Underground Railroad, a name applied to an informal network that aided runaway slaves from the South before the Civil War. The slaves were helped to escape to Northern states or Canada. Many persons sheltered runaways in their homes or barns, helped them evade pursuers, or passed them on to the homes of other sympathizers. These places of refuge became known as "stations," and those who guided fugitives were "conductors" on the mythical railroad. One of the first stations was established by Vestal Coffin in Guilford, North Carolina, in 1819. His cousin Levi Coffin aided more than 3,000 escapees and was popularly called the "president of the Underground Railroad." One of the most noted conductors was Harriet Tubman, a fugitive herself.
The Underground Railroad is believed to have helped some 75,000 persons escape. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was passed partly in response to its activities.