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The University of North Carolina presents American Adventure a study of man in the New World. His values and his characteristics who he is what he believes what he lives by. Written by Johnny Lee directed by John Clayton American Adventure is produced and recorded by the University of North Carolina communication center director. Tonight's story takes place in the south of slavery and is based on fact. It is the story of a planter. One night in his life. And the next morning. We cannot help but wonder what he would think if he were to have realized as he lived this experience that decades later a national radio audience would consider. Living on a small island in one of North Carolina's many sounds he was isolated from most of his own state much less the nation.
But if he had known his decision would have been the same we feel. His actions perhaps even more heroic. His name was John Williams. We are on his island as the night rain beats down we are with him in the kitchen of his plantation house. Oh idioms there you are. What are you doing to get your getting rum go band break here. Oh this. Yes indeed Mr. Blake. What will be done with the runaway slaves once they're caught. Oh I suppose the sheriff will lock them up again and punish them. They've committed a rather serious offense Yast breaking out of both jail. You sound critical. I've heard of both in jail. Are you coming to bed shortly. Be as quick as you can. All this frightens me. Good night good night Mrs. Williams. Here is your drink Blake. Yes thank you. Do you know a house on the success of the sheriff's mission. Good brandy. What was it sounded like someone at the kitchen
door. Yes did isn't but who at this time of night. Excuse me. Yes. I say there what is it but yes it was nothing nothing. I heard the knocks. Just so did I. But when I open the door and nothing nobody there at all nobody let me take a look. Hello there. Hello sir is that you do you see anyone will want to know. Isn't that unusual. I heard the knocks clear enough and you spoke to someone who did it. Yes. Well no matter. Surely there's no danger. Shall we go ask the sheriff about it if you wish. He'll tell us about ghosts on the sounds yours no doubt. You go on ahead I'm sure I'll pour him a drink and bring you another. Pour me a tall one Williams. I may need courage before morning with Ghost knocking at the doors.
Matthew Matthew asked Mr. Williams get out of bed and come into the kitchen. Yes yes. Yes. You heard no sir. I heard nothing. I just opened the kitchen door to find two runaway slaves here. Yes. Well why why did they come to the kitchen door. Why not to the slave quarters if they wanted help. Is it because you've made your room a haven for them. No ifs indeed. At any rate I think I have suspected that. But let's say no more about it please. Did you recognize the two runaways or they're probably the ones that escaped this afternoon from over jail. I did not know of that. And in my house tonight are two men the sheriff and Mr. Blake who have come from both what to look for them. And I am implicated should have reported them on the spot but I and I let them run
away and then lied to Blake said. Said no one was there. Why do I do things like that. And I said I don't know. My wife said she hoped they'd get away and I I just. Just let them go. Mr. WILLIAMS. Yes. In Beaufort jail a man is fed very little. So I've heard so much the better reason to avoid breaking laws Mr. WILLIAMS. It is cold tonight and they are tired and wet from crossing this are you suggesting Matthew that I don't you know the penalty for aiding runaways. Yes. So easy enough for you to talk but if you were in my place Matthew you would speak differently. Yes or no. I will not take part in this. I own my thoughts are that you would not want to let them die if there is any danger of that. And I would tell the sheriff and perhaps they can be caught and treated in both. So in Beaufort they would also know look here Matthew what am I to do about all this. I wash my hands of the whole affair. I would not report it and
I would not aid them. I am not only giving the kitchen area for the night and I will not return. You rock up and see that all matters are attended. Yes but take care Matthew. I did not like the faces of those two. I brought the whole bottle. Did you tell the sheriff about the incident. BLAKE Yes I did. You say no one was there no one sheriff. Well then who knocked him. How should I know. Somebody had to knock. Yes but that's the story don't you see. Somebody had to but no one was there. Nonsense don't tell me you have ghost on this island. I think not.
