Lunsford Lane became a well-known anti-slavery agent, entrepreneur, and speaker during the 19th century. He is most well-known for writing a slave narrative that included descriptions of his business activities as a slave and the troubles he in encountered trying to secure the freedom of his family.
He was born outside of Raleigh, North Carolina, on May 30, 1803. Lane was the only child born to Edward and Clarissa Lane. He worked as a domestic slave at the Sherwood Haywood home, but did not grow up on a plantation.
As a young child, he was extremely business-minded. His entrepreneurial career started with the selling of a basket of peaches given to him by his father. After that, young Lunsford constantly planned ways to make and save money. Lane mastered the arts of business negotiation and finding a bargain. He saved tips from the Haywood’s houseguests and chopped and sold wood.
His greatest economic success came as a tobacconist. With the help of his father, he sold pipes and developed a special tobacco with a “strange yet pleasant flavor.” In Raleigh, state legislators soon sought out the “Edward and Lunsford Lane” brand; eventually customers around the state were seeking out the brand as well.
Working as a slave during the day and for his own profits at night, Lane was able to save up enough money to purchase his freedom and the freedom of his family, which at the time cost $2,500. However, the North Carolina courts still would not recognize Lane as a free man. They did not feel he had done anything meritorious to earn freedom, so by law, he was still considered legally a slave. He remained so, until he accompanied a white friend on a business trip to New York. During this time, Lane petitioned for and obtained freeman status while on the trip.
On his return to North Carolina, he continued selling quality tobacco and even secured a job in the Governor’s office as a handyman. However, Lane soon received the news that, since he lived in New York temporarily, he was victim to a selected enforcement which forbade free blacks from another state to stay in North Carolina for more than 20 days. Lane petitioned to stay, but he was made to leave in 1841.
He lived up north and received help from abolitionists to return to North Carolina to emancipate his wife and children. Unfortunately, not everyone welcomed Lane’s return. Word got out about delivering abolitionist lectures while in the area.
An angry white mob gathered and planned to teach Lane a lesson. They found him and dragged him out into the woods to be tarred and feathered. But the next day, some of the same men, who were former friends of Lane, helped him and his family escape back up north.
In 1842 Lane wrote an account of his life comprehensively titled, The Narrative of Lunsford Lane, Formerly of Raleigh, N.C. Embracing an Account of His Early Life, the Redemption by Purchase of Himself and Family from Slavery, and His Banishment from the Place of His Birth for the Crime of Wearing a Colored Skin. Lane and his family spent the rest of their lives living and working as a free black family up North.