While many people are familiar with the story of Henry “Box” Brown, who mailed himself to freedom in a wooden box, Lear Green’s story is less well-known. Green was an enslaved young woman who made one of history’s most daring and innovative escapes in order to marry the man she loved. Green was able to flee her slaveowner, James Noble, in an old wooden sailor’s chest during a long and arduous shipping journey from Baltimore to Philadelphia.
Noble, a slaveholder and butter salesman, had received Green as a gift from his mother-in-law. Green, who was born in 1839, was in her teens when she fell in love with William Adams, a free Black man who proposed to her.
Green first rejected because she did not want her children to grow up in a slave-holding environment. “How can I fulfill my responsibilities as a wife and mother while being enslaved?” Green is said to have enquired of Adams.
Green, on the other hand, changed her mind after Adams and his mother, who was also a free woman, devised a plan for her to flee. Green, now determined to free himself from slavery’s oppression, bought an old sailor’s chest and filled it with supplies such as “a quilt, a pillow, and a few articles of raiment, with a small quantity of food and a bottle of water.”
Green was crammed inside the chest, which was tied with strong rope by her fiance Adams and his mother. In Baltimore, Adam’s mother boarded an Ericsson steamboat and brought the trunk with her. The chest was rope-secured and packed with other cargo. During the 18-hour trip to Philadelphia, Adams’ mother crept into the compartment and raised the chest lid from time to time to check on Green and give her a breath of fresh air.
The ship arrived at Philadelphia after 18 hours in the chest. Green would connect with William Still, an Underground Railroad conductor, before continuing north to marry Adams and relocate to Canada.
Green’s slave owner, Noble, designated her as a fugitive slave, and a manhunt was begun to apprehend her. Noble allegedly advertised her escape with the following message: “$150 REWARD. My NEGRO GIRL, Lear Green about 18 years old, black color, round features, nice looking and ordinary size ran away from the subscriber on Sunday night, 27th inst. I have grounds to believe she was convinced by a black guy named Wm Adams…who had heard he was planning to marry the aforesaid girl.”
Green and Adams married and made their home in Elmira, New York. Their happiness together, however, was fleeting. Green died abruptly at the age of 21 after three years of marriage for unexplained circumstances.
Many people associate the slave trade’s sad history with the horrible experiences that enslaved Africans had while laboring on plantations in the Americas and other parts of the world. For ages, Africans have been seized and chained, forced into ships, and transported to new regions against their will. Some even died before reaching their new homes as a result of their ordeals on the ships.
It was the beginning of numerous hours of work on enormous plantations with little food and the constant reminder of their status as property for those who survived. Slaves, on the other hand, did not passively accept their fate. Slave revolts were common at the time, and some, like Green, risked everything to flee to freedom in some daring and clever methods.
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