Did you know the Underground Railway went south to Mexico as well as north to Canada? The route was more informal, but the liberation was just as real. At least 5,000 to 10,000 enslaved Africans sought their freedom in Mexico in the 1800s. Why? In Mexico, the enslaved Africans were freed by law in 1829, several decades before the Emancipation Proclamation in the US.
The railway south was more informal and less documented. Researchers are working on unearthing any clues they can find. One source of information they’re utilizing are ads from US newspapers in the 1800s about enslaved people who had escaped from their slaveholders. The slaveholder’s ads would describe the escaped people’s clothing, identifying marks and likely destination. Mexican historical archives have confirmed the runaways’ arrival in the country of their newfound freedom.
Enslaved people escaped from Louisiana and Texas into Mexico. Canada was too far to go. Mexican lawmakers had allowed the new Anglo-European Texas arrivals in the 1800s to continue to enslave people, even beyond the 1829 date it was banned in Mexico. However, the Mexican citizens already living there did not believe in slavery, and would help people escape south. Soon after the enslaving exception ceased in 1830, Texas declared independence in 1836, then in 1845 became a US state. The secret railroad south continued for enslaved people to seek freedom.
Researchers continue to work on this fascinating quiltwork of passages to freedom. I look forward to hearing more about this fascinating history.