The Story: Escape From Slavery

The Great Dismal Swamp, which is located in the northeastern part of the state and stretches from Edenton, North Carolina to Norfolk, Virginia, was a common destination for North Carolina runaways. The swamp was an ideal spot in which to hide and forage for food, and some escaped slaves chose to stay and make their homes there. The swamp was also known as a destination for escaped slaves from other states. As a response, the North Carolina government formed slave patrols in the 1750s, and paid patrollers to capture and return slaves to their masters across the South.

"She also gave me four or five onions…she said negro hunters came along there every two or three hours in the day; and I learned for the first time how to decoy the blood hounds, for she told me whenever I heard the baying of hounds on my trail, to rub the onions on the bottoms of my feet and run, and after running a certain distance to stop and apply the onions again, then when I came to a large bushy tree, to rub the trunk as high up as I could reach, then climb the tree…"

"I had not gone far when an opportunity presented itself to test the efficacy of the onions, for about nine o'clock that day I heard the baying of the blood hounds in the distance behind me. I rubbed the onions on my feet as directed, and ran as fast as I could the distance of half a mile, when I repeated the application. I continued this process for about one mile and a half, going across the fields and through the woods, dodging the roads and farms where people were at work. I came to a thickly branched out tree in the woods. I rubbed onions on the trunk and climbed the tree. I could tell when the hounds came to the place where I first put the onions on my feet, because they would retrace their steps, until finally their voices died away, and I heard them no more that day."


William H. Robinson, Wilmington, N.C.