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Use this brief timeline of the Underground Railroad to get a better sense of the broad picture.

Lancaster County events are in bold.

Timeline of the Underground Railroad
1619 Twenty Africans are shipped to Jamestown, Virginia, on Dutch ships.
1641 Massachusetts colony legalizes slavery.
1642 Virginia colony enacts law to fine those who harbor or assist runaway slaves.
1726 "Negro Peter" and "Negro Sal" arrive with John Wright and Samuel Blunston to establish a settlement near Shawanah town, an Indian settlement on the Susquehanna, within present day boundaries of Columbia.
1775 The Pennsylvania Abolition Society is established to protect fugitives and freed blacks unlawfully held in bondage.
1777 Vermont becomes the first American colony to abolish slavery.
1780 Pennsylvania passes the Gradual Abolition Act [children born after March 1, 1780 to be indentured until the age of twenty-eight].
1787 The Northwest Ordinance prevents slavery to exist in the new federal territories.
1790 545 free blacks and 348 enslaved blacks in Lancaster County [Earl Township: 157 African Americans; Salisbury Township: 106 African Americans; and Borough of Lancaster: 96 African Americans
1793 Fugitive Slave Act becomes federal law. Allows slaveowners, their agents or attorneys to seize fugitive slaves in free states and territories.
1804 Underground Railroad is "incorporated" after slaveowner Gen. Thomas Boudes of Columbia, Pa. refuses to surrender escaped slave to authorities.
1817 About 50 persons of color meet on June 10th in Lancaster at the house of James Clendenin to discuss the establishment of a separate black congregation.
1818 A group of manumitted persons from Henrico County, Virginia arrive in Columbia

Missouri Compromise admits Missouri and Maine as slave and free states, respectively. The measure establishes the 36° 30' parallel of latitude as a dividing line between the free and slave areas of the territories.

Select and Common Councils of Lancaster pass ordinance on May 13th requiring "every free person of color" to register with the Mayor's office.


Kentucky representatives present resolution to Congress protesting Canada's reception of fugitive slaves.

Another group of manumitted persons, from Hanover County, Virginia arrive in Columbia.

1822 Former slave Denmark Vesey leads a slave uprising in Charleston, SC.
1830 Original founders of the Columbia Abolition Society reorganize as the Columbia Auxiliary Colonization Society.
1831 William Lloyd Garrison prints first issues of this anti-slavery newspaper, The Liberator. Black entrepreneur and abolitionist Robert Forten becomes chief financial supporter of the publication. Nat Turner stages insurrection in Southampton County, VA.
1834-1835 Columbia race riots.

Underground Railroad is formally organized. Black abolitionist Robert Purvis, becomes chairman of the General Vigilance Committee and "president" of the Underground Railroad.

Pennsylvania State Constitution amended to restrict suffrage to white males (Blacks regain the right to vote with the ratification of the 15th Amendment).

1842 Supreme Court rules in Prigg v. Pennsylvania that state officials are not required to assist in the return of fugitive slaves.
1847 Douglass edits anti-slavery newspaper, the North Star.
1849 Harriet Tubman makes her escape from Maryland.

Compromise of 1850 attempts to settle slavery issue. As part of the Compromise, a new Fugitive Slave Act is added to enforce the 1793 law and allows slaveholders to retrieve slaves in northern states and free territories.

873 out of 3,614 (24 percent) of Lancaster County's blacks live in Columbia.


Arrest and release of William Baker (Stephen Bennet from Baltimore County, Maryland).

Christiana Resistance and Treason Trials.

1857 Supreme Court declares in Scott v. Sandford that blacks are not U.S. citizens, and slaveholders have the right to take slaves in free areas of the county.

President Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation which declares "all persons held as slaves within any rebellion against the United States shall be then...forever free."

Columbia Spy reports on June 13th that 23 men from this area left to join the Massachusetts 54th Volunteers.


Civil War ends. Thirteenth Amendment is amended to the U.S. Constitution abolishing slavery permanently.

Adapted from timeline at the Boston African American Historical Site.

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