People & Events
1740 - 1783
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By the middle of the eighteenth century, large numbers of fugitive slaves were risking punishment and even death in search of freedom. South Carolina's 1740 slave code made it legal to kill a slave who was found away from the house or plantation, even if that person did not resist. Georgia's 1755 statutes, patterned after South Carolina's, actually encouraged the killing of adult male runaways -- the reward for returning a dead male slave was twice the amount offered for returning a live woman or child.
In Georgia, the last of the 13 original colonies to be established, slavery had been prohibited for nearly two decades -- the "worthy poor" from England who inhabited the colony were to serve as a buffer between South Carolina and Spanish Florida, where fugitive slaves became free men and women. Georgia's anti-slavery law of 1735 also prohibited the immigration of free blacks.
During the Revolutionary War, most enslaved Africans believed that a British victory would bring them freedom. An estimated 100,000 took advantage of the disruption caused by the war and escaped from bondage, many of them making their way to the British forces. Others fled to Canada, Florida, or Indian lands. Thomas Jefferson believed that Virginia lost 30,000 slaves in one year alone.
Others ran away to join the patriot militias or Continental army. Washington and other military officers received numerous requests to recover runways who had enlisted. Charles, a man who had escaped from slavery with his wife and daughter, only to be captured and sold back into slavery, offered to fight "in defense of Liberty and the Rights of Mankind" in exchange for his family's freedom.
Still others waged guerrilla campaigns of their own, refusing to side with either the British or the American forces.
Fugitives often took as much with them as they could get or carry, including money, guns, powder, clothing and musical instruments. Sometimes they rode to freedom on their former master's horses.
Maroons in the Revolutionary period
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