Lost Lives of London Town: Sam

The Lost Lives of London Town series remembers the lives of Africans and African-Americans enslaved in the London Town area. We'll share their stories as best as we know of them. The stories aren't always easy to read, but they are always important.


If ever any evidence was needed of the cruelty of slavery in the Chesapeake, it can be proven with the following case. In this installment of “Lost Lives of London Town,” we look at the story of a man only known by his first name – Sam.

Enslaved by the planter Richard Moore, Sam ran away from near London Town on October 13, 1756. Moore took out an advertisement in the “Maryland Gazette” offering a reward if anyone could recapture him. Moore stated that Sam was wearing a “Cloth Frock Coat, turned up with blue, and white Metal Buttons,” possibly a livery. The livery was a uniform worn by servants and the enslaved, distinctive to the household in which they were held. Not only was this a uniform that demonstrated the wealth of a household, it also served as a marker. With such a distinctive garment, it was far more difficult for a runaway enslaved person to melt into a crowd.

More importantly, Moore declared Sam a “notorious villain, as his back will testify.” No other evidence is given for Sam’s supposed villainy, aside from the fact that Moore whipped him until his back was permanently scarred.

Enslaved people were the most likely class to run away. To prevent them from doing so, the enslavers resorted to drastic steps. Guy, an enslaved “mulatto Man” who bore “a down look,” ran away from John Gassaway in 1750. Four years later he fled again, but this time “he had irons on him when he went away.” Gassaway tried, in vain, to prevent another escape by physically binding Guy with shackles.

The chance of freedom was slim for any enslaved person. According to the Maryland State Archives’ Legacy of Slavery Project, London Town was home to 961 known enslaved people between its founding in 1683 and 1788.

Of those 961 people, only 9 are known to have gone free.


According to the Maryland State Archives’ Legacy of Slavery Project, London Town was home to 961 known enslaved people between its founding in 1683 and 1788.
Of those 961 people, only 9 are known to have gone free.

With no real free or emancipated community yet created to help them escape or to shelter them, running away was an unrealistic option for permanent freedom. Nonetheless, the enslaved of London Town persisted.

This photo is not of Sam but of Gordon, who escaped from a Louisiana plantation in 1863. Photos of his back, scarred deeply from whipping, were published in Harper’s Weekly and became a symbol for the plight of people enslaved. While we do not know what Sam looked like, this photo gives a sense of how horrific whipping could be and the lasting impact of brutality. (Photo courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery)