Henry “Box” Brown Mails Himself Out of Slavery
In 1849 an enslaved man in Virginia by the name of Henry Brown managed to escape slavery by mailing himself to freedom. Brown crammed himself in a small crate that was only 3 feet long and 2 feet wide. Standing at 5’8, getting into the box was no easy feat for Brown but he managed to do it. He then had two friends carry the crate, with him inside, down to the offices of the Adams Freight Company and claim it was a package of “dried goods” on their way to Philadelphia.
Robert Smalls Hijacks an Entire Ship of Enslaved People
Perhaps one of the most outrageously daring escapes involved Robert Smalls, who hijacked a ship along with 12 other enslaved people and their families, and sailed away to freedom. White people had no idea that Smalls was spending every day preparing for his escape and they were helping him do it. Smalls was learning signals and the locations of mines in the harbor during the years he spent working for the Confederate Navy. One day, his white masters felt comfortable enough to leave Smalls on the vessel while they left for drinks. Smalls quickly rounded up about a dozen enslaved Black people with their family members and set sail. He cheerfully waved to soldiers at Fort Sumter prepared to gun down any suspicious ship and gave them the signal that he had seen the vessel’s captain use in the past. After slipping past all of the mines, Smalls sailed off to the Union.
A Body Double and Some Cross Dressing
Lewis Williams was a Black boy who actually escaped from slavery not once, but twice. He escaped slavery as a young boy in Kentucky and grew up as a free child in Cincinnati. Unfortunately, at the age of 20 he confessed to a psychic that he actually escaped slavery. The woman ratted him out and Williams was quickly apprehended. Fortunately for him Cincinnati was the home of Rev. William Troy, who refused to let the young boy go back to a life of being enslaved. Troy called on the aid of a young boy who looked incredibly similar to Williams. When it was time for William’s court appearance, Troy had the courtroom packed with abolitionists who caused quite the fuss and distracted authorities as Williams switched places with his body double. Eventually a bailiff realized the defendant was a completely different person and the body double was also set free. Then there was the matter of getting out the courthouse. Troy simply dressed Williams up as a girl and the two strolled out of the courthouse and back home as if nothing had ever happened.
Cross Dressing Couple is Quick on their Toes
Cross dressing turned out to be a rather effective way to escape from slavery. In 1848, a Georgia man named William Craft noticed his wife was light enough to pass as a white woman. His initial plan was to simply pose as her slave and make their way to freedom. The problem was that it was rare for a woman to travel alone with an enslaved Black man so they decided that his wife, Ellen, would have to take on the role of a white man. Ellen’s face was wrapped with bandages and her arm was placed in a cast so nobody would ask her to sign her name. After tossing on a top hat the light-skinned woman was unrecognizable and Craft took on the role of her servant. The couple then made their way unto the train and after hours of Ellen pretending to be deaf to avoid conversation with a good friend of her master who was also on board the train, they wound up in Philadelphia and had officially reached freedom.
A Chilling Escape That Caused a Slave Catcher to Have a Change of Heart
Eliza Harris was so dedicated to saving the lives of her grandchildren that she simply scooped up the youngest of the group and took off back in 1838 in the middle of winter. Harris rushed through the snow only to reach the rushing Ohio River which still hadn’t completely frozen. Instead of being a solid sheet of ice, it was a violently fast body of water carrying thin chunks of ice downstream. For Harris, it was enough to give her hope. She hopped from one speeding, slippery slab to the next until she reached the other side. If it sounds familiar, Harris’s escape inspire a scene from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the heroine of the story was named after her.
In addition to inspiring literature, her escape also inspired a change of heart. After reaching the other end of the river, a slave catcher was waiting to capture Harris and return her to her master. After her heroic display, however, the catcher simply helped the daring grandmother to her feet and pointed her in the direction of freedom.