NJM Blog

New Jersey and the Underground Railroad

While the Underground Railroad took place in many states along the northern East Coast, New Jersey also played a very important role. We're bringing you a bit of lesser known history about that role the Garden State played.

New Jersey's portion of the Underground Railroad mainly helped fugitives from Georgia, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware. The portion in the Garden State helped between 30,000 and 40,000 fugitive slaves escape to their freedom.

Two very important characters of the Underground Railroad have a close relationship with New Jersey: Harriett Tubman and William Still.

Harriett Tubman, though a native of Maryland, spent her summers between 1849 and 1852 working as a hotel worker in Cape May. She used the money that she earned to return to her native Maryland eastern shore and help guide slaves to their freedom.

William Still, another prominent figure of the Underground Railroad, was a native of New Jersey. Still is famous for authoring The Underground Railroad in 1872, as well as acting as a guide for slaves on their journey to freedom.

Take a look at a brief timeline of the major events that led to the Underground Railroad as it relates to the Garden State:

  • 1786 – New Jersey enacts legislation banning further importation of slaves, thereby ending slave trade to New Jersey.

  • 1793 – New Jersey Society for the Abolition of Slavery is created, the state's first anti-slavery organization.

  • 1804 – New Jersey passes the Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery, the state's first abolition law. It freed all black children born on or after July 4, 1804 after serving an apprenticeship to their mother's owner for a designated period of time.

  • 1830 – Underground Railroad begins with unknown origins.

  • 1847 – William Still begins work with the Pennsylvania Society for Abolition of Slavery, becoming a prominent and important figure of the Underground Railroad.

A full list of key Underground Railroad sites can be found on the National Park Service's website. The site provides information on each location as well as the address, so you can actually go to the location and see the Underground Railroad's rich history for yourself!