What would you call the person that lives in a safe house, to save them from a much worse situation, say a person seeking freedom, escaping violence. The text I am translating refers to the African Americans who were offered a place in Underground Railroad safe houses during the period of slavery in the US.

I'm looking for a generic word (not the official "freedom seekers" or similar) - something that has to do with them being "protected" (a synonym for "protectee") The sample sentence is:

The comforter on the bed has star and moon patterns... Mother didn’t make it herself... it was a gift from one of her poor protectees when we arrived here. It was a gift from Mrs Dillard, as thanks for the help she’d received.

  • 10
    Not sure if this is good enough for an answer but a refugee is someone who has sought refuge which is what a safe house is. A refugee is usually considered to be someone who has fled their country, but the situation fits the question, and literally means someone in a refuge. Feb 21, 2019 at 19:53
  • 1
    Safe, one would hope. Feb 21, 2019 at 19:55
  • thank you for the suggestions, refugee is along the right lines, it's a noun so fits the grammar of the sentence, but it's quite a loaded word (especially nowadays) and I think I need something more neutral, that would also fit the historical time period - mid 19th century America (Boston). Feb 21, 2019 at 20:33
  • 1
    I initially thought of ward, but that is usually reserved for children. However, if context is already clear, you can simply call the person a resident.
    – jxh
    Feb 21, 2019 at 22:57
  • 1
    Why is "protectee" not sufficient? If you want a generic word in a context where it's already understood you're talking about a safe house you could say "resident".
    – nnnnnn
    Nov 19, 2019 at 7:56

2 Answers 2


There are several candidates that fit particular circumstances within your general definition: refugee, runaway, outcast, fugitive.

refugee = a person who leaves his or her home or country to find safety, esp. during a war or for political or religious reasons

outcast = a person who is not accepted or has no place in society or in a particular group

runaway = someone who has escaped or run away from somewhere

fugitive = a person who is running away or hiding from the police or a dangerous situation


Of these, I suggest fugitive as the most general meaning, encompassing all the others. Any of the others may be a fugitive.

  • Fugitive is supported by "She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman" By Erica Armstrong Dunbar books.google.co.uk/…
    – Greybeard
    Apr 3, 2022 at 17:06

I would suggest they are "under protection" or "taking refuge", but if you need a single-word noun perhaps "refuge-takers" would work?

  • yes, the "poor people under her protection" I was thinking.. although it's a bit longer that the "poor protectees" which would the literal translation of what I'm translating from. Feb 21, 2019 at 20:34
  • @MagicamenteTranslations If you are doing a translation, you need to provide us with the original text. Some of us here actually have a few languages between us and may be able to provide a better translation: however, in this case i doubt it. It is curious that you are doing a translation INTO English, unless it is from an African language. Is this for ONU, or USAID? Feb 21, 2019 at 21:15
  • it's literature and it's from IT: povere protette. I didn't mention it because I was thinking more of a word search to find something suitable..equivalent in English rather than a translation. The author is using a generic term, the reader is supposed to understand what she is implying, but without her saying it explicitly (fugitives/escapees/freedom seekers/runaway slaves), perhaps it's the sensitive way they referred to the people who passed through their house. Feb 21, 2019 at 21:28
  • OK @MagicamenteTranslations We have several REALLY good polyglots here, and I have no doubt that they should be able to assist you..however, [povere protette] should be included in the question...however...once again, why is this coming from IT into AmE.? Feb 21, 2019 at 21:40
  • I am not well versed in the historical details of the time, buu is it posible that the host referred to the people as guests. I suppose that reflects a 21st century sensibility and trend to destigmatize people one is tryng to help.
    – Damila
    Feb 22, 2019 at 1:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.