Underground Railroad –By the Numbers

Here are some ways to visualize the statistics of slave escapes and the impact of the Underground Railroad:

  • Enslaved population in 1840: roughly 2 million
  • Enslaved population in 1860: roughly 4 million
  • Estimated number of antebellum slave sale transactions: 2 million
  • Ratio of antebellum slave marriages broken apart by sale: ¼
  • Estimated annual temporary escapes from slavery (“laying out”): 100,000
  • Estimated annual attempts at permanent escapes from slavery: 1,000
  • Documented recaption (kidnapping) efforts across North during 1850s: 150
  • Documented individual fugitive rendition cases between 1850-1861:  200
  • Total number of formal federal rendition hearings between 1850-1861:  125
  • Number of rendition hearings in New England states after 1854:  0
  • Percentage of nation’s rendition hearings held in Ohio between 1855-1861: 75
  • Documented vigilance-led resistance efforts during 1850s:  80
  • Estimated total casualties from antebellum resistance efforts:  100s
  • Total number of UGRR operatives killed in free states: 0
  • Total number of UGRR operatives fined or imprisoned in free states:  10s
  • Longest sentence for UGRR operative convicted in northern state under federal law:  3 months
  • Longest period of imprisonment for a UGRR operative convicted in a slave state:  17 years
  • Estimated annual number of newspaper articles about fugitive escapes: 10,000s
  • Ratio of slave to free states in 1840: 13 / 13
  • Ratio of slave states to free states in 1860: 15 / 18
  • Ratio of initial secession declarations that focused on the fugitive issue:  4/4

Sources:  McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom (1988); Franklin & Schweninger, Runaway Slaves (1999)Stanley Campbell, The Slave-Catchers (1968); Lois Horton in David Blight, Passages to Freedom (2004); Walter Johnson, Soul By Soul (1999).


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