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Lear Green: How African-American Woman Escaped Slavery In A Wooden Sailor’s Chest

Many people have heard of the story of Henry Box, but Lear Green also has an incredible escape story. Green was an enslaved young African-American woman who escaped from her slaveholder, James Noble, by hiding in an old wooden sailor’s chest. The chest was delivered to Philadelphia after a long voyage.

James Noble had “inherited”” Lear Green from his mother-in-law. When she ran away, he posted an advertisement of her escape, which read as follows:

“$150 REWARD. Ran away from the subscriber, on Sunday night, 27th inst., my NEGRO GIRL, Lear Green_about 18 years of age, black complexion, round featured, good looking and ordinary size… I have reason to be confident that she was persuaded by a negro man named Wm Adams…he had heard to say he was going to marry the above girl.”


Although Green was in love with William Adams, she did not want to marry because she feared the thought of having children that would be born into slavery. Adams’ mother along with Green’s helped plan her escape to freedom.

Green purchased an old sailor’s chest and placed various items inside it, such as “a quilt, a pillow, and a few articles of raiment, with a small quantity of food and a bottle of water.” Her fiance and his mother fastened the chest with heavy rope and placed it among freight trains on an Ericsson steamer.

Adam’s mother, being a free woman, came along as a passenger and was assigned to the deck, which put her near the sailor’s chest. From there, she watched over the chest containing her daughter-in-law-to-be. Once or twice during the night, she untied the ropes circling the chest and lifted the lid allowing Green a breath of fresh air.

After 18 hours in the chest, the steamer reached Philadelphia and was delivered to a home belonging to one of Mrs. Adams’ friends on Barley Street.

After a brief stay in Philadelphia under the guardianship of William Still, Green moved to Elmira, New York. She married William Adams, as her former enslaver suspected. Three years later, she suffered an untimely death at the age of 21.

Enslaved Women in America: An Encyclopedia edited by Daina Ramey Berry
Forbidden Fruit: Love Stories from the Underground Railroad by Betty DeRamus


Written by PH

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