Runaway Journeys
Many Reasons to Leave
The Peaks of Migration
Profile of the Fugitives
Escape to Cities and Towns
Maroon Communities
Going South and West
Up North
Canada, the Promised Land
The Civil War
The Consequences of the Migration

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A profile of fugitives both within the South and in the North and Canada reveals that the great majority were young men in their teens and twenties. They ran away in greater numbers because they had not yet married or, if they had, had not yet begun a family.  They were also more able to defy authorities or their overseers and owners if necessary.  Once away from the plantation or farm, they could better defend themselves and were willing to resist capture. 

Interview with Walter RimmTexas Narratives, Volume 16, Part 3Interview with Walter Rimm from Texas Narratives, Volume 16, Part 3

Women were less likely to be fugitives because they had often begun to raise families by their late teens and early twenties.  With youngsters to care for, it was difficult to contemplate either leaving them behind or taking them along in an escape attempt.  Nevertheless, many women embarked on the migration to freedom.

Among the most notable was North Carolina native Linda Brent - later known as Harriet Jacobs - who escaped in 1835 and hid in an attic for nearly seven years before running to the north.  She later became a reformer, abolitionist, and educator and wrote her autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself , in 1861. When she escaped, a wanted poster was displayed for miles around.

Incidents In The Life of a Slave Girl. Written by HerselfIncidents In The Life of a Slave Girl. Written by Herself by Jacobs, Harriet Ann, 1813-1897

Sometimes entire families made it to freedom, like Harriet Shepard and her five children, who, along with five other men and women, fled in an owner's carriage. In a few instances, extended families of ten or more made it across the Ohio River.

Besides tremendous courage, runaways displayed a great deal of ingenuity and organizational skills. They had to discretely gather food for the trip and, if possible, changes of clothes. Most runaway advertisements described the clothing people were wearing when they left, and as a consequence, many runaways modified their appearance, and even disguised their gender. Those light-skinned enough to pass for white had to behave and talk like white people. All had to provide believable explanations when asked questions, and they became masters at deceit and secrecy.

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Daniel Bradley on runaway 6, October 1805 and ResponseLetter from Thomas Jefferson to Daniel Bradley on runaway 6, October 1805 and Response

Henry "Box" Brown of Virginia made one of the most unusual escapes from slavery. After his owner sold his wife and children to a North Carolina planter, Brown resolved to flee from bondage. With the help of a friend, he folded his five-foot-eight-inch, two hundred pound body into a specially constructed wooden box, two-feet-eight-inches deep and two feet wide. His friend took the trunk-like box to the Adams Express Company in Richmond and sent it off to a Philadelphia abolitionist. Twenty-seven hours and 350 miles later, Brown arrived at his destination.

 Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown, Written by Himself Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown, Written by Himself by Henry Box Brown, b. 1816

Most runaways chose one of the five major destinations that evolved during the period from the American Revolution to the Civil War: towns and cities in the South, remote areas near the plantations, the West, the North, and Canada. A few fled to Mexico, Central America, or the Caribbean.

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