Geography And Black History: Mexico’s Role In The Underground Railroad.


When it comes to the Underground Railroad, Canada is the destination mentioned often, and it is something taught in American schools. And with good reasons. Slaves who wanted to escape to freedom would make their trek to Canada, and ultimately, freedom. At least 30,000 slaves made their way to Canada.

(Routes slaves took to get to Canada).

Canada, however, was not the only place where slaves who wanted to escape found refuge. Consider the geography of slavery. The states where slavery was legal included: Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and last but not least, Texas. Texas becomes important in this regard.

The state of Texas was also a slave state, albeit, it didn’t enter the Union until 1845. When Texas was its own country, it had slavery. Most of Texas’ enslaved Blacks lived in north-central to eastern Texas, where the climate was most suitable for growing cotton. Many slaves that ran away hid in the bayous or hid with local Native American peoples. Some slaves would sneak onto ships and sail away to ports outside of America, and ultimately freedom. Escapes didn’t end there though. Here is where geography comes into play.

Texas not only shares a border with Mexico, it has the lion’s share of the U.S./Mexico border. Many people think of the U.S./Mexico border from the perspective of going to places lik Tijuana to party. For slaves from Texas, Mexico would become a refuge. By simple proximity, Mexico would be the place slaves from Texas would escape to. Mexico abolished slavery in 1829 and would not extradite those who escaped. Mexico is closer to Texas than Canada is. Texas was the westernmost state to be a slave state, and the only one bordering another sovereign country. Less than 5 years after statehood, at least 3,000 slaves escaped to Mexico.

(Map of Mexico. Texas is right above Mexico, occupying the eastern half of the US/Mexico border)

(Map of Underground Railroad routes. Notice one going to Mexico via Texas. )

Slaves who escaped to Mexico had many ways of doing so. Texas had a few important sea ports. Slaves could sneak onto boats bound for Mexican ports. Many escaped on foot or on horseback. And Texas wasn’t the only place where many slaves came from. Many slaves who escaped to Mexico came from as far away as Georgia and North Carolina.

The Underground Railroad wasn’t an actual railroad, but a clandestine movement of slaves escaping to freedom. The Underground Railroad certain ran through the northern states into Canada. The Underground Railroad also took slaves to freedom in Mexico. Geography of nearness played an important role.

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