Archives of Maryland
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.
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
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.
Still. Underground Rail Road: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives,
Letters, etc. Philadelphia, PA: Porter & Coales, Publishers, 1872,
2. Ancestry.com. 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. Ancestry.com. 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. Ancestry.com. 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