Follow the Drinking Gourd

"Follow the Drinking Gourd" is an inspiring history of how black slaves in North America gained their freedom by observing the heavens.


Before 1865, slavery was legal in North America. Africans were captured and taken from their homeland to America where they were exploited and treated inhumanely by their white 'owners'. They were made to work mines and fields to harvest resources. There, their dark skin set them apart from the white Americans, so escape was almost impossible. The terrible plight that these people faced drew many who sympathized. Amongst those who sympathized was the Lieutenant-Governor of Canada, John Graves Simcoe, and he passed a law in 1793 which stated that any slave who reached Upper Canada was a free man. Even before that, the people of Canada generally accepted slaves as free men. So slaves in North America would do anything to travel north to Canada for freedom.

The Underground Railroad

Luckily for the slaves, there was a secret network to help them escape from slavery to freedom. This was the Underground Railroad. This secret network provided hiding places, food, directions and often transportation for the slaves. The Underground Railroad was instrumental in the freedom of many men, women and children. It also helped undermine the institution of slavery, which was finally ended in the United States during the Civil War. Ever since, and up till 1948, the slave trade was still active, but dwindling. 1948 was the year slave trading and ownership was banned internationally by the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

How did they try to escape?

Obviously they didn't escape in one big group like the Exodus. And they had to make sure their escaping plan didn't fall into the wrong ear. Therefore, to communicate, they had to encode their messages, so to speak. Songs and poems were invented as forms of expression and there were even encoded messages in the quilts they made! One of the best known songs composed was "Follow the Drinking Gourd".