Sometimes the slave’s running away was in protest against too much work, brutal whippings or injustice on the part of a master or a person to whom he had been hired. If the runaway was a good worker, he often had the sympathies of his master if he was mistreated as a hired hand. Some masters would go so far as to hide such a slave when he came to them because according to Tennessee law, the master could still collect the wages of the slave for the period of time named in the contract. Again, the master might send word to a slave, who had left him because of a particular grievance, that he had nothing to fear and might return to him without punishment. There were also the slaves who returned of their own accord; sometimes because they were tired of the woods, sometimes because they were literally starving but most frequently because of fear of being caught. However, due largely to the activities of the underground railway, slaves often succeeded in effecting a permanent escape to the free states. In the collected documents, one finds examples of all these types of escape from the slave situation. Sometimes they were temporary, sometimes permanent, but always real and usually fraught with grave dangers.


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August 2000