You can't tell me that nobody knocked you out. It was nothing anyway so let's forget it. Of course the fact that you saw no one at the door doesn't mean nobody was there and I was talking of Goethe's yeah maybe one of them knocked and ran back into the shadows and Julie saw who answered. Oh I see. You give them too much credit. I don't underestimate them that's true. Mr. Blake I feel those two runaways around this house this minute. Well then tomorrow morning you'll find them for sure they won't go far tomorrow morning. Tonight Sheriff it's quite dark out there you company Mr. Blake. Well if you like you Mr. Williams Not if you would excuse me of course I need for guns not at night you have a pistol Mr. Blake. Right here yes we do. Suppose we start our search at the kitchen door. Matthew Matthew did the sheriff and Mike come in your room. No so
what I've decided to do runaways around is somewhere we've got to get them out of the house. Yes or where can we send them I don't care where you send them. The sheriff and Mr. Blake are going through the barns now. Then they'll go to the slave quarters where other runaways there in my room so if you take them out the front way perhaps they won't be seen but Already them. Mr. Williams Yes it is raining and they are real. Whoa whoa whoa what am I to do about that. Am I a physician. Can't you understand the problem here. Yes sir but would you tell them. I cannot can't I wanted Matthew. Let me see them then we have no time for hesitation. Will hold a lantern high. Yes and why do they pull back as if afraid. What miserable specimens of humanity they appear to be. It is no easy matter to cross the sounds certain to come up through the mushers do they speak English. Yes well and now listen here. I'm not going to hurt
you. But there are some other men around who will so take my advice and. And why do they look so frightened. I told them I wasn't going to hurt the USA. Why are they afraid of me. So because you were white. But I've never been beaten a slave nor mistreated one in my life I know but they could not understand that. I see. What did you feed the Matthew. I gave them eatin bread on the dresser in my room is a box of blossoms have got it and treat the cuts on their skin give them some hot tea and keep them warm give them such clothing as you can spare. Yes and I can't turn them out of this house looking so frightened. And I can't turn them over to that sheriff and I shouldn't help them. But they must learn that they can expect some kindness from a white man. Now return to the kitchen and wait for the chefs or what if he wants to come in here. I don't think he will have to search my house as an insult probably beyond. There's no way out of this room so if you should try the windows open only
a little Never mind I will I will think of something. Just tend to their wounds for now. The mud around your face sticks too readily the ones who grow rice that that requires a damp soil. Come on in and close the door Mr Blake. Yes. We found no slaves Williams except your own. You have them or you can look again. Oh of course. Shall we go into the parlor. I'd rather sit here in the kitchen and it's warm if I may as you wish.
Yes we did pick up a clue though didn't we Mr. Blake. A small one two pair of footprints clearly marked under the eaves outside the door. No shoes on the feet clearly marked could be almost anyone. They approached the door stop. They run off in the opposite direction. Perhaps a word or two slaves. Perhaps they came to the door as you conjectured then ran away. Yes but I didn't cry. Conjecture is like that. What do you mean Jeff. Why would two of them come to the door to knock my wooden one of them remain in the shadows and let the other one knock and then hurry back to it. Perhaps you can ask them when you find them. Then I just my brandy gentleman me first. You spend much time in the kitchen. Not at all are you ever back at home. Occasionally at night almost none of it is your wife ever back here. No not at night. The servants do the work why. Well I have a perfect theory except for one fact
just one. What is that they were not at the door when you opened it. Now by my theory they would be at the door when you opened it and they'd be very much surprised to find a white man there. See. Suppose we go to bed. Oh let's hear the theory Williams I find it very interesting. I find it dull but it's so perfect of theory sir. I hear we have an isolated plantation and we have the possibility of slaves in this area knowing that when they come to this house they will be cared for and given supplies. We know somebody in this area does that for runaway slaves. So they came here tonight and they knocked but the door was answered by a white man not a Negro soul then they turned and fled. I do not care for the inference that lies buried in that mass of conjecture either. Listen to me shouts. I've heard quite enough and so answer me one question more a dozen questions more I mean nothing to me just one.
They're not grossly was asleep in this house and who usually answers the kitchen door at night. Yes my boy Matthew had a look in his room no I insist insist are you please the answer is No sir I must look Sheriff this is my house. Take care what you do you have no one. Nonsense if you have to escape slaves and here we both best find it out now. Shut up. Mr Blake. You fetch some rope. We'll have to tie up the three of one. I do not want Mathew questioned any further but Williams It would seem to me that you would be interested in finding out the truth here under your own roof as a person hiding running away I know
that but I don't nothing let the sheriff proceed. Matthew Where do you send the slaves and they leave here. No way. They do come here then. No you send them north of Vandy and send them nowhere Sandhu nowhere. So no one I tell you Sheriff. I do not like this questioning Mr Williams. Yes what is it dear. When are you coming to direct me. Go Go on I'll be up it's nothing man. We just found the two runaways found them while in Matthew's room. It's a terrible thing ma'am. It'll go hard with him. After all the education and help Mr. Williams has given you. Yes ma'am. Dad please go to bed and let me handle this. Matthew you've heard your mistress. What do you say so. So I don't know your punishment will be severe you know that blogging is not good
enough for this. I mean Matthew have you ever seen both. Yes so I have seen it from the outside. It's cool in there. Yes. And damp. Yes and you would be there unless you're executed after listen to me this evening I talk to Matthew here I am the man you want. I told him to take in the slaves. WILLIAMS That's entirely out of reason. What do you say it is not true. Matthew it is not true. You see there were times you offer to protect your slave goes to no avail but I am well I will not say it is not months but survey did Matthew plead as I say No sir it was me. Very well we would bind you and tomorrow you will go with these two runaways to Beaufort do. Yes one moment here. Oh Williams please there's nothing you or I said One moment sir and I would speak my piece so we spend the night at it. Matthew go to your room and untie the two runaway slave. Well what my words were in simple English Mr. Williams I have arrested these three my house is not your jewels and cut the
ropes and if you go on yes or not I'll see here Williams You go too far. Even Mr. Williams tomorrow I'm taking these three men to bed and I will go there with them and if you indict Matthew there you had best indict me. But in either case I would retain such attorneys as money would provide. Mr. Williams You astound me sir. Then you are easily guessed I represent the law I represent my house and those who are in it under my protection under the law does not stop at your door the law stops where it can go no further. WILLIAMS You are subject to the law same as another that you're wealthier than I am also subject to my conscience what the law says on the matter in the law when it hurts my conscience. To good you would tend to protect all three of these criminals. Yes I will not contribute to their death. Those are strong words. I've heard that you're different and difficult but tonight Williams you're a platter a member of the House of Commons. You have a store a Newman.
