BY Stephen Nartey, 10:30am April 28, 2023,

This former slave operated a successful tobacco trade with the goal of purchasing his freedom 

Lunsford Lane/Photo credit: North Carolina History Project

Lunsford Lane was spurred on into entrepreneurship by the burning desire to purchase his freedom as an enslaved African. He began learning the basics of trading at a younger age when he sold peaches on behalf of his father. Soon, he went into wood cutting and sold the logs to his neighbors and other locales. At the urging of his father, he went into the tobacco business, giving his products an innovative touch.

By 1834, he had amassed enough wealth to purchase his freedom through his remarkable enterprise, and wanted to extend the same opportunity to his wife and children, but the legal system in North Carolina made it nearly impossible.

Born into slavery on May 30, 1803, in North Carolina, Lunsford’s mother, Clarissa, was a slave to a planter and bank agent, Sherwood Haywood, and his father, Edward Lane, was owned by a neighbor. Despite the oppressive conditions he faced, he was determined to live a different life from his parents. This inspired his entrepreneurial spirit as he sought ways to make a living and gain independence. 

One of Lunsford’s notable accomplishments was manufacturing and selling his brand of tobacco. He honed his skills in tobacco production, and with hard work and ingenuity, established his own tobacco business. Despite being enslaved, Lunsford was able to cultivate his own tobacco plants and create his own unique blend.

He then marketed his tobacco to the members of the North Carolina General Assembly and other customers, which gained popularity among buyers for its quality and taste. Lane’s tobacco business became a success, which helped him to build a reputation as a skilled and enterprising salesman, according to Documenting the American South. However, because of the discriminatory laws, Lunsford had to avoid tendencies that gave any impression he was wealthy. He rather made friends with the affluent of Raleigh’s white ruling class. 

Lunsford’s entrepreneurial endeavors did not stop at tobacco, he was known to have made money from speaking about his experiences as a slave at abolitionist meetings. Despite facing significant obstacles as an enslaved person, his resilience and determination enabled him to succeed as an entrepreneur. He used his business acumen to navigate the complexities of the slave economy and create opportunities for himself; he was able to generate income, accumulate wealth, and gain a sense of autonomy in a society that denied him his basic human rights.

Lunsford’s entrepreneurial achievements were remarkable, considering the oppressive circumstances he faced as a slave. In conclusion, he was a trailblazing entrepreneur who defied the limitations imposed upon him as an enslaved person. Lunsford’s story is a testament to the power of human ingenuity and the indomitable spirit of entrepreneurship, even in the face of adversity. His legacy serves as an inspiration to aspiring entrepreneurs and a reminder of the resilience of the human spirit.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: April 28, 2023


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