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Friends of Freedom: New Research on Vermonters and the Underground Railroad

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11/17/1997

After the Civil War, the reality of the Underground Railroad receded, and a legend evolved to take its place. The legend is one of false doors, secret panels, dark tunnels, and covert movements in the dead of night. The stock characters are terrified fugitives, righteous Yankee yeomen, and implacable slave catchers. Looking behind the myth, what was the nature of the Underground Railroad in Vermont? How did it function? Who were its members, and what was the experience of fugitives who traveled along it? Why does the UR still exercise a hold on Vermonters' imaginations? What are some misconceptions about it? Finally, what are some of the profits and perils of researching a clandestine movement, the history of which is so strongly intertwined with folklore? Ray Zirblis, Norwich University will address these questions, read from contemporary accounts, and discuss the history and historiography of the UR in Vermont.

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