Bartow County and the Underground Railroad


Madison Hold, Writer

Bartow County played a role in helping slaves who were chasing freedom find their way along the Underground Railroad to the Northern States.

The Underground Railroad had neither a train nor tracks. It was not an exact railroad, but instead, a transportation system for abolitionists to help direct fugitive slaves toward freedom. The railroad began in the 1830’s thanks to a Quaker abolitionist named Isaac T from Philadelphia. 

Word got around and more Quaker communities in South Carolina and other southern states began to create a secret route for escaping slaves. Slaves would travel  by night through tunnels and sleep during the day at private houses, schools, and churches, known as “stations” and “depots.”

People like John BrownHarriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglass were known as “escape artists” because they had easily traveled back and forth on these secret adventures from the south to the north. They were slaves who had successfully been to the freed lands and would bring other family and friends along the railroad for their independence.

The underground railroad became far less “underground” once the Civil War started. At this point, Union forces took over the routes to help slaves cross quickly over border states. 

From tiny cities like Emerson to bigger cities like Savanna and Atlanta, Georgia citizens assisted slaves wishing for freedom. The most popular station was just east of  Atlanta. For cities like Emerson, slaves would stay in private houses until they could travel south to Atlanta to get rides up north in wagons and secret cattle carts.

The most important thing about the underground railroad is the way conductors and fugitives communicated to one another. Quilts were commonly used to send messages to escaping slaves about where to go and at what time. The owners of private homes would hang these quilts over their fences to give subtle hints of direction.

The wagon wheel pattern on a quilt was a message for slaves to expect to leave on a wagon.

The bear paw meant that there was a mountain trail for slaves to travel that would keep them hidden until they got to their next destination and their next meal.

The log cabin block meant the owners were safe to talk to.

The North star block meant to keep heading north for a safe trip.

A flying geese picture steered fugitives to water and food along the way.

A sailboat was a sign to cross a body of water.

Drunkard’s path was a warning to take zig zag path rather than follow a straight line.

Bow tie meant to dress in disguise.

Last, the monkey watch pattern was a sign for slaves to get mentally and physically prepared for the journey of escaping a plantation.   

 In conclusion, without these disguised quilt signs, there probably wouldn’t have been such a successful outcome for fugitive slaves. Just outside the Cartersville City Utilities Buidling stands a monument to the slaves and abolitionists who participated in the Underground Railroad in Bartow County and in Georgia.