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Lane, Lunsford(1803–?) - Slave, entrepreneur, Chronology, Early Life as a Free Man

family freedom purchase carolina

Lunsford Lane, a nineteenth-century slave, went from slavery in North Carolina to a free man serving as a steward in Wellington Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts. He wrote and self published the story of his life as a slave and his efforts to extricate himself and his family from slavery; the narrative has as part of the subtitle “Embracing an Account of His Early Life, the Redemption of Himself and Family from Slavery, and His Banishment from the Place of His Birth for the Crime of Wearing a Colored Skin.” In the note to the reader, Lane indicates that he is writing in response to requests from friends and to garner income for his large family (seven children, a wife, and parents). Even though his stated aim is not to speak out against the institution of slavery, the narrative was used as a tool in the fight against slavery.

Lunsford Lane was born May 30, 1803, to Edward and Clarissa Lane (whose names were acquired from their previous owners) in Raleigh, North Carolina. Lane and his mother were the slaves of Sherwood Haywood, a planter and banker. His father was a slave on a neighboring plantation. His mother was a house servant; as a result, Lane was born and lived in the kitchen, the accommodations for the house servants. His childhood was fairly happy and he was not aware of a difference between him and the white children until he was about ten when he was actually assigned tasks to complete. He became a driver for his owner, came in contact with many personalities (legislators, speakers, other influential individuals) of the day, and grew in his knowledge of the world and the rights of men. In spite of what appears to be a life of ease when compared to the slaves in the field, he understood the tenuousness of a slave’s life and he had a thirst for freedom.



Born in Raleigh, North Carolina on May 30


Marries Martha Curtis


First child born


Makes arrangements to purchase himself and is taken to New York to receive his manumission papers


Publishes The Narrative of Lunsford Lane in Boston; returns to Raleigh to purchase his family


Prior to this year listed as steward at Wellington Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts; no Lunsford Lane listed in the city directory after this date

Lane came to the conclusion that the only way to gain freedom was for him to purchase himself. He pondered ways this could be executed; his father provided him with the catalyst and later the method for earning money for his freedom. One day, he provided him with a basket of peaches, which Lane sold for a profit. From that point on, Lane began to work and save towards his future freedom. He often acquired tips from the men who visited Haywood; he cut wood after a day’s work and sold it the next morning. However, the plan which proved most profitable for him again was the result of his father’s action. He had devised a way of making smoking tobacco different from any other. Lane improved on the tobacco and made it sweeter; he also constructed a smoking pipe better than any others. Sales were lucrative and his smoking clientele grew to include smokers in other cities and members of the legislature. He became known as a tobacconist and later labeled his tobacco, Edward and Lunsford Lane.

As his business grew, so did his relationship with white men in power. With his prosperity, he decided it was time to marry. He married in 1828 and began his family in 1829. His wealth increased; however, there were many demands on it, including providing for his family when the owner did not. Before he could purchase his freedom, his owner died, and the bank placed a claim against the estate. This action forced Haywood’s widow to sell some of the slaves. However, she retained Lane and allowed him to hire out his time and pay her a fee. Through this boon and his various means of making money, he was finally able to pay his owner $1,000 for his freedom and to make a deal with the owner of his wife and children to buy them for $2,500 on an installment plan. In 1835, Lane made arrangements to be purchased in Raleigh; he could not legally purchase himself or receive his freedom except for meritorious service, and he had to be taken to New York to receive his manumission papers.

Early Life as a Free Man

Lane received his papers and returned to Raleigh to his family and to work. Through an agreement with his family’s owner and the purchase of a house, he and his wife were allowed to live together. He returned to his businesses and worked in the office of governor Edward B. Dudley. As he prospered and moved towards the purchase of his family, he received a letter telling him to leave the city and reminding him of a North Carolina law which prohibited free men from other states to reside in North Carolina. Even though many individuals supported his efforts to remain in Raleigh and the legislature was petitioned, Lane had to leave.

He left with one of his daughters for whom he paid $250 and went to New York and Boston where he lectured and earned money to aid in the purchase of the remainder of his family. Lane returned to Raleigh on February 23, 1842, to buy his family. He had been assured his entry, purchase (paying the remaining $1,380), and exit would take place without incident. However, there were complications and he wound up being captured, jailed, and tarred and feathered. Even though he encountered these obstacles and men who were jealous of his success, there were those who tried to save him and aid in the completion of his business. Once he was freed, he was reunited with his family, the transaction was completed, and Lane was able to leave with his family. His former owner Mrs. Haywood gifted his mother to him, provided her with free papers, and told Lane that if he were ever able to pay for her, the price would be $200. The ten (mother, wife, seven children, and Lane) lived in Philadelphia; New York; Boston; Oberlin, Ohio; and Worcester, Massachusetts.

Later, they were joined by Lane’s father who had gained his freedom through legacy. Lane expressed his appreciation to friends and others who helped their initial progress in freedom. Lane continued to lecture on the subject of slavery. In his book on Lane, William Hawkins reports that two of Lane’s sons were at Port Royal, South Carolina doing their part in the Civil War. During the Civil War Lunsford Lane served as a steward at Wellington Hospital in Worcester where he, his wife, and daughters cared for sick and wounded soldiers. According to Sande Bishop, they cared for one hundred soldiers prior to the closing of the facility in 1863. According to the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography , there is no record of Lane in the city directory of Worcester after 1863, although there is a Lunsford Lane Jr. mentioned in 1865.

Lane, William Henry(1825–c. 1852) - Dancer, Minstrel Shows Aped Blacks, Becomes Master of Dance, Chronology [next] [back] Lane, Kenneth Jay

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