Runaway Slaves

50,000 Per Year

5/28/20231 min read

  • "The great majority of runaways, however, were not involved in insurrections. Rather, they ran away alone and sought to distance themselves as much as possible from their owners. Four out of five runaways among those sought were male, and three out of four among them were between the ages of thirteen and twenty-nine.

  • They escaped from plantations, farms, urban residences, job sites, and river boats. Among the many causes of slaves running away, perhaps none was more pervasive than seeking to reunite with family members. Slaves ran to neighboring plantations to be with husbands or wives. They ran to search for mothers and fathers. And all too often they ran, in vain, to retrieve their children.

  • Those who absconded northward from plantations along the coast of South Carolina and Georgia, the Black Belt of Alabama, the Mississippi Delta, or sugar parishes of Louisiana faced a trek of hundreds of miles through uncharted and largely unknown terrain.

  • Even their counterparts in the upper states confronted numerous obstacles to making it to free territory. But the chances of making it to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or across the Ohio River were remote.

  • In most areas with large black populations, patrols frequently roamed across the countryside during the nighttime hours to flush out runaways.

  • The number of runaways annually would exceed fifty thousand."

Slavery, Resistance & Freedom, G. Boritt and S. Hancock, eds., Oxford (2007), “The Quest for Freedom: Runaway Slaves and the Plantation South,” by J.H. Franklin and L. Schweninger