“Whatever its origin, the phrase soon became ubiquitous…. By 1853, the New York Times could observe that ‘the underground railroad’ had ‘come into very general use to describe the organized arrangements made in various sections of the country, to aid fugitives from slavery.’
“That same year, a North Carolina newspaper [the Raleigh Daily Register] offered its own definition: ‘An association of abolitionists whose first business is to steal, or cause to be stolen, seduced or inveighed…. slaves from southern plantations…. to steal [a slave] from an indulgent and provident master, to carry him to a cold, strange, and uncongenial country, and there leave him… to starve, freeze and die, in glorious freedom.’ ”
— From “Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad” by Eric Foner (2015)
“I was digging around and came across something that I’ve been telling folks did not happen: escaped slaves on the ‘underground railroad’ in western North Carolina….
“It’s not so much that it did not happen, it is just that it VERY seldom happened. I have a post-war account here someplace that speaks on escaped Union soldiers telling slaves they could not come with the fleeing soldiers. A slave would be missed and sought after immediately. While escaped Union soldiers were always being sought after by the home guard, it is not the same as a master getting together a posse to hunt for an escaped slave.
“This account was written more than 40 years after the event, so we should not take it as gospel.
“Pine probably would have traveled through modern-day Avery or Mitchell Counties to join up with Federal soldiers. Of interest is his description of his escape in Charlotte.”
“Outside of East Tennessee the most extensive antiwar organizing took place in western and central North Carolina, whose residents had largely supported the Confederacy in 1861. Here the secret Heroes of America, numbering perhaps 10,000 men, established an ‘underground railroad’ to enable Unionists to escape to Federal lines.
“The Heroes originated in North Carolina’s Quaker Belt, Piedmont counties whose Quaker and Moravian residents had long harbored pacifist and antislavery sentiments. Unionists in this region managed to elect ‘peace men’ to the state legislature and a member of the Heroes as the local sheriff. By 1864 the organization had spread into the North Carolina mountains, had garnered considerable support among Raleigh artisans and was even organizing in plantation areas (where there is some evidence of black involvement in its activities).
“Confederate governor Zebulon Vance dismissed the Heroes of America as ‘altogether a low and insignificant concern.’ But by 1864 the organization was engaged in espionage, promoting desertion and helping escaped Federal prisoners reach Tennessee and Kentucky….
“Most of all, the Heroes of America helped galvanize the class resentments rising to the surface of Southern life. Alexander H. Jones, a Hendersonville newspaper editor, pointedly expressed their views: ‘This great national strife originated with men and measures that were … opposed to a democratic form of government.… The fact is, these bombastic, high-falutin aristocratic fools have been in the habit of driving negroes and poor helpless white people until they think … that they themselves are superior; [and] hate, deride and suspicion the poor.’ ”
— From “The South’s inner Civil War” by Eric Foner, American Heritage, March 1989