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4 (More) Badass Ways People Escaped From Slavery
By NisiOptimum | 22nd December, 2013 | 10:43 pm


4 (More) Badass Ways People Escaped From Slavery

By: NisiOptimum

John Henry Hill Fights His Way Out Of An Auction

Born into slavery in Virginia, it would be fair to say that life had dealt John Henry Hill a pretty shitty hand from the start. Still, he made the best of it, becoming known as a skilled carpenter and a diligent worker. Then, in 1853, his master decided to take him to the auction house in Richmond to be sold. In what had to be considered a dick move even by the standards of people who own other people, he didn't bother telling Hill where they were going, giving him no chance to even say goodbye to his family. And that was when John Henry decided that he’d had just about enough of this shit.


What do you mean, "No such thing as two days from retirement?

So when a couple of auction house employees came to chain his wrists, Hill kept smiling, held out his arms, and cold-cocked them to the ground. Next, he turned on his owner, and beat him so badly that he was forced to run away in terror. Then, Hill simply fought his way out of the auction house and made a clean getaway.


And he did it all while looking debonair as shit.

Now when we say auction-house, we don’t want you picturing some mahogany-riddled homey little town hall. This was a huge slave-market, specifically designed to hold people against their will. And John Henry managed to escape based solely on how awesome he was at punching. After pulling a stunt like that, the rest of us would probably just lay low and hide out until the heat died down. And Hill did exactly that- for a while. Then he got bored and taught himself how to forge passes that let him travel all over Virginia, visiting friends and family until arrangements could be made to smuggle him on board a steamboat to the North and freedom. On his way there, he was packing a pair of concealed pistols because John Henry, as we've already established, was not a man to be messed with.

Look Ma, No Hands

Henry Thomas was imprisoned after a failed escape attempt organized by his mother, proving once and for all why helicopter parenting is a bad idea. That same night, he worked off his ankle irons and Houdini-ed his way out of his cell. He made it to the Ohio River where he stole a small boat and rowed to safety. Well, we say safety. Really, if there is one thing to take away from this article, it’s that the Ohio River is evil incarnate. In this particular manifestation of horror, Thomas found himself heading towards an extremely sharp drop known as "the falls" followed by a lengthy stretch of vicious rapids.


The Ohio River, as far as you can prove.

But where normal people might have screamed and hurled themselves towards the nearest foliage, Thomas decided that he was in a hurry and he would be damned if he let a little thing like an imminently approaching watery death come between him and freedom. He sculled straight over the falls and navigated frantically through the rapids, eventually making it to safety and freedom on the north bank. So, yeah. That’s it. Pretty amazing story right?

Oh, wait! Did we mention that he escaped from the jail he had been unable to remove the chains from his wrists? Because that bears repeating- Thomas basically went whitewater rafting, over a small waterfall, with huge chunks of heavy metal binding his hands together. If that’s not badass incarnate, we don’t know what is.

And at this point, there is a good chance that we don't want to know.

Mustapha rips off The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

One often ignored deterrent to escape was the issue of money. Slaves were generally prohibited from accumulating much cash and had little in the way of valuables that could be carried on the flight north. This meant escaped slaves would often arrive in free territory penniless and reliant on charity. Of course there were always a few exceptions, such as a Virginian slave named Mustapha who worked out that he did have one very valuable piece of property he could quite easily escape with- himself.


"The Circle of Life" sounds more meaningful as a philosophy when you aren't being forced to pick cotton by assholes.

Mustapha teamed up with a hunchbacked white criminal named Arthur Howe and launched a scheme so brilliant we're surprised it isn't retroactively responsible for Virginia's relatively high incidence of skin cancer. After escaping from the plantation, Mustapha and Howe traveled north through Virginia. At each town they came to, Howe would sell Mustapha to a local plantation owner for a healthy price. Then that same night, Mustapha would escape again, rejoin Howe, and they would split the cash from the sale. Plus, the plan meant that they didn't really have to worry about slave hunters showing up. After all, who would expect the guy who was just sold to a local plantation to be an escaped slave? They kept this up all the way to Richmond, at which point the pair separated and Mustapha “made his escape to the northward” a wealthy man. Presumably, he was then able to make even more money exhibiting the massive balls required of a man who happily handed himself over to a different slave owner every day, secure in the knowledge that there was no way he wasn't going to be able to work out an escape route by nightfall.

John Smith tries seduction, finds violence works better.

Early American settler John Smith’s own stories about his life are so outrageous that everyone just assumed he was full of bullshit until scholars actually started turning up old letters and documents confirming his stories. As a teenager, Smith ran out on a respectable apprenticeship and became a mercenary in Europe. After a brief stint as a pirate, he joined the Austrian army just in time for their war against the Turks. During one siege, he invented a sort of crude grenade called “the fiery dragon.” During another, he won duels against three Turkish champions in a row, beheading them after his victory. For the rest of his life, his coat of arms contained three severed Turkish heads.


Which admittedly isn't a patch on the three sets of testicles Italian mercenary Bartolomeo Colleoni put on his coat of arms.

Eventually, Smith’s luck ran out; he was captured by the Turks and sold as a slave. He was purchased by a Turkish noblewoman who Smith, demonstrating his usual admirably straightforward approach to problem-solving, immediately set about attempting to seduce. He apparently had some success, as his mistress decided to send him to live with her brother "to learne the language, and what it was to be a Turke, till time made her Master of her selfe," with the implication that she wanted him to enter Turkish service so she could marry him. Unfortunately, her brother was less keen on this idea, and decided to starve Smith and work him to death in the fields instead. Smith immediately put all his formidable creativity and flair into coming up with an escape plan. When that didn't work, he just beat the brother to death with a threshing bat, stole his clothes and horse, and headed for Austria. He ended up in Russia, which is still pretty good for a guy trying to sneak around disguised as a Turk while not actually speaking any Turkish. He then went to America, met Pocahontas, and accidentally blew his own genitals off.

All said, it could have ended up worse.

Nisioptimum is a real life writer for and an editor for Listverse, and has seduced, or will eventually seduce, every one of your mothers.

Tags: Slavery, History, Badassitude 31

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