays the Underground Railroad as an interracial, predominantly nonviolent campaign of civil disobedience, in which escaping slaves played an active role in their own liberation
  • Includes coverage of the roughly half dozen all-black settlements organized in Canada by fugitive slaves, including the one established by Josiah Henson, the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom"
Series Description

Guides to Historic Events in America

Making sense of the American experience demands attention to critical moments—events—that reflected and affected American ideas and identities. By drawing on the latest and best literature, and bringing together narrative overviews and critical chapters of important historic events, the books in this series function as both reference guides and informed analyses to critical events that have shaped American life, culture, society, economy, and politics and fixed America's place in the world.

Each book follows a common format, with a chronology, historical overview, topical chapters on aspects of the historical event under examination, a set of biographies of key figures, selected essential primary documents, and an annotated bibliography. As such, each book holds many uses for students, teachers, and the general public wanting and needing to know the principal issues and the pertinent arguments and evidence on significant events in American history. The combination of historical description and analysis, biographies, and primary documents also moves readers to approach each historic event from multiple perspectives and with a critical eye. Each book in its structure and content invites students and teachers, in and out of the classroom, to consider and debate the character and consequences of the historic event in question. Such debate invariably will bring readers back to that most critical and never-ending question of what does, and must, 'America' mean.

--Randall M. Miller
Author Info

Kerry Walters is the William Bittinger Professor of Philosophy and professor of peace and justice studies at Gettysburg College, PA. Walters is the author or editor of over 20 books, including Benjamin Franklin and His Gods, Revolutionary Deists: Early America's Rational Infidels, and a critical edition of Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason.



"As an explanatory text that describes the Underground Railroad, Walters does an excellent job, creating a flowing and well-written narrative. In reference aspects, it provides a basis for study."—ARBA

"This is a moving and, at times, wrenching account of the trials and tribulations of slaves escaping along the Underground Railroad. . . . This book tells the history of this organization in a highly readable style by weaving personal narratives, contemporary newspapr articles, and various laws enacted to keep people in bondage before the civil war. . . . This book would enhance any American History collection."—Library Media Connection

"Owing to the decades’ worth of material analyzed here, this historical reference work will make a suitable guide and starting point for students and general readers alike. Secondary and other general collections should consider it for purchase."—Library Journal

"This book, part of the Guides to Historic Events in America series, brings into perspective what the Underground Railroad did and how it operated. . . . Recommended for school and public libraries."—Booklist

Look Inside

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