Friday, July 6, 2018

A Unit Study about the Underground Railroad with Field Trips

We are home from our fantastic Underground Railroad tour of the Midwest. I really want our American history studies to come to life and how better to accomplish that than to go to the sites where history took place? We are currently focusing on the Underground Railroad and a few of the brave people who contributed to this important period in our history. Our studies are leading us to dealing with the difficult reality of slavery in the modern world. Unfortunately, slavery still exists in our world, and there is a continued need to find ways to help those who live in bondage so they can live free.

Books we are reading ~
  • Who Was Harriet Beecher Stowe?
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin
  • Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglas: An American Slave
  • Frederick Douglass for Kids: His Life and Times with 21 Activities
  • What Was the Underground Railroad?
In addition to these wonderful books, we had the opportunity to go to a Chautauqua History Alive performance of Harriet Tubman. It was a wonderful performance. The interpreter told about her adventures escaping from slavery and then going back to rescue many more slaves. While she was talking, she reenacted an episode of narcolepsy without warning us. Since childhood, Harriet Tubman had suffered from this condition ever since she was hit with a heavy weight on the head by a master. The performance was a perfect compliment to our studies.

I was pleased to discover that we only lived about six hours away from several Underground Railroad sites, including the Levi and Catherine Coffin home that I had wanted to visit since I was a little girl. I was raised a Quaker and heard about their harrowing work on the Underground Railroad all my life. Their home was a major station on the Underground Railroad, and they moved more than 2,000 freedom seekers (runaway slaves) through their home over a 20 year period. It is believed that they never lost a single freedom seeker. Their community was a great support to the Coffins' work by providing protection, clothes, and a look out system for slave hunters and runaways. The Coffins did many creative things to make their home work successfully as a slave station, such as having their well inside of their home, having hiding places built in and Levi ran a mercantile so no one noticed if he was buying lots of extra food for many freedom seekers. They hosted groups as large as 18 at a time and sometimes harbored people that were sick for up to six months. The bell in the picture below was used to call out the community as witnesses if a slave hunter was trying to break into their home. By law, only an owner of a particular slave could search a home and then they could only collect that particular slave.
Coffin home in Fountain City, Indiana

The board at the end of the rocker bench kept a baby from falling out when the women were sewing and needed both hands.

This false bottom wagon could hold up to eight runaways at a time.

The Coffins built their well inside of their home so that no one would notice them needing to fetch water constantly
because of harboring so many extra people. 
This little attic space was once used for hiding 16 freedom seekers at one time. The bed was pulled over to block the door.

We also visited the Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. What a wonderful museum! It traced the roots of the Underground Railroad all the way through current efforts to help enslaved people all over the world. My children were only marginally aware of human trafficking and what is going on beyond our small existence. The exhibits on the Underground Railroad were a wonderful summary of all that we have learned so far, and the human trafficking and modern day slavery exhibit gave them a thorough introduction to current issues and how they might help.

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I am so glad we pulled this trip off. It was a wonderful hands-on way to learn about a time in history that is very near and dear to my heart. I love the humanitarian heroes! So much of history is depressing and can make one lose faith in mankind. This is one of those moments when human beings got to show that they could rise above the law of man and be caring and kind. After all, we all answer to a higher spirit than the law of the land, which is sometimes created by cruel men and women.

Blessings, Dawn


  1. I love history field trips. My youngest does too. He wants to work in a living history museum.

  2. Wow! Just wow! What marvelous stories of people with incredible strength and courage and faith. You're giving your kids such a gift with these history lessons and experiences.