Honouring the people of the Underground Railroad


23 February 2024
A new stamp issue from US Postal Service commemorates and honours ten brave individuals of the Underground Railroad, a movement that worked to help enslaved African Americans gain their freedom by escaping bondage.

From the time slavery was introduced to the Colonies until it was abolished in 1865 after the American Civil War, enslaved people made ceaseless efforts to escape. The flight to freedom was difficult and exceedingly dangerous.

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At first, many of these freedom seekers began their journey unaided and many completed it without assistance, but in each subsequent decade in which slavery was legal in the United States, efforts to assist escape increased.

The Underground Railroad started as a loosely organised secret network of freedom seekers and those who assisted them. Over time, the network coalesced into a well-organised system as it responded to the increasing numbers of freedom seekers and a corresponding rise in attempts to thwart escapes.

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Starting at the place of enslavement, the railroad followed natural and man-made routes – rivers, canals, the Atlantic Coast, ferries and river crossings, road and trails. Locations close to ports, free territories and international boundaries prompted many escapes. 

Most of those involved remained anonymous, but some left their mark on history, including the 10 men and women honoured on these Forever stamps. Presented as a sepia-toned portraits, the issue features men and women who escaped slavery and/or helped others to escape:

  • Civil War scout and spy Harriet Tubman (c.1822–1913) had escaped slavery.
  • Thomas Garrett (1789–1871) was a Delaware-based Quaker operative.
  • William Still (1821–1902) was the leader of the Philadelphia network, whose mother escaped slavery.
  • Harriet Jacobs (1813–97) escaped slavery and wrote a memoir about her experiences.
  • Reverand Jermain Loguen (1813–72) escaped slavery and became an operative based in Syracuse, NY.
  • Quaker operative Catharine Coffin (c.1803–81) was based in Indianna and Ohio.
  • Boston-based operative Lewis Hayden (c.1811–89) had escaped slavery.
  • Frederick Douglass (1818–95) escaped slavery and sheltered freedom seekers in Rochester, NY.
  • Detroit-based operative William Lambert (1817–90) was born free.
  • Laura Haviland (1808–98) was a Michigan-based Quaker operative.