Longfellow’s journals reveal that he received at least one visit from Lunsford Lane (1803-?), a successful business man and outspoken author who had been born a slave in Raleigh, North Carolina.
In 1835 Lane was able to purchase his own freedom with money he earned on the side from various enterprises. He then opened a store and purchased a house in Raleigh. Because of growing hostility towards free blacks, in 1840 Lane had to flee to the North, leaving his wife and children behind. Eventually he earned enough money to purchase their freedom as well.
In the early 1840s Lunsford Lane moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. He became an active member of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Founded in Philadelphia in 1833 and led by William Lloyd Garrison, the society considered slavery illegal, not only under the U.S. Constitution but also under natural law.
In 1842 Lane wrote an account of his life comprehensively titled The Narrative of Lunsford Lane, Formerly of Raleigh, N.C. Embracing an Account of His Early Life, the Redemption by Purchase of Himself and Family from Slavery, and His Banishment from the Place of His Birth for the Crime of Wearing a Colored Skin. “Published by Himself ” in Boston, it sold many copies in America and England.
In a journal entry on March 22, 1855, Longfellow noted: “Lundy Lane and old Mr. Vassall (born a slave in this house in 1769) came to see me. And stay so long that [Boston publisher James] Fields is driven away.” Mr. Vassall was one of the sons of Tony and Cuba Vassall, slaves of the original builders of the House, John and Elizabeth Vassall. The Vassalls lived in the House from 1759 to 1774 before fleeing to England on the eve of the American Revolution.
Did You Know?
Henry W. Longfellow grew his beard to hide scars received as a result of a fire in 1861 that killed his wife Fanny and burned his neck and face.