Was there an Underground Railroad in the North Country? Yes. The Champlain Valley and Lake Champlain were important passageways in the Northeast that were utilized as part of the extensive Underground Railroad routes which escaped slaves traveled through on their search for freedom.
Between 1830 and 1860, thousands of enslaved Americans escaped to Canada seeking the sweetness of freedom. Like a majestic maple tree, the Champlain Line of the Underground Railroad spread its branches across Northeastern New York, Vermont and Canada. Its main branch reached up through the Champlain Canal and Lake Champlain to Québec. Side branches extended East to New England and West to Ontario. Its trunk was the mighty Hudson River. The roots of this great tree of liberty were embedded in the South.
In Northeastern New York, the Lake Champlain Corridor provided freedom seekers with a passageway from the Hudson River through New York and Vermont’s Champlain Valley to Montreal, Canada. Historically, this geographically determined land/water passageway has been recognized for its critical contributions to American victories in the War for Independence and the War of 1812. Only in recent years have historians begun to realize the importance of the corridor between 1830 and 1860. These were the defining years of the Underground Railroad, that illegal, and sometimes not so secret, network of people who assisted fugitive slaves from the United States on their journey to freedom. [North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association]
Of course since the Underground Railroad had routes throughout the Champlain Valley that meant that there were sympathetic abolitionists located in the area who assisted the escaping slaves along their journey. Several notable known abolitionists made their home here, although the most well-known local abolitionist is probably John Brown (of North Elba, NY). He not only assisted with the Underground Railroad, but he also fought in some skirmishes in what was called “Bloody Kansas” trying to make it a join the Union as a free state. Later in 1859, he led a group of men on a raid of the arsenal and rifle factory at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia; the raid failed, Brown was captured and executed, but the event was one of the final fuses that helped to spark the coming civil war (1861-65).
Learn More About The Underground Railroad in the North Country
If you want to learn more about the Underground Railroad in the North Country you can visit northcountryundergroundrailroad.com for some great overview of the local history of the Underground Railroad. Here are some helpful short links to topics that may be of interest:
- Underground Railroad in Essex County
- The Champlain Line of the Underground Railroad
- Lake Champlain: Gateway to Freedom
You can also visit the North Country Underground Railroad Museum to explore exhibits in person. The museum is located at 1131 Mace Chasm Rd, Ausable Chasm, NY.