Slaves resisted their status in many ways. Some ways were major, such as running away or revolting, and some minor, such as refusal to work or faking illness. Slaves had to follow a strict slave code that took away their freedom. Slaves could not talk back to their masters or hurt them, carry guns, steal food, or run away. Although these slave codes existed, many slaves resisted these rules. Three major methods of resistance include running away, revolting, and silent sabotage. Here are some subtopics about resistance to slavery for you to view.
Above is a picture depicting an enslaved man escaping his fate by running away.

Some slaves ran away to escape the harsh conditions of plantations. Many times slaves ran away to find freedom, reunite with family, or to be rebellious and just show they could run away.
53262583.jpg To find a runaway slave, the slaveholder sometimes issued a sign with a reward if the slave is brought back to the owner.

By the end of 1865, around 40,000 slaves escaped through use of the Underground Railroad.

Here is a map of the the railroads major passages:


During the night on the Underground Railroad, runaways followed the North Star in hope of finding freedom. These runaway slaves arrived at stations that fed them and kept them safe. These stations were typically set up by abolitionists or freed black people.

Harriet Tubman, a former slave, helped over 300 enslaved people escape the South. Harriet bravely made nineteen journeys through the South at risk of being caught and executed. Tubman was so brave and courageous that she earned the nickname of "Moses".

Learn what it was like to be a slave traveling on the Underground Railroad:
Click here to go to National Geographic's Interactive Underground Railroad Website.



Gabriel was a slave who learned to both read and write. He was acknowledged as a leader by many other slaves that he worked with. Like many, he had a strong desire for freedom. With the help of a few others, he planned a major slave revolt. states, "he believed that if the slaves rose and fought for their rights, the poor white people would join them." His plan was to take hold of the Richmond square, kidnap the Governor, and negotiate with the authorities for freedom. The banner was to publicize the motto, "Death or Liberty."

One of the Conspirators openly quoted, "I was never so glad to hear anything in my life. I am ready to join them at any moment. I could slay the white people like sheep."

Slaves on seperate plantations reluctantly told their masters of the plans. The Governor was immeadiatly informed. Many slaves were tried but Gabriel Prosser had escaped. He was later found and captured on October 6.

The following image depicts Gabriel Prosser.
Click here to Pbs' detailed article on Gabriel Prosser.


Nat Turner was born into slavery one week before Gabriel Prosser was executed. He planned a small rebellion with his close friends, seven total. They killed their master and his family before marching into town and were eventually forty slaves strong on August 26. They were stopped by militia. Many slaves went on trial and were executed but several escaped as well, including Nat Turner. He hid in a variety of places before getting caught on October 26.

The image above is the capture of Nat Turner.

Click here to go to Pbs' great article on the famous Nat Turner Rebellion.

Here is a short timeline of major acts of resistance:

1663: First serious slave conspiracy in Colonial America

1739: The Stono Rebellion

1741: Series of suspicious fires and reports of slave conspiracy led to general hysteria in New York City

1791: Haiti slave revolt

1800: Gabriel Prosser leads his rebellion

1816: Fort Blount revolt

1822: Denmark Vesey leads his rebellion

1831: Nat Turner leads his rebellion

1849: Harriet Tubman escapes slavery

1859: Harper's Ferry Attack

As well as running away and revolting, slaves used small acts of resistance in their day to day lives.

EDUCATION- One of the first and foremost acts of resistance is to get an education. In "The Life and Times," by Frederick (former slave) Douglass he states, "Knowledge unfits a child to be a slave." He quotes this when he describes how Mrs. Auld taught him to read.

FEIGNING ILLNESS- To escape daily work, a slave could fake sickness.

DESTRUCTION OF FARM EQUIPMENT- A small act of defiance used by field slaves. They used the tools wrong to wear and break them. Without tools, a slave cannot work.

DOING JOBS POORLY/ TO A POOR STANDARD- An act of defiance to frustrate their masters.

REFUSAL OF PUNISHMENT/ WORK- Often resulting in harsh punishment.

SETTING BUILDINGS AFLAME- This would also fit into the revolting category but typically on a smaller scale.

STEALING FOOD- Slaves had very poor nutrition. Often they stole food for their own good.

PRETENDING TO HAVE DIFFICULTY UNDERSTANDING ORDERS- Thus providing entertainment for slaves and frustrating their overseers.