The 2,006.5-mile Underground Railroad Bicycle Route (UGRR) was created by the nonprofit organization Adventure Cycling Association. From Mobile, Alabama, to Owen Sound, Ontario, the trail memorializes the Underground Railroad, a network of clandestine routes by which enslaved freedom seekers attempted to escape slavery before and during the Civil War.
The history of this period comes alive as bicyclists pedal along the corridor that traces the Underground Railroad from the Deep South to Canada, passing points of interest and historic sites. Beginning in Mobile, a key port for ships to unload enslaved Africans in the 1800's, the route goes north following several rivers to Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky. The Tombigbee River provided the primary mode of commercial transportation for cotton connecting Itawamba County to downriver port towns of Aberdeen and Columbus.
Waterways, as well the North Star, were often used by freedom seekers as a guide in their journeys to escape slavery.
The American folksong, "Follow the Drinking Gourd," was first published in 1928. The song was supposedly used by an Underground Railroad operative known as "Peg Leg Joe" to encode escape instructions and a map within its lyrics. These directions then enabled fleeing
slaves to make their way north from Mobile, via the Tombigbee, the Tennessee, and the Ohio Rivers to freedom. The "drinking gourd" refers to the hollowed out gourd used by enslaved Americans as a water dipper. However, in the song it is used as a code name for the Big Dipper star formation, which points to the North and freedom. According to legend, "Peg Leg Joe" traveled throughout the Deep South, passing the song along to slaves on the Southern plantations.
The Underground Railroad was a network of secret trails and safe houses used by 19th-century enslaved people to escape from the South into the free states and Canada. Abolitionist and allies aided slaves through several routes north. One such route as north along the Tombigbee River from South Alabama to the river's headwaters in northern Itawamba County. The path then extended across the hills to the Tennessee River and onward north to the Ohio River.
Harriet Tubman (1820-1913) led slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad earning her the name "Moses of her People."