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But the lure of freedom was powerful, and slowly--in whispers, from mouth to mouth--word got around that escape was possible. A slave who reached the free states in the North could hide among free blacks, and could with luck avoid recapture. A slave who reached the distant and mysterious land of Canada could be free--truly and legally free. The trip would be difficult and dangerous, but the reward was overwhelming. Many slaves made up their minds to run away.
But it wasn't easy to escape. Slaves were valuable property, and they were watched closely. Many couldn't leave their homes without written permission. Once they were on the road, they were suspected by anyone who saw them. In some places they weren't allowed to ride trains or even cross bridges without a written pass. A slave riding a horse on the open road was assumed to have stolen it. Even carrying food or clothing was dangerous, as it suggested that you weren't on your way home. So most fugitives had to travel by night, on foot, with nothing to eat but the scraps they could find or steal as they went. And all the way, they knew they might be stopped, searched, questioned, and even seized, at any moment.
From the Trade Paperback edition.