30 Interesting Facts about Slavery

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1Ebbie Tolbert

Ebbie Tolbert

Ebbie Tolbert was born in 1807 and spent over 50 years as a slave. She gained her freedom at the age of 56 and lived long enough that at the age of 113, she walked to the St Louis polling station and registered to vote.

2. In 1862, Robert Smalls, a slave freed himself, his crew and their families by overtaking Confederate ship, CSS Planter. He then sailed it north. The ship contained a codebook letting them pass CSA checkpoints. He became the new captain of the ship and convinced Lincoln to admit African Americans to the Army.

3. In 1841, a 12-year-old slave boy named Edmond Albius invented the technique for pollinating vanilla orchids profitably. Without this technique, it’s unlikely that vanilla would be nearly as well known as it is today.

4. A former slave named James Armistead acted as a double agent during the American Revolution. He was able to travel freely between American and British camps and foiled Benedict Arnold’s plan to storm Yorktown. This led to the British surrender.

5. Yasuke was a 16th century African who traveled to Japan as a slave. He caused such a sensation that a powerful warlord wished to see him. He thought his black skin was paint and ordered it to be scrubbed. However, they became friends and Yasuke was later given the prestigious rank of Samurai.

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Only 388,000 slaves out of a total 12.5 million that crossed the Atlantic were sold in the US. The rest (10.7 million) went to Mexico and South America.

7. Eunus was a slave-magician who joked on the stage that he planned to overthrow Roman rule and become king of Sicily. He later led a huge slave uprising and kept his promise to spare the lives of those who left him tips.

8. When former slave Jordan Anderson was asked to come back and work for his old master, he replied with a deadpan letter asking for 52 years' back pay as proof of good faith. The letter has been described as a rare example of documented "slave humor" of the period.

9. Abram Gannibal was a black African-born Russian nobleman of the 18th century. Sold into slavery, he was eventually freed by Peter the Great and adopted into the Emperor's household as his godson. His great-great-grandson is the celebrated author and poet Alexander Pushkin.

10. In 1780, a slave named Elizabeth Freeman essentially ended slavery in Massachusetts by suing for her freedom on the basis that the new state constitution declared that all men are born free and equal.

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11Pregnant slaves

Pregnant slaves

Female slaves in the American South would chew on the cotton root to abort a pregnancy, decreasing the reproduction of more slave children.

12. Samuel McCulloch, a freed slave, was the first Texian soldier to be wounded during the Texas Revolution, in 1835. A law later prohibited freed slaves from residing in the Republic of Texas but specifically excluded McCulloch, his family, and his descendants in recognition of his service.

13. Henry "Box" Brown successfully escaped slavery in 1849 by mailing himself in a wood crate from Virginia to the free state of Pennsylvania.

14. Bill Richmond was a black slave who fought alongside the British during the Revolutionary War. He later moved to England where he became one of the world's most famous bare-knuckle boxers. An articulate, respected man, he married a white woman and attended George IV’s coronation.

15. Quilombo Dos Palmares was a community of fugitive slaves in Brazil that resisted Portuguese efforts to destroy it for almost a century. One estimate places the population of Palmares in the 1690s at around 20,000 inhabitants.

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16William Lee

William Lee

William “Billy” Lee was George Washington’s slave and personal valet. He fought alongside Washington through the entire American Revolutionary War and was the only slave of Washington's who was emancipated immediately upon his death.

17. Before the Mayflower, Squanto was kidnapped, sold into slavery in Spain, and escaped back to North America, only to find his entire tribe wiped out from disease. The site he later helped the Pilgrams settle at was the summer village of his tribe, Plymoth Rock.

18. Roman slaves wore collars of iron with messages like a modern dog collar, for example, this one, which reads "I have run away; hold me. When you shall have returned me to my master, Zoninus, you will receive a solidus."

19. Mary Bowser was a freed slave with a Quaker education and a photographic memory, posed as a slow-witted slave to spy for the Union in Confederate President Jefferson Davis' household through much of the Civil War.

20. Wheeling Gaunt was a slave who bought his and his family's freedom in 1845 before moving to Yellow Springs, Ohio. At the time of his death, he bequeathed a large portion of his land and estate to the village under the condition that each widow be given flour annually, which continues to this day.



An African slave named Onesimus taught colonists in Boston how to inoculate themselves against smallpox. The treatment had been common in China and Africa for centuries.

22. In 1851 was a runaway slave named Jerry was arrested in Syracuse, New York during the anti-slavery Liberty Party's convention. A crowd of hundreds of abolitionists broke into the city jail and freed Jerry, eventually smuggling him to Canada. Nine participants in the rescue also fled to avoid prosecution.

23. William Ellis was a Texas-born slave who crossed the border to slavery-free Mexico and became a millionaire. Later on, he attempted to bring African Americans to Mexico and even served as a diplomat of the US to the King of Ethiopia.

24. An escaped slave of George Washington, Oney Judge lived her life as a fugitive in New Hampshire and provided historians the most detailed account of slavery at Mount Vernon.

25. Solomon Northup, a free African American living in New York in the 1800s, was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the south. As a slave, he had no way to testify his case. He remained a slave for 12 years before finally being freed. He then wrote a memoir “Twelve Years A Slave.”

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  1. The last name in number 4 is incorrect. It should be James Armistead. Lafayette was the commander of the French alliance forces that Armistead was under.



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