Black HistoryStacy M. Brown

Weather Critical in Success of Underground Railroad

As documented throughout the pages of African American and women’s history, Harriet Tubman courageously engineered the freedom of dozens of slaves through the Underground Railroad.

Tubman, who earned the nickname “Moses,” was successful because of her courage and determination.

And according to a new feature, Tubman’s efforts were aided substantially by the weather.

Monica Danielle, a senior producer for AccuWeather, notes that weather played a crucial role in the success of the Underground Railroad.

“Although traveling at night in the fall or winter offered the best chances for escaping, most enslaved people did not have maps or compasses to guide them,” Danielle wrote in a new feature for AccuWeather.

Tubman’s route usually took her up Maryland’s Eastern Seaboard, through Delaware and into Pennsylvania, where slavery was illegal.

“From here to Philadelphia is about 100 miles and she would’ve done that on foot. She could’ve taken boats as well as wagons, so it was a mixture — any way she could travel she did,” Angela Crenshaw, who manages the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park in Dorchester County, told Danielle.

“One hundred miles in the winter. Or fall,” Crenshaw said.

From there, those seeking freedom from pursuers would often make their way to Canada. Because the seasons played such an integral role in how and when Tubman planned her journeys, the park has installed stunning stained-glass windows depicting the seasons.

Danielle added that a freedom-seeker’s ability to navigate was often a matter of life and death.

Taught to navigate by Black Jacks, free African-American sailors, Tubman used the North Star as her guide, reportedly saying, “God’s time is always near. He set the North Star in the heavens. He gave me the strength in my limbs. He meant I should be free.”

Crenshaw told Danielle that Tubman planned her emancipations to take place during the fall and winter months.

“When the sun sets in the winter at, say, 3:30 and doesn’t rise until 6 or 7, you have much longer to travel,” she said. “During the day when the sun is out, it’s much easier to see somebody in the woods — to chase somebody and follow someone.”

The journey, regardless of season, was perilous, Crenshaw said.

“The landscape here in Dorchester County is very tidal and very marshy so in the summer would’ve been squishy and wet,” she explained, adding that, “in the summer, there are a lot of biting flies and mosquitoes and chiggers and things that are definitely a hindrance.”

Contrast that with the cold of winter:

“In the winter, the ground is frozen solid, but it could also give way underneath you,” Crenshaw told Danielle.

Although most couldn’t read or write, those making escapes could find the star by locating the Big Dipper — also called the Drinking Gourd — which is most visible in the night sky during late winter and spring. Their eyes would follow the Big Dipper across the sky until they spotted the North Star.

As the National Park Service notes: “The night sky is a canvas of stories that links us to this past. National parks are among the best places to see the stars and hear these stories. The next time you gaze at the stars, think on the drinking gourd story and those early Americans who staked their freedom on a star.”

To read the entire AccuWeather report, go to

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Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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