The Secret Codes of Slaves presentation at NHA

Quilt containing the title of the presentation: The Secret Codes of Slaves.

In recognition of Black History Month, the students and staff at New Hope Academy in Yardley welcomed Linda Salley, the president of the African-American Museum of Bucks County, to the campus on Thursday, February 23. Ms. Salley’s engrossing presentation centered around the codes that slaves used to communicate with each other on the Underground Railroad.

Linda Salley, the president of the African-American Museum of Bucks County

One example was in the songs they would sing. Their owners thought they were merely singing about their spirituality, but in actuality, they were sending secret messages to each other. The song “Steal Away,” which features the lyrics, “I ain’t got long to stay here,” would be interpreted to mean that a slave was going to be escaping.

The presentation kept the students quite engaged.


Another method of secret communication was the quilts the slaves would hang on the clothes lines or the fence posts that would be seen by the slaves on the run. Each quilt was comprised of a certain pattern and it was these very patterns that would communicate a specific message. One pattern, “Bear’s Paw,” meant that the runaway slaves should head towards the mountains, where they would find water and food. Another pattern, “Log Cabin,” would tell the slaves to head towards a log cabin where they would find refuge and protection.

One of the secret codes.

Ms. Salley also spoke about slave-turned-abolitionist Harriet Tubman and her role in assisting the slaves. There were a number of questions from the audience, which included what the consequences were should a slave be captured, when the slaves would travel, and what local landmarks were a part of the Underground Railroad. Ms. Salley’s presentation was greatly appreciated by all in attendance and echoed the importance of passing along these vital stories to future generations.


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