Travel Wanna-dos

With spring right around the corner (as I ignore the falling snow and blustery winds out my window), we’re gearing up for another season of outdoor activity. The kids and I are hoping to go on an extended “Freedom Trail” trip, with drives out to historic sites and museums pertaining to the abolition of slavery movement and the Underground Railroad. Upstate New Yorkers were the movers and shakers of the abolition movement, Charles Finney’s explosive revivals spawning a social movement unsurpassed in American history since the Revolution of 1776. There are numerous Underground Railroad stations in Upstate New York, including several in my local community and one just down my street.


Anyone know why it was called the Underground Railroad? Take a guess?

It was called such because of the use of code phrases, to hide the slaves and their escape routes from the authorities. Definitely sounds like a New York plan. Here are some of the code words, in case you didn’t know. Notice the obvious religious undertones.

Baggage: Escaping slaves

Bundles of wood: Fugitives to be expected
Canaan : Canada
Freedom Train: The Underground Railroad
Gospel Train: The Underground Railroad
Heaven or Promised land: Canada

Load of Potatoes: Escaping slaves hidden under the farm produce in a wagon
Moses: Harriet Tubman
Parcel: Fugitives to be expected
Preachers: leaders, speakers underground railroad
River Jordan: The Mississippi
Shepherds : people escorting slaves

Station : place of safety and temporary refuge, safe-house
Station Master: keeper of safe-house

“The wind blows from the South today”: A warning to Underground Railroad workers that fugitive slaves were in the area.

“Left foot, peg foot”: A visual clue for escapees left by an Underground Railroad worker famous because of his wooden leg.

“A friend with friends” – A password used to signal arrival of fugitives with Underground Railroad conductor.

“The friend of a friend sent me” – a password used by fugitives traveling alone to indicate they were sent by the Underground Railroad network.

“Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus” (words to a song) – used to alert other slaves that an escape attempt was coming up.

There is a lot to learn about the Freedom Trail. New York State has an entire section of its tourism devoted to it, from John Brown’s home in Elba, NY, to Harriet Tubman’s home in Auburn, NY, to the estates of abolitionists like Gerrit Smith. I’m still working on the plans, but it will be a designated itinerary that I expect will take us several months or longer.

A blogger friend in Syracuse also told me of a lovely Erie Canal Park in Camillus, NY (near Syracuse). It is an area devoted to the history of the famed Erie Canal of New York State, with a park-like setting. There’s plenty of space and rural recreation areas dedicated to dog-walking, exploring ruins, and strolling down its numerous paths. We love the outdoorsy-type activities, so this sounds like a very enjoyable early-spring day trip.

I can’t think of any other places we will be this season. The Freedom Trail will certainly consume most of our energies. We would like to take a trip out of state this summer (yes– out of New York State!), perhaps to Washington, DC, and Virginia, to visit some relatives (and stay with them for free, heh heh). All this is in the planning stage, as I also need a new kitchen this year. Stay tuned, adventures will continue!

About the Author

I've been traveling throughout New York State since I got the travel bug after touring the Herkimer Home on a school field trip as a youngster. We've been blogging about our travels since 2006 and have visited over half of New York's 62 counties so far.

Comments (3)

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  1. Jack says:

    No offense but saying that “upstate New Yorkers were the movers and shakers of the abolitionist movement” is just ridiculous. I mean all you have to do is take a sampling of well known abolitionists and they were all active in pretty varied geographic locations.

  2. Beverly says:

    Thanks for the history about the underground railroad upstate New York. New York is on my “wanna-do” list for sure! I been through there via 18 wheeler. I couldn’t really stop and explore. But it will always be on my “wanna-do” lists until I can better say, “been there done that!” Thanks for sharing! Happy travels!

  3. Hey Jack thanks for visiting, but maybe you should double-check your history. Charles Finney, Gerrit Smith, John Brown, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, etc were either from Upstate NY or moved here. This was THE place of the abolition movement.

    Hey Beverly, thanks for your comment! Yep, it is so beautiful here! I hope you do get a chance to stop. My brothers are 18-wheelers, too! Stay safe and God bless!