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underground railroad

Also called underground railway. a railroad running through a continuous tunnel, as under city streets; subway.
(often initial capital letters) U.S. History. (before the abolition of slavery) a system for helping fugitive slaves to escape into Canada or other places of safety.
Origin of underground railroad
First recorded in 1825-35 Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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British Dictionary definitions for underground railroad

underground railroad

(often capitals) (in the pre-Civil War US) the system established by abolitionists to aid escaping slaves
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for underground railroad

Underground Railroad


"network of U.S. anti-slavery activists helping runaways elude capture," attested from 1847, but said to date from 1831 and to have been coined in jest by bewildered trackers after their slaves vanished without a trace. Originally mostly the term for escape networks in the (then) western states of the U.S.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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underground railroad in Culture

Underground Railroad definition

A network of houses and other places that abolitionists used to help slaves escape to freedom in the northern states or in Canada before the Civil War. The escaped slaves traveled from one “station” of the railroad to the next under cover of night. Harriet Tubman was the most prominent “conductor” on the Underground Railroad.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Idioms and Phrases with underground railroad

underground railroad

A secret network for moving and housing fugitives, as in There's definitely an underground railroad helping women escape abusive husbands. This term, dating from the first half of the 1800s, alludes to the network that secretly transported runaway slaves through the northern states to Canada. It was revived more than a century later for similar escape routes.
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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