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The Fugitive Anderson

The Illustrated London News, vol. 38, no. 1078, p. 209.

March 9, 1861


After our Supplement, containing a portrait of Anderson and some particulars relating to his release, was at press we received a copy of the Toronto Globe of the 18th ult., which gives a long account of Anderson's early life and his escape from slavery. We extract from it the following details:—

John Anderson was born in the year 1831, in Howard county, State of Missouri. His mother was the slave of one Burton, a carpenter, who lived on a small farm near Fayette. His father, who was almost white, served as a steward on board a steamer which sailed on the Missouri, but made his escape to South America while Anderson was yet young. His mother remained with Burton till Anderson was seven years old, when she and her master had a quarrel. Young Anderson was "raised" by Mrs. Burton, of whom he speaks highly. He was brought up on the farm, and in process of time gained such a knowledge of farming that he undertook its management. When about twenty years of age he was married to a slave, the property of one Brown, who resided two miles from Burton's. After Mrs. Burton's death Burton and Anderson had a dispute, which ended in his being sold to one M'Donald, who lived in Glasgow, thirty miles from Fayette. Being thus separated from his wife, Anderson was much discontented, and from this time he watched for an opportunity to make his escape to Canada.

In September, 1853, when he had been about two months with M'Donald, he made his escape. M'Donald was at the church, investigating a case of a slave having been whipped to death, when Anderson rode off on one of his master's mules to a branch of the Missouri, at a point where there was a ferry. The ferryman, being under orders to prevent all slaves who had no passes from crossing, asked Anderson for his pass. Anderson replied that he did not require one, but the ferryman would not allow him to go over. Riding back into the woods, he remained there till it was evening, when he returned to the river. He was on the point of seizing a boat that was lying on the bank when, some one appearing, he was compelled again to retreat into the woods, where he lay till within two hours of daybreak. He then ventured once more to the bank, and found a skiff without oars lying by the river. He supplied himself with a piece of bark, and, using this as a paddle, got across the stream. He then repaired to the house of his father-in-law, who was a free man and a barber by trade, and from him obtained some refreshment. He next visited his wife and child, and, affectionately bidding them farewell, went on his way, determined to obtain his freedom.

It was about noon on the second day after his leaving M'Donald that a man named Digges met him and asked him for his pass. When Anderson said he had no pass Digges with his slaves chased him, and in the conflict that ensued Digges was wounded and Anderson escaped uninjured. About a week after his adventure with Digges Anderson found shelter for the night in a barn, where he met a coloured boy, from whom he purchased some provisions. Anderson usually travelled by night, and got what rest he could by day. He suffered much from want of food, sometimes not tasting any for several days, and often he had to content himself with corn, hazel nuts, pawpaws, or raw potatoes. A dollar and a half was all the money he had when he started on his perilous journey, and of this he never spent any except when compelled to do so by extreme hunger. One day while resting himself by the wayside a man on horseback rode up and attempted to capture him, but Anderson fled to a neighbouring field and found protection among the stalks of corn.

Impelled by necessity to resort to any expedient to satisfy the cravings of hunger, he one day entered a farm-house by the kitchen door, and finding some salt that was at hand he put it in his pocket and walked out, meeting none of the inmates. He next came to a farm-yard, where he captured three chickens, and then repaired to the woods that were close by. Lighting a fire, he cooked two of them, but had scarcely finished the second when he heard some footsteps, and thinking that the owner of the chickens was in pursuit of him he made his way out of the woods with the other chicken in his hand as soon as possible. This chicken served him for two days. Near Mississippi village he met with a coloured man, and gave him ten cents to buy some crackers for him. This man, after some delay, brought him the crackers, which he greedily devoured. He crossed the Mississippi by night, using for that purpose a boat which he found, and keeping clear of the ferry for fear of detection.

It was now Saturday night, and about two weeks since he had left M'Donald; and he had reached the Free State of Illinois; but, from the attempts made to capture him in this State, he was convinced that he was almost in as much danger there as he had been in Missouri. On Sunday night he went into the house of a white man, an Englishman, who gave him a good supper and a bed. Having on the following morning got breakfast, and the good-hearted Englishman having prevailed on him to take some bread and apples in his pocket, John again set out with renewed strength and spirits. He soon met some men on horseback, who asked him for his pass, but he pretended to be free. The men, disbelieving him, pursued; but Anderson was too expert for them and made his escape to a hill. In the evening he found himself by a small river. Seeing a dog some distance before him he retreated into the woods and struck another river. He there observed a boat crossing, but, being afraid that his liberty might be endangered if he attempted to pass that way, he went back into the bush. Having by this time consumed what the Englishman had given him, and having a keen appetite, he made an attempt to capture some chickens, but was unsuccessful. He came upon a white man's house, into which he entered, pretending to have lost his way. Here he got his breakfast and bought a loaf of bread from the housewife for ten cents. The farmer promised to direct him, but when they were a few yards from the house, Anderson, perceiving the man was leading him back and seeing his sons some distance before him, took to flight.

After two days he struck a branch of the Illinois River, which he crossed, and, proceeding some distance, came to a railway track, with the use of which he was acquainted. He next came to Bloomington, where he obtained some provisions. He availed himself of the railway track for a short distance north of Bloomington. Confused and bewildered, he met a man who promised him a ride if he would help him with his cow. At this man's house he got a supper and a bed, and started the next morning before breakfast. Through some villages which he passed every one looked on him as a curiosity on account of his travel-stained condition—the children running to the doors to stare at him. Overtaking some teams that were on the road to Rock Island, he got on one of them and reached that city by daylight. Here he hired himself to a barber, though he was quite uninstructed in the art of shaving. Remaining in that city two days, he went to Chicago, the Abolition Society paying his fare. In Chicago he lived with a barber for three weeks, when he left for Windsor, being advised by his master to do so.

It was about the beginning of November, 1853, when he reached Windsor, about six weeks after he had made his escape from his master in Missouri. During his stay in Windsor, where he got employed as a labourer, he wrote twice to his wife. He worked as a plasterer at Hamilton and Caledonia, and at the time of his arrest, by Mathews, was engaged making maple sugar. After being discharged he went to Simcoe, where he was again arrested and brought before Mathews. Anderson says "he never knew that there was so much law in the world as he has found in Canada."

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