For Teachers:

Abolitionist – People who fought slavery and worked to end it.

Bounty hunter – Someone who gets paid to capture runaway slaves.

Chattel – A slave or bondsman.

Colonization –  The American Colonization Society was founded in 1816 to assist free black people in emigrating to Africa.  Its founders, philanthropists and anti-slavery men, believed that blacks could never be fully integrated into American society and that they would be better off in Africa.  There were many chapters of the colonization society throughout northwestern Pennsylvania.

Conductor – Someone who helped on the Underground Railroad.

Emancipate To free from restraint, control, or the power of another.

Fugitive slave – Enslaved Africans who ran away from the plantation.  A more accurate term is “freedom seeker.”

Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 – Congress passed a new law in 1850 making it more difficult to protect runaway slaves in the North.  It gave slave owners the right to retrieve their slaves.  No proof was required; it took only an accusation before a federal commissioner for an African American could be returned to slavery. The law imposed heavy fines and imprisonment on anyone who stood in their way.  Underground Railroad activity intensified after 1850 as African Americans, even those who were free, migrated to Canada. 

Geneology – The study of family history.

Pennsylvania Gradual Abolition Act of 1780 Pennsylvania is the first state of the original 13  colonies to passes a gradual emancipation law, substituting indentured servitude for slavery.  Slaves born before March 1 remain slaves for life; those born after March 1 become indentured servants until they reach the age of 28.  

Griot – African term for community storyteller and keeper of its cultural heritage and history.

Indentured Servant – A person who agrees to work for another for a set period of time.  Slaves freed under Pennsylvania’s Gradual Abolition Act became “indentured servants” until they reached age 28.  Unlike other indentured servants, they did not have a choice in the matter.  They were still considered property of the people who held them.

Peculiar Institution – A southern term for slavery.  Many southerners disliked the term “slavery” and found ways to make it sound less harsh than it really was.

The promised land – Another way of describing the free lands in Canada.

Safe houses – Places on the Underground Railroad where freedom seekers could be safe.  People who lived there often supplied food, clothing and money for their journey.  “You will find friends there” meant you were going to a safe house.

Society of Friends – A religious sect, Quakers as they were called, who were among the first to work for the abolition of slavery.

Underground Railroad – The Underground Railroad was neither underground nor a railroad, but a secret network of safe houses and antislavery activists - black, white, and Native American - who helped slaves escape to freedom.  The Underground Railroad reached a peak from 1830 to the beginning of the Civil War, though it was operating as early as the 1500s, when the time the first African captives were brought to Spanish colonies in the New World.

Vigilance committee – Committees of free-black people who provided money, food, clothing and shelter to fugitive slaves.  Leaders in their communities, they also organized churches and fraternal organizations.