Thomas Johnson was an African-American, born into slavery on a Northern Virginia plantation in the mid-1800s. When he was only ten years old, his mother was sold to another plantation. The one person in his life who brought him a sense of stability and peace was suddenly gone. The separation produced in his soul a bitter hatred for his captors, and an insatiable desire for freedom.
Thomas would spend much of his time in the tobacco fields, toiling away from sun-up to sun-down, experiencing a level of back-breaking labor that is hard to fathom. But on some days, the master of the plantation would allow Thomas to work in the “Big House,” cooking food or serving guests for various parties. On the dining room wall hung a map of the eastern part of the United States. Although he could barely read or write, Thomas memorized the names of the towns from Richmond, Virginia to Washington, DC, with the hopes that he could one day muster the courage to escape from the plantation that kept him in chains.