The Unknown History of the 19th Century California Underground Railroad



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The Underground Railroad (UGRR) in America is unique as it is the first multi-racial social justice movement in our nation's history. In recognition of its' significance as a truly original American story, the U.S. Congress passed Public Law 105-203 in 1998 to encourage research to tell "the story of resistance against the institution of slavery in the United States through escape and flight". Current historiography assumes the UGRR was limited to the eastern and border states. This research documents the Underground Railroad existence in the far western state of California. Slavery was practiced in California, even as it entered the Union in September 1850 as a "free state". With slavery there are those who sought freedom. This research was designed with the use of a qualitative historical method, analyzing primary documents including census data, civic and court records, newspaper articles, private journals and autobiographical/biographical collections, and integrating the results with secondary sources to create a fact driven record of people, places, and events. The methodology used in this research was a mapping strategy that identified protagonists from the sources who lived in California, during the period under study, that met the requirements of a five-point UGRR Identification Measurement Scale. The individuals, their activities, and their connections were then mapped to re-construct a (beginning) history of the California Underground Railroad. It became evident that the what, the who, and the where of the California activities were similar to what took place in the east and border states, and that California had a cohort of seasoned leaders who were part of the wider-based national Underground Railroad network. As a result, this research adds to a fuller understanding and discussion of California and American history and its legacy.

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