But contemporary accounts of her case indicate that Rose was more than simply an arsonist. Apparently, for most of her short life she had stolen from whites to whom she was indentured and had fenced certain items to at least one Black accomplice.13 Her failure to escape capital punishment probably resulted as much from her refusal to name the accomplices to her thefts than the crimes themselves.14

     The ultimate form of theft, of course, involved stealing one’s self. Flight was often motivated by fear of being sold out of the company of loved ones, a desire to be with family who had already been sold away, ill treatment, and simply the desire to disrupt the normal operation of the economy. Data on runaways corroborate adult enslaved males as the most frequent absconders from their owners. The nature of their labor, independent economic activities, opportunities for socializing, and patterns of labor holdings in the city, made flight less problematic for men than for women. Generally, men lived, labored and played in the company of other males. Many had access to conveyances—horses, boats, carriages—by which they could make their escape. Working on the docks placed them in the position to persuade cooperative mariners to assist them to freedom by stowing them aboard outbound ships. And the camaraderie that developed as a result of the ability of men to socialize in public places and after hours, permitted them to hatch and execute plans for flight. The ability of skilled men to hire their own time, to virtually live beyond the watchful eyes of an owner, permitted them to enjoy a degree of freedom that few women knew.

     The smaller number of women runaways, however, was all the more remarkable because of the added burdens they faced in deciding to flee. Women lived and labored in more isolated circumstances than men. They generally worked alone in a household or were joined by their minor children. Hence, they were forced to contemplate flight without benefit of other adult input and only after considering its impact on the welfare of their offspring. Despite these disabilities, however, women stole themselves away from their owners. Neither unfamiliarity with the language and customs, fear of capture, nor age deterred them. The old as well as the young, the native born and the newly arrived, took flight. Mothers often ran with their young children in tow. When West Indian-born Cuba ran away from her owner in June, 1758, she decided she could not leave her 22-month-old child behind. Neither could Kate, who absconded with her 15-month-old on September 8, 1763, and Charity who fled with her two-year-old son, Peter, in June 1777.15 Doubtless these women recognized the diminished likelihood of success that fleeing with children, especially ones so young, would entail. Yet, they embraced the risk, choosing to strike out toward the uncertain future that awaited mother and child "on the lam," rather than leave their offspring behind to suffer the certain exploitation that awaited them under slavery.

 

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HUAN 5 
August 2000