Kentucky is the only state bounded by rivers in three directions. The western boundary is the Mississippi River, the eastern boundary is made up of the Big Sandy River and the Tug Fork, and the northern boundary is approximately 700 miles of the Ohio River.
The documentary illustrates the importance of Kentucky's geography in the slave trade as well as in the fugitive slave movement. The Ohio River, the dividing line between slave and non-slave states, sometimes froze over in the winter and was low enough to walk across in the summer, making escape at certain crossing points more feasible. The steamboats traveling the Mississippi River would often carry slaves "sold down river" into the deeper south. Escaping slaves would sometimes "disappear" into the crowds on the river docks and ride steamboats north to freedom. Tributaries and streams were used as escape corridors for slaves. Maps of escape routes through Kentucky are not known to have existed, primarily because of the secret nature of the activity.
In addition, the documentary explains why Kentucky, Virginia and Maryland became major slave selling states, why the central Kentucky region was unique in the state for it's large number of slaves and why Lexington and Louisville became important locations for slave auctions.
Map a route using only references from nature (e.g., turn at the tree with the crooked trunk). What other clues would be appropriate to give someone trying to follow the map so they would know if they're on the right path? How could the route be followed at night, with limited sight or visual clues?
Look at changes in the Ohio River over time. Ask students to explain the effect of placing dams and locks on the river on its likelihood of freezing or drying out.
What were the push/pull factors that caused the fugitive slave movement to "pick up steam" in the period 1830-1860?
Connection to Kentucky's Core Content for Assessment for Geography
Patterns on Earth's surface can be identified by examining where things are, how they are arranged, and why they are in particular locations.
Earth is vastly complex with each place on its surface having human and physical
characteristics; to deal with this complexity, people create regions.