Many escaped slaves ended up in safe settlements in the North, where there were supportive communities of free blacks, friendly American Indians or abolitionist religious groups (usually Quakers). Cities such as Boston, Buffalo and Philadelphia were common destinations. Other former slaves traveled on to Canada, particularly after the harsh retribution enacted in the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, and even more after the renewed Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which made it a punishable offense for U.S. law enforcement officials to avoid arresting any person suspected of being an escaped slave. The latter law made it much more difficult for former slaves to remain within the United States after making their way to free soil. Once escaped slaves decided to stay in a particular place, they would often receive aid in establishing their new lives from vigilance committees made up of both black and white sympathizers.
During the Civil War, many slaves attempted to gain their freedom by surrendering to Union forces from the North. Unfortunately, they often ended up in "contraband camps," in which they became targets of neglect and abuse by Union soldiers. Humanitarians, shocked by the conditions at contraband camps, created organizations to help newly freed slaves. In 1865, two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the same year the Civil War ended, the War Department passed an act establishing the Freedmen's Bureau. The Bureau was responsible for rehabilitating former slaves by providing them with education, clothing, medical treatment and the like. It also supervised the fate of confiscated Confederate lands in the District of Columbia and Indian Territory, and divided plantations into smaller portions of land. Once divided, plantation land was either sold to former slaves or reassigned to the original owners -- if the owners had signed an oath of allegiance to the Union. The Freedmen's Bureau didn't last past 1872 [source: Freedmen's Bureau].
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