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Clarke, Lewis G.

Clarke, Lewis G.


Lewis G. Clarke was a fugitive slave who became an ardent abolitionist. He was born in Madison County, Kentucky, one of ten children. Clarke had a white father and was owned by his grandfather, Samuel Campbell, who made unfulfilled promises to free Clarke's slave family.

An aunt who was notorious for her mistreatment of young slaves claimed Clarke as part of her dowry when he was six, and he suffered the woman's cruelties for ten years. Then, in 1831 Samuel Campbell died and Clarke's family was broken up and sold at auction. Clarke became a field laborer. When he was inherited by a new owner, the man allowed Clarke to hire out his time; that is, Clarke worked for wages but gave his owner most of his earnings beyond a sum to cover living expenses.

In Clarke's first attempt to escape in August 1841, he assumed the role of master to a darker-skinned companion, but they soon gave up the attempt because neither could read. Two weeks later Clarke set off alone and reached Canada. He later returned to Oberlin, Ohio, in search of his brother Milton. He was in contact with the abolitionists there and became an antislavery advocate, speaking widely and effectively. By 1861 he was living in Canada, but he returned with his children to Oberlin in 1871 after the death of his wife. Clarke died in Lexington, Kentucky, and his body was returned to Oberlin for burial. Harriet Beecher Stowe based the character of George Harris in Uncle Tom's Cabin on Clarke.

See also Abolition; Runaway Slaves in the United States; Slave Narratives; Slavery


Clarke, Lewis G. Narrative of the Sufferings of Lewis Clarke, During a Captivity of More Than Twenty-Five Years, Among the Algerines of Kentucky, One of the So Called Christian States of North America. Boston: D. H. Ela, 1845.

Volke, Betty. "Lewis G. Clarke." In Dictionary of American Negro Biography, edited by Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston. New York: Norton, 1982.

robert l. johns (2001)

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