The Underground Railroad was started in order to provide a means for escaped slaves to be safely spirited through the north until they reached sanctuary in Canada. The railroads borrowed heavily from the vocabulary of standard railroads, thus those who helped guide the slaves were conductors, and the places that they hid along the way stations. Between 1850-1860 1,000 slaves a year made use of the Underground Railroad to escape to Canada and freedom.
Most of the enslaved people helped by the Underground Railroad escaped border states such as Kentucky, Virginia and Maryland.
In the deep South, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 made capturing escaped enslaved people a lucrative business, and there were fewer hiding places for them. Fugitive enslaved people were typically on their own until they got to certain points farther north.
People known as “conductors” guided the fugitive enslaved people. Hiding places included private homes, churches and schoolhouses. These were called “stations,” “safe houses,” and “depots.” The people operating them were called “stationmasters.”
There were many well-used routes stretching west through Ohio to Indiana and Iowa. Others headed north through Pennsylvania and into New England or through Detroit on their way to Canada.