Lessons in the Geography of the 

Underground Railroad in New York State

by Timothy McDonnell
New York Geographic Alliance


UGRR Station Map

There are seven different scenarios from seven different regions of the state. Choose which ones work for your classroom.
Remember that each route is part of a chain, and students need to determine how they were interconnected.

As always, we hope that you give credit to Tim McDonnell and the NY Geographic Alliance for these lessons.

TEACHERS: Download Lesson Plan here:

STUDENTS: Download a Lesson Worksheet here:

Scenario 1: UGRR Routes and People in
 Greater New York - Long Island


Did you know that Freedom Seekers usually came to New York City from Philadelphia? Sometimes they stayed in black communities, but if it was very dangerous, they were helped northward or toward Long Island.

David Ruggles The Underground Railroad practically began in New York City and the Quaker communities nearby. David Ruggles
(pictured on the left) was an early African-American stationmaster in the TriBeCa district. How did they send their passengers on northward?
John Sands House The Hudson River was a natural corridor leading toward Canada. Who helped the Freedom Seekers on their way north? What evidence remains of their noble work?

The John Sands House in Peekskill, in northern Westchester County.

Scenario 2: UGRR Routes and People in the Hudson Valley


Until 1827 slavery was fairly common in the Hudson Valley. The most famous New York slave was Sojourner Truth, who became a tireless worker for abolition and women's rights.

Scenario 3: UGRR Routes and People in the North Country


There were many Quakers who lived along the border of New York and New England. Many of them were active in the Underground Railroad. People of other faiths also joined the cause.
Guide Board Although many Freedom Seekers followed the Erie Canal toward the Niagara River, some went north through the foothills of the Adirondacks. What kinds of people helped them on their last leg of the journey? Were there black communities in the northern wildnerness?

The Guide Board points toward an UGRR station in Fort Ann, near Lake Champlain.

Jerry Rescue Syracuse and neighboring towns in Central New York were abolitionist strongholds. How did these men and women help fugitives northward, and what happened in the "Jerry Rescue?"

The Jerry Rescue Memorial in Clinton Square, Syracuse.

Scenario 4: UGRR Routes and People in
Central New York


Syracuse was known as the "Canada of New York." Many people who lived there in the middle 19th century hated slavery and helped fugitives whenever they could.

Scenario 5: UGRR Routes and People in the
 Finger Lakes


Auburn, on the northern end of Owasco Lake,  was the home of Harriet Tubman, perhaps the most courageous "conductor" in the Underground Railroad. Why do you think this was a logical place for her to live?
Freedom Hill The glacial valleys of the Finger Lakes were well-suited for transporting "contraband" north. Where did the Freedom Seekers enter the Finger Lakes and how did they complete their journey. Who assisted them?

"Freedom Hill"  on Lake Ontario, near Sodus, site of a black community that helped fugitives flag down ships.

Lewiston The end of the Freedom Trail was in the Niagara Frontier. The last remaining challenge was getting across the Niagara River. Where were the best crossings? How did they confuse slave catchers who were always patrolling the border?

This little house sculpture designates the Lewiston Presbyterian Church as an Underground Railroad station.
Scenario 6: UGRR Routes and People in the Niagara Country


The Niagara Freedom Trail Commission has identified around a dozen sites in Western New York that were important to the Underground Railroad. The sites include churches and private homes. One, in Lockport, was a warehouse right on the Erie Canal.

Scenario 7: UGRR Routes and People in the


Freedom Seekers not only came to Upstate New York via New York City. They also came up the Susquehanna River in central Pennsylvania, and along the shore of Lake Erie from Ohio. This made the Southern Tier cities of Jamestown, Olean, Binghamton, and especially Elmira, very important.
Catherine Harris Marker The communities along New York's border with Pennsylvania were also very active in the Freedom Trail. How did the fugitives get there? Did they move or did they stay? If they left, what routes did they follow?

This historic plaque marks the home of Mrs. Catherine Harris, an African-American hero of the Underground Railroad in Jamestown, NY.
Douglass StatueRochester sits on the Genesee River where it crosses the Erie Canal. After tumbling over three waterfalls, the river empties into Lake Ontario. Canada is across the lake. This meant that Rochester was very important to the UGRR. It was also the home of Frederick Douglass (see statue on the left). Once a Freedom Seeker arrived here, what would be the best route to the border?
Scenario 8: UGRR Routes and People in the Rochester/Genesee Region


There is very good documentation for Underground Railroad stations in the Rochester area. A place to visit to learn more about the heritage of Genesee country is the Rochester Museum and Science Center. They have an excellent exhibit (for adults and children) that interprets the history of the Freedom Trail in this part of New York State.

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