Lessons in the Geography of the 

Underground Railroad in New York State

Scenario 6: the Niagara Frontier

by Timothy McDonnell
New York Geographic Alliance

UGRR Station Map
List of UGRR Stations:

1 - Eber Pettit Home (Versailles)
5 - Michigan St. Baptist Church
9- Lewiston Presbyterian Church
2 - Roswell Hill (Eden)
6 - Ferry at Black Rock
10 - Thomas Root Home - Pekin
3 - Obadiah Baker House (Orchard Park)
7 - Douglas's Dive: Buffalo Harbor
11 - McClew Farm
4 - Matthew Eastman House (Attica)
8 - Suspension Bridge at Niagara Falls
12 - Lockport Canal Dock and Warehouse

There are several parts to this lesson. First you will decide on a route for a Freedom Seeker to take on his/her way to Canada. Then you will read about a real escape on the Underground Railroad in Western New York. You will look over some primary sources (old map, census record, a journal) and see if the story makes sense. Ready? It's time to do some geography!

TASK 1: Look at the NYGA Elevation Map (by Carol Gersmehl). What does the landscape look like in the Niagara Frontier? Do you think that this would affect the routes Freedom Seekers took?

TASK 2: Help plan the escape route for a Freedom Seeker:

Eber Pettit ran a very active station in Versailles (#1) on Cattaraugus Creek. A young African-American man showed up at his door one morning, just before the sun came up. He had walked all night and was very tired. Mr. Pettit efficiently took care of this Freedom Seeker. But now it's time to send him off to Canada. The plan is to travel overland to Buffalo and the Michigan St. Baptist Church (#5). Then they would send him across the Niagara River either at Black Rock (#6) or on to Niagara Falls (#8) and Lewiston (#9). Do you like this plan?
Work on the details of this escape plan and record your decisions on the Student Worksheet.

TASK 3: The crossings of the Niagara River are being very closely watched. You need to find a place to hide the young Freedom Seeker until the situation calms down. Where could you send him? Write your plan on the Student Worksheet.

TASK 4: Now that you have determined a possible escape route for a Freedom Seeker, now it is time to compare it to an actual event in the real Underground Railroad. To view this document, click on this link: Douglas Dive

Primary Sources to Help in Verification

Photos of People and
UGRR Stations
Maps and Panoramic Views
Census Records
William Wells Brown

Douglas Dive Photo

Hopkins Creek

McClew Farm Barn

Lewiston Presbyterian Church

Michigan St. Baptist Church

Lockport Canal Dock
NYS Canal Map 1868

Buffalo Harbor Panoramic Map

Douglas Dive Map

Niagara Falls Panoramic Map
Douglas Dive Census
Record 1860

Eber Petitt Census Record 1860

Lewiston Black Community 1860
McClew Farm in the UGRR
Niagara Region

Account of Rescue at Buffalo's Inner Harbor

Make sure you answer the questions on the Student Worksheet from Task 4. This includes filling in the chart on the primary sources included in this web page.

CONCLUSIONS: The wrap-up of this activity will be done as a class. Make sure you participate in the class discussion!

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