• Peg Leg Joe and Follow the Drinking Gourd

    By the time of the Civil War, more than 4 million slaves were living in America and all of them longed for freedom. The Underground Railroad wasn’t a real railroad, but a system of roads and safe houses that black people traveled on their way to Canada or New England. One old folk song told them the way.

    Fun Facts

    • The story goes that “Follow the Drinking Gourd” was written by a man named Peg Leg Joe, a sailor, who pretended to be a carpenter and had a wooden leg.
    • He would gain work on plantations and teach the slaves a song he had written, “Follow the Drinking Gourd.”
    • This song laid out through its verses a safe way for slaves to travel from Mobile Alabama to Kentucky, where they could cross the Ohio River to freedom. The song instructs them to leave in the spring and follow the Big Dipper, which points to the North Star.
    • They were to travel at night and watch for signs marked on dead trees — a left foot and a peg foot.
    • From there, they would see a river and then another river to cross to freedom.
    • No one knows for sure if Peg Leg Joe was a real person, a myth, or a combination of real people, but this song inspired slaves to seek freedom and it also became very popular during the Civil Rights Movement.

    Questions and Answers

    Question: Why did the slaves travel at night?

    Answer: Running away was very dangerous, but traveling at night offered the slaves their best chance of freedom. Slavecatchers were generously rewarded for tracking down slaves and bringing them back. They often used hunting dogs to help them.

    Learn More

    Watch a video about the Drinking Gourd.


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Declan, Tobin. " Peg Leg Joe and Follow the Drinking Gourd - American History For Kids ." American History for Kids, Nov 2022. Web. 24 Nov 2022. < https://www.americanhistoryforkids.com/peg-leg-joe-and-follow-the-drinking-gourd/ >.

APA Style Citation

Tobin, Declan. (2022). Peg Leg Joe and Follow the Drinking Gourd - American History For Kids. American History for Kids. Retrieved from https://www.americanhistoryforkids.com/peg-leg-joe-and-follow-the-drinking-gourd/

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