Home: Our Story: Revolution: Escape From Slavery
In order for slaves to become British soldiers they had to find a way to escape their owners. It was not an easy task or an easy decision to attempt escape. But at least in the era of the Revolution an escaping slave could find a safe haven with the British. At any other time they could never relax for fear they would be recaptured by their master's agents.
Slave owners knew that this offer of freedom would attract many slaves. Slave owners already had an effective deterrent for runaways; publicly beating them until their blood ran on the ground. After the beating, slaves would have their wounds washed with salt and would be forced to go directly back to work.
Shortly after the proclamation a letter was printed in a newspaper attempting to scare slaves away from the British. It claimed that the British planned to sell the slaves to plantations in the sugar islands (in truth, this did happen to many Black Loyalists at the end of the war).
The Virginia Assembly also published a declaration at the time decreeing that the penalty for runaway slaves would be death without the benefit of clergy. They added that if the runaways turned themselves in they would be pardoned. They also called for all 'benevolent' souls to turn in any runaway slaves they came in contact with.
Two slaves who braved all of these threats and dangers in hope of freedom were David George and Boston King. Both of them escaped slavery more than once, as recapture was a constant threat.
David George was a slave to a particularly cruel master. This treatment of him and his family provoked his decision to run away. He left his plantation late at night and walked until morning. After some adventures he became the slave of a native chief. He was almost bought back by his former master but managed to escape before the deal was concluded. He worked for a man named Mr. Gaulfin until the beginning of the American War when Mr. Gaulfin deserted his slaves. From there he and his family traveled to New York and finally to Nova Scotia.
Boston King's escape was unplanned. He went to visit his parents and so borrowed a horse from a friend of his master. The horse was borrowed by another servant and not returned for several days. King knew that if he escaped to Charleston, he could escape the terrible beating he was sure would be inflicted on him. He managed to make it there safely and was accepted into the army. King worked as an officer's servant for a while, traveling with a white regiment. Once, after being separated from the regiment, a militia sergeant asked King how he would like him being his master and commenting that he was tired of serving the British. He clearly planned to take King as a prize of war. King was less than enthusiastic but bided his time until a good opportunity to escape came. He made it back to British lines and told them his story. Angered at the desertion, they traveled to the man's home and burned it to the ground.
King then entered into the British navy, and not much later was captured by an American privateer. King said that they treated him relatively well, but that kind treatment could no longer satisfy him. He was kept in New Jersey, and King eventually escaped to British lines by wading across the Hudson to the British forces in New York under the cover of darkness.
Most slaves ran away at night hoping their absence would not be noticed until they were far away from their masters. Others stole boats and escaped to the sea. Thirteen slaves were given the death penalty after they seized a schooner in an attempt to escape their masters.
Even though there were many dangers and torments associated with running away, such as execution or having their family punished on their behalf, thousands of slaves did so regardless. For them, freedom was more important than anything else in life.