Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Nat Amby (b. ? - d. ?)
MSA SC 5496-8040
Fled from slavery, Dorchester County, Maryland, 1857


    Nat Amby escaped from Dorchester County in October of 1857 with his wife Elizabeth, or "Lizzie", who was also enslaved on a nearby property. Nat was held to labor by John Muir, a farmer in his late 60's.  Nat believed that the "generally devilish" Muir owned about 40 or 50 slaves.1 The true number is difficult to discern as the wealthy planter's census and tax records presented an inconsistent picture of his chattel holdings. While Muir did enslave 31 African-Americans, according to the 1840 Federal Census, no slave schedule appeared for him in 1850.2 An 1852 tax assessment only listed three individuals, none of whom was Nat Amby.3 Regardless, it is likely that Muir did have a sizeable unpaid labor source, and he estimated his personal estate value at $20,000 in 1860.4
    Nat had only been acquired through Muir's marriage to his mistress, who allegedly promised that "the slaves were not be sold" as of her death. She also gave some vague hope that they might be freed at that occasion. However, Muir had no intention of honoring these propositions. In fact, Amby claimed that two sisters and a brother of his had already been "sold away to Georgia" in the ensuing years. The possibility of facing the same punishment motivated Nat to make his escape, armed with a pistol and a big knife.5 Lizzie Amby was equally determined to secure her freedom from Dr. Alexander Bayly, and they made off with thirteen others including Caroline and Daniel Stanley. Alexander Bayly placed a runaway advertisement in the Cambridge Democrat, on November 4th, 1857. Therein John Muir offered a $500 reward for Nat, in addition to Bayly's $300 offer for Lizzie. The man was described as being "about 6 feet in height, with slight impediment in his speech, dark chestnut color, and a large scar on the side of his neck."6 It is unknown what effort, if any, the former owners made to retrieve their bondsmen. The Eastern Shore white community was certainly anxious about the success of such freedom seekers, especially after a group of twenty eight improbably escaped just weeks after the Ambys.

    The couple were received by the Vigilance Committee in Philadelphia, where William Still recorded their experiences. The abolitionist was immediately impressed with Amby, noting that, "Like a certain other Nat known to history, his honest and independent bearing in every respect was that of a natural hero."7 This was an allusion to Nat Turner, an enslaved black man in Virginia, who had led one of the most famous and bloody American slave revolts in 1831. Even in the 1850's, Maryland slave holders referred to this incident as justification for further legal restrictions and social ostracism of the African-American population. However, an escaped slave would likely take great pride in the comparison.

    Nat and Lizzie would have also been furnished with money and supplies before Still forwarded the group further north, using other Underground Railroad operatives. The pair apparently settled in Auburn, New York, where several of Harriet Tubman's white abolitionist allies lived. Tubman also established her home there, her family forming a significant portion of the small black community in the area. The Ambys informed William Still of their location while attempting to contact relatives living in Baltimore. As it was 1858 and the pair were still considered fugitives, they had to use such indirect channels to communicate.8 In the letter Nat requested that Still write to "Affey White in strawberry alley in Baltimore city," who would then get information to his mother and brothers, Joseph and Henry. He seems to suggest that these two had fled recently as well, though the wording is ambiguous. He wanted his mother "sichy Ambie" to know that "I am well and doing well and state to her that I perform my Relissius dutys." Any information was to be sent to "P.R. Freeman Auburn City Cayuga County New York," a mulatto man who had been one of the first African-Americans to settle in the area.9,10 However, there is no definitive record of the Ambys living in New York or other northern communities after the letter dated June 10, 1858. Their fate is unknown. 
Footnotes -

1. William Still. Underground Rail Road: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters, etc. Philadelphia, PA: Porter & Coales, Publishers, 1872, pp. 103-4.

2. 1840 United States Federal Census, Dorchester County, Maryland, District 4, pp. 9-10.

3. Dorchester County, Board of County Comissioners (Assessment Record), 1852, District 8, "John Muir."

4. 1860 United States Federal Census, Dorchester County, Maryland, District 8, p. 8.

5. Still, p. 103.

6. "300 Reward." Cambridge Democrat, 4 November 1857.

7. Still, p. 103

8. Kate Clifford Larson. Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 2004, p. 155.

9. Still, p. 104.

10. 1860 United States Federal Census, Cayuga County, New York, Auburn Ward 3, p. 12.

Researched and Written by David Armenti, 2012.

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� Copyright February 08, 2013 Maryland State Archives