The Port of Buffalo was an important "last-stop" for the Underground Railroad. Here the Erie Canal met Lake Erie, and Canada was just a short boat ride across the Niagara River.
An interesting "lost place" in Buffalo is "Douglas's Dive." African-American boatmen lived here and helped Freedom Seekers on the last part of their journey to Canaan.
Union Block, or "Negro Block", stands on the left, behind the
bridge in foreground. Its basement borders the towpath of Commercial Slip,
the terminus of the Erie Canal. The Negro Block was known as such because
it housed many African-American - owned businesses, including Dug's Dive,
which could only be entered from the towpath. A State project would destroy
the site good chance that the actual walls of Uncle Dug's place still stand.
Practically every clump of Negro settlers in the free states was an Underground depot by definition, for the runaway considered a black skin an even more reliable promise of help than a Quaker. So, it seems logical to assume fugitive slaves found refuge in Dug's Dive, along with many of the other establishments in the Union Block. For Buffalo, this "Negro Block" would have been especially important, with runaways arriving regularly down at the wharves by ship and overland, each needing to quickly find assistance [see William Wells Brown].
Refuge was a life or death matter in Buffalo's African American community during the 1850s and early 1860s. After the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed (under the Administration of Buffalonian Millard Fillmore, who ironically owned property a cobblestone's throw away on Hanover Street, also to be destroyed by the state project), long-settled blacks up north were faced with the possibility that they could be dragged hack to slavery, and any person helping them could be criminally implicated.
Particularly at risk were runaway slaves who worked on boats traveling the Great Lakes, never knowing who might he waiting on shore at any port of call.
One example was Buffalo's own fugitive slave case of 1851, wherein a man named Daniel Davis, working on a Lake Erie steamer, was arrested at the dock at the foot of Commercial Street (where in later years the Canadiana, the "Crystal Beach Boat," was docked) within two hundred feet or so of the Union Block. Following an initial magistrate's ruling that he must be returned, Mr. Davis was released by a federal judge in Auburn, NY on a technical interpretation of the law. Evidently not wanting to test his luck or the law further, Davis then made his way to Canada.
With the ever-present threat of capture, fugitive slaves on ships calling at Buffalo would likely seek out convenient yet obscure places like Dug's Dive, in the midst of - yet apart from -Buffalo's bustle.