Famous Slave Escapes

“Fugitive slaves were rare then, and as a fugitive slave lecturer, I had the advantage of being the first one out.” – Frederick Douglass
It was not uncommon for slaves to try to escape given the treatment that they were often subjected to. The life of a fugitive was almost impossible for many; if they were caught without a pass from their master, a white man would be free to detain and punish them. Many people made it their business to interrogate lone African American slaves as it became quite profitable; there was the possibility of receiving a finder’s fee if the master was located, or if the slave was not claimed, they would be re-sold and the person that had initially caught him would sometimes receive part of the profit. There are brutal accounts of runaways being torn limb from limb by slave hunting hounds; assuming both dogs and men were successfully avoided, escaped slaves would then struggle finding food or shelter and frequently return to their master asking for forgiveness.
  • Learn about the dangers faced by fugitive slaves.
  • Read about the childhood of famous escaped slaves.
  • Learn about daring and flamboyant escape attempts by former slaves.
  • Read about the lives of famous escaped slaves.
  • Learn about the ways in which former escaped slaves fought against slavery and racial discrimination.

Famous Slave Escapes

Henry ‘Box’ Brown
Former slave Henry ‘Box’ Brown mailed himself to freedom in a small crate; a dangerous journey that lasted over 27 hours

Ellen and William Craft
Slaves Ellen and William Craft escaped their masters with Ellen dressed as a disabled, bandaged man and William posing as her slave

Eliza Harris
The unknown slave later nicknamed Eliza Harris, escaped with her baby from slave hunters across treacherous ice floes

Robert Smalls
Robert Smalls escaped slavery on a confederate steamer, posing as captain and passing confederate barricades before changing direction and heading to free waters.

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