N.C. Highway Historical Marker to Honor Formerly Enslaved Entrepreneur

Lunsford Lane

RALEIGH, N.C. – Born into slavery in Raleigh in 1803, Lunsford Lane worked industriously, started a business, and eventually bought his freedom. He also lectured to abolitionist groups and authored a memoir. The achievements and contributions of Lunsford Lane will be recognized with a N.C. Highway Historical Marker to be dedicated Tuesday, Aug. 20, 10 a.m.  Remarks and a dramatic reading from Lane’s memoir will be held in the House Chamber at the State Capitol in Raleigh. Following the ceremony, all of those who are able are invited to cross the street to the site of the marker for the unveiling. A reception will follow at the State Capitol.

Lane was owned by prominent Raleigh banker Sherwood Haywood and was allowed to work odd jobs and save money to attempt to purchase his freedom. Bondsmen sometimes were allowed to have jobs and earn money. Lane was able to start his own business selling tobacco, and eventually he saved $1,000 – enough to buy his freedom. 

Although Haywood was willing to manumit Lane, a judge ruled he had done nothing “meritorious” and had not earned his freedom. In 1835 Lane accompanied Haywood on a trip to New York, where Lane finally gained his freedom. He returned to North Carolina where he purchased a house and lived with his wife and six children, all of whom were enslaved.  In September 1840 Lane received notice that because he had been emancipated in New York, he was in violation of a state law prohibiting free blacks from other states from entering North Carolina. Lane had 20 days to leave the state.  He returned to New York with a daughter whose freedom he had purchased.

Lane delivered lectures to abolitionist groups in New York and sought to earn money to return to North Carolina. When he returned in 1842, he was unsuccessfully charged with promoting abolitionism. A boisterous Raleigh mob found Lane and tarred and feathered him. During this tumultuous time Lane purchased his family’s freedom, and with help from some white friends and subterfuge, Lane and his family fled the state.

In 1842, Lane penned “The Narrative of Lunsford Lane,” describing his days in slavery and the pursuit of freedom for him and his family. The narrative reveals his awareness of social constraints and his desire for upward mobility. He always emphasized the positive.

From 1842 to 1850, the Lane family resided in Massachusetts, and Lane spoke on the abolitionist circuit with notables such as Frederick Douglass. He and his wife worked in a Union hospital in Massachusetts during the Civil War. After the war he opened a freedman’s school with Horace James near New Bern. He continued his industrious ways during the 1870s selling medicine and working as a fundraiser for charities.

For information on the reception call 919-733-4994. For information on the Highway Historical Marker Program, call (919) 814-6625. The Highway Historical Marker Program is a collaboration between the N.C. Departments of Natural and Cultural Resources and Transportation.

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