Lewis Hayden, the Kentucky Fugitive Who Fled Slavery

A tip of the hat by a Revolutionary War hero convinced teen-aged slave Lewis Hayden he was worthy of respect.

Lewis Hayden

Lewis Hayden

It was 1825, and the Marquis de Lafayette was passing through Kentucky on his tour of all the U.S. states. He could not have known the large consequences his small gesture would have.

Lewis Hayden was born into slavery on Dec. 11, 1811, on a plantation in Lexington, Ky. When he was seven or eight, his mother was beaten into insanity for refusing the sexual advances of a man from a Masonic Lodge.

His owner, a Presbyterian minister, sold off his large family to different owners. Lewis was swapped for a pair of carriage horses. In 1830, he married Esther Harvey, who belonged to a different owner, and they had a son. But Esther and their son were sold to Henry Clay, and Lewis never saw them again.

By 1842 he married a second time, to, to Harriet Bell, also enslaved. Lewis cared for her son, Joseph, as his own. He feared he’d be separated a third time from his family, and he hated slavery, so he planned his escape.

He had met two abolitionists: Delia Webster, a teacher from Vermont who was working in Kentucky, and Calvin Fairbanks, a Methodist minister. Fairbanks asked him why he wanted to be free.

Lewis Hayden replied,

Because I am a man.

In the fall of 1844, Fairbanks and Webster, the Hayden family and another fugitive set out in a rented carriage for Ohio. Lewis and Harriet covered their faces with flour and hid Joseph under the seat.

They reached Ripley, Ohio, where the small family took the Underground Railroad to Canada. They moved back to Detroit, then Boston, where they became leaders of the African-American community.

Webster and Fairbanks were arrested on their return, tried and convicted.

Lewis Hayden became a key figure in Boston’s abolitionist movement. He began work as a Login to Continue

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  1. Nancy Lundquist

    April 7, 2014 at 10:42 am


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    April 7, 2014 at 8:01 pm


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