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Home Our History Buying Black Pittsburgh Helped 100,000 Enslaved People Find Freedom

Pittsburgh Helped 100,000 Enslaved People Find Freedom

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Canada may have been the promised land for some but Pittsburgh was the salvation of many. Pittsburgh was arguably the most critical city on the Underground Railroad: without Pittsburgh, it simply wouldn’t have worked. It is estimated that 100,000 people escaped to freedom because of Pittsburgh, a legacy that should never be forgotten. The Steel City offered hope, salvation and freedom to many.

Pittsburgh is located along Allegheny, Monongahela and the Ohio Rivers. Those rivers explain much of Pittsburgh’s significance to runaways, who relied on them to get to the city. Pittsburgh was also critical in the development of the antislavery Republican Party, which launched its first national convention in the city. The nexus of geography, antislavery businessmen (who opposed slavery because it upset competitive balance, not moral reasons) and a vibrant free Black community in Pittsburgh, made the city a destination for runaways. Many of them stayed in Pittsburgh, opting to take up residence in the Hill District, Pittsburgh’s oldest Black community. The Hill District was a destination for middle class free Blacks especially, filled with Black owned businesses and other community institutions.

Pittsburgh was home to Martin Delaney, widely regarded as the “Father of Black nationalism.” Frederick Douglass personally came to Pittsburgh to recruit Delaney to be co-editor of The North Star, an anti-slavery newspaper. Delaney would also go on to publish his own paper, The Mystery. The Mystery was one of the few papers that survived an 1845 fire, which destroyed a third of the city. Delaney’s downtown home served as a critical safe house for the Underground Railroad.

The Bigham House

There is no way to know how many Pittsburgh safe houses existed during the heyday of the Underground Railroad. There are, however, sites that still exist. Thomas Bigham was an abolitionist lawyer in Pittsburgh. His home, now known as the Bigham House, sat strategically on a hill. It is said that Bigham’s Black family nurse, Lucinda Bryant, faithfully watched from the tower of the Bigham home for fugitive slaves or professional slave hunters. Bryant was from the South and many suspect her to have been a former slave.

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D'Juan Hopewell
I care about Black Power. Period. Currently working on creating jobs and funding new startups on the South Side of Chicago and writing here and there at HopewellThought.com. Follow me @HopewellThought.
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