About: The Underground Railroad
The anti-slavery movement has a deeply rooted history in many of the towns in New England. Many New Englanders supported the abolitionist cause, yet there is not much documentation on the Underground Railroad even though it was considered a crucial aspect in the slaves crusade for freedom. This network of people who risked their lives by opening up their homes helped assist 30,000-100,000 slaves to freedom.
Historical obscurity makes tracing the network of the Underground Railroad rather difficult. The entire operation was conducted in secrecy and even those participating in the effort knew little beyond their own activities. Much of the information local historians have acquired has been passed down through generations by word of mouth. Any written materials would have been found in personal diaries, letters, or old newspapers mentioning prominent figures in the abolitionist movement. There were no written directions on how to harbor fugitive slaves. Many houses adopted landmarks or special signals to alert slaves of a hiding spot. For instance, in Vermont, some houses painted the fourth or fifth row of bricks from the top of the chimney white. Many homes in New England had hideaways that were presumably used to hide slaves en route to Canada where they would find freedom. In Concord, Massachusetts it was thought that many secret hideaways had originally been used as storage places for munitions during the Revolutionary war.
The John Ball Residence in Concord has become home to the Concord Art Association and also has a closet that was believed to have been a site on the Underground Railroad. During a 1922 renovation, a main chimney was removed in order to make the upstairs gallery. The workers found a small room around a beam and paneled chimney. In this room, a cannonball, a powder horn, a three-pronged fork, a candle snuffer and a 34 star flag used only from 1861-1863 were found by the workers.
Recent research, however, suggests that the residents at the time were not abolitionists working to end slavery, so in fact, the small room may have served domestic purposes only.