The Harsh Reality: 20 Facts About the Brutality of Slavery

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1Abram Gannibal

Abram Gannibal

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.

2. 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.

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

4. 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.

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

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6Bill Richmond

Bill Richmond

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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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."

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11Mary Bowser

Mary Bowser

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.

12. 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.

13. 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.

14. 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.

15. 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.

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16Oney Judge

Oney Judge

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.

17. 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.”

18. Sara Forbes Bonetta was a West African who was orphaned, sold into slavery, and in a remarkable twist of events, was liberated from enslavement and became a goddaughter to Queen Victoria.

19. Lewis Williams was an escaped slave who managed to evade recapture by switching with a body double at his crowded trial and then crossdressing as a woman to flee town. He was aided by a reverend, who dressed him up as his “daughter” with a veil and bonnet, then got him out of town.

20. Maria Lewis was a 17-year-old emancipated slave who disguised herself as a white guy and fought in a Union cavalry unit for over two years.

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