Escape By Steamboat Through A Storm – Underground Railroad

This excerpt from “The Underground Railroad” documents the escape of Anthony Blow, whose alias was Henry Levison.

Before he finally reached Philadelphia, Anthony had run away and hid for ten months. He had been shot three times while enslaved and was determined to get to freedom.

Eventually, a friend who worked on a steamboat helped conceal him on the ship. The trip should only have been a day and a half. But storms and fog beset the journey….

About The Book

“The Underground Railroad” was published in 1872. The book gives the testimonies of hundreds of slaves who escaped to freedom using the network of agents and safe houses.

The author, William Still, was a black abolitionist and businessman who was a key member of the Philadelphia stop in the freedom network.

The book is in the public domain. It can be found in the Library of Congress.

Excerpt – Arrived Dressed In Male Attire

[The headings and text in italics were added by the website editor. The rest is verbatim from the book]

William Still records that Anthony arrived in Philadelphia from Norfolk, about the 1st of November, 1854.

Ten months before starting, Anthony had been closely concealed.

He belonged to the estate of Mrs. Peters, a widow, who had been dead about one year before his concealment.

On the settlement of his old mistress’ estate, which was to take place one year after her death, Anthony was to be transferred to Mrs. Lewis, a daughter of Mrs. Peters (the wife of James Lewis, Esq.).

Anthony felt well satisfied that he was not the slave to please the “tyrannical whims” of his anticipated master, young Lewis, and of course he hated the idea of having to come under his yoke.

And what made it still more unpleasant for Anthony was that Mr. Lewis would frequently remind him that it was his intention to “sell him as soon as he got possession—the first day of January.”

“I can get fifteen hundred dollars for you easily, and I will do it.”

This contemptuous threat had caused Anthony’s blood to boil time and again. But Anthony had to take the matter as calmly as possible, which, however, he was not always able to do.

Excerpt – Shot Three Times

At any rate, Anthony concluded that his “young master had counted the chickens before they were hatched.”

Indeed here Anthony began to be a deep thinker. He thought, for instance, that he had already been shot three times, at the instance of slave-holders.

The first time he was shot was for refusing a flogging when only eighteen years of age.

The second time, he was shot in the head with squirrel shot by the sheriff, who was attempting to arrest him for having resisted three “young white ruffians,” who wished to have the pleasure of beating him, but got beaten themselves.

And in addition to being shot this time, Anthony was still further “broke in” by a terrible flogging from the Sheriff.

The third time Anthony was shot he was about twenty-one years of age. In this instance he was punished for his old offence—he “would not be whipped.”

This time his injury from being shot was light, compared with the two preceding attacks. Also in connection with these murderous conflicts, he could not forget that he had been sold on the auction block.

Excerpt – Thoughts Turn To Escape, But How?

But he had still deeper thinking to do yet. He determined that his young master should never get “fifteen hundred dollars for him on the 1st of January,” unless he got them while he (Anthony) was running.

For Anthony had fully made up his mind that when the last day of December ended, his bondage should end also, even if he should have to accept death as a substitute.

He then began to think of the Underground Rail Road and of Canada; but who the agents were, or how to find the depot, was a serious puzzle to him. But his time was getting so short he was convinced that whatever he did would have to be done quickly.

In this frame of mind he found a man who professed to know something about the Underground Rail Road, and for “thirty dollars” promised to aid him in the matter.

The thirty dollars were raised by the hardest effort and passed over to the pretended friend, with the expectation that it would avail greatly in the emergency.

But Anthony found himself sold for thirty dollars, as nothing was done for him.

Excerpt – News Comes Ten Months Later

However, the 1st day of January arrived, but Anthony was not to be found to answer to his name at roll call. He had “took out” very early in the morning.

Daily he prayed in his place of concealment how to find the U.G.R.R. Ten months passed away, during which time he suffered almost death, but persuaded himself to believe that even that was better than slavery.

With Anthony, as it has been with thousands of others similarly situated, just as everything was looking the most hopeless, word came to him in his place of concealment that a friend named Minkins, employed on the steamship City of Richmond, would undertake to conceal him on the boat, if he could be crowded in a certain place, which was about the only spot that would be perfectly safe.

This was glorious news to Anthony; but it was well for him that he was ignorant of the situation that awaited him on the boat, or his heart might have failed him.

He was willing, however, to risk his life for freedom, and, therefore, went joyfully.

Excerpt – Hiding For Eight Days On The Steamboat

The hiding-place was small and he was large. A sitting attitude was the only way he could possibly occupy it. He was contented.

This place was “near the range, directly over the boiler,” and of course, was very warm.

Nevertheless, Anthony felt that he would not murmur, as he knew what suffering was pretty well, and especially as he took it for granted that he would be free in about a day and a half—the usual time it took the steamer to make her trip.

At the appointed hour the steamer left Norfolk for Philadelphia, with Anthony sitting flat down in his U.G.R.R. berth, thoughtful and hopeful.

But before the steamer had made half her distance the storm was tossing the ship hither and thither fearfully. Head winds blew terribly, and for a number of days the elements seemed perfectly mad.

In addition to the extraordinary state of the weather, when the storm subsided the fog took its place and held the mastery of the ship with equal despotism until the end of over seven days, when finally the storm, wind, and fog all disappeared, and on the eighth day of her boisterous passage the steamship City of Richmond landed at the wharf of Philadelphia, with this giant and hero on board who had suffered for ten months in his concealment on land and for eight days on the ship.


Anthony reached Philadelphia and was helped by the local Underground Railroad committee to pass further north.

William Still recounts that he had to leave his family behind. He had a wife named Ann and his three sons were Benjamin, John, and Alfred. They were owned by a Colonel Cunnagan.