You're protecting from the law to runaway slaves you fled the Masters and then broke jail. You claim that was your houseguests. You stand against the law. Tell me about just so we cannot enforce justice without a law now to protect Matthew was one thing but to protect those other two. And in neither case can you safely get set yourself against society. You ally yourself with convicts I suppose there is some truth in that but it tomorrow morning out it turned to Beaufort. I hope by the answer you'll have changed your mind. Mr. Williams Are you in here. Yes dear.
I've looked everywhere. I woke up as usual and you've not come to the bed and I've said here and listen to the rain and looked at the fire. But but that's bootylicious and the rain has stopped. It was very heavy. What's the matter dear. What's wrong. It is that Matthew's guilt is mine. And for a solid night I've gone through that terrible experience of examining my beliefs. But two men came to my door. They were hungry and they were cold and I closed them. They were real. I treated them. But I am outside the law. I will not contribute to their death. All outside the law. WILLIAMS Why did you decide. I needn't tell you that I tossed in my bed all night.
I'm sorry about that Mr Williams. When I returned to Beaufort it's my intention to take the two runaways and your boy Matthew. You know I cannot permit you to do that. I do it by force if necessary. On whose boat came on your supply boat so I have no other. I do not give you permission to use it for this purpose. Then I will take it. You break the law with less hesitation then I shall in this case perhaps and willingly. And where would you find your navigator. Oh do you know the shoals of Bogue Sound. Take a slave who knows them. My slaves will not go with you. And if one does I will order him to run you aground. Williams Williams. We're old friends and here you force me to swear that I must report you if you do this thing. I intend to report my actions myself Mr. WILLIAMS. I think you know dear you have a world of confidence. Yes but justice can be recognised by those not blinded by law.
I intend to publish a notice in the newspaper which will state what I have done and ask the owner of these two runaways to come and fetch them. And indeed I wish he had them now. Mr. Williams you will be prosecuted to the limit of the law. Well I. Ask Mr. Blake here about that. Ask me what you know of this when I go to court it would cause discussion about a subject many would prefer to leave undisturbed. Would you like more bacon show. No Mr. Blake. No I'm quite done. Please forgive me Blake. I've done no more than I think you would have done in my place you would be surprised how many beliefs a man may have that he does not really believe. And under pressure they desert him. Now gentlemen I would dispatch a boat to carry the two of you to Beaufort. Court records do not show that any legal action was taken against Robert Williams.
But in the newspaper the North Carolina Gazette of New Britain and its issue of January 7th 1774 there is the following paid announcement. Taken up and committed to jail at Beaufort in Carteret County to new negroes. They came in a canoe to bug sound away from we cannot understand by some accident or act of humanity they got out of jail of a cold evening and must have inevitably perished before morning and strayed to the subscriber's kitchen wishes the proper owner had them but cannot send them anymore into confinement to starve and freeze to death according to law. But the great law giver Moses had in command that we should do no murder. Robert Williams Carteret County North Carolina November 22nd 1773. The.
American Adventure is written by Johnny Lee and directed by John Clayton and is produced by the communications center of the University of North Carolina. The series is made possible by grants in aid from the National Association of educational broadcasters and the Educational Television and Radio Center an agency established by the Ford Foundation. In our story of runaway justice the part of the planner John Williams was played by Jon Benet's the sheriff was Charles Kuralt. His friend was Joe Young the wife was you Les Lancaster and the negro slave was played by Johnnie Lee the cast of all American adventure programs as composed of students faculty members and townspeople of the University of North Carolina community and American Adventure is produced and recorded in the studios of the department of radio television and motion pictures at Chapel Hill. Next Thursday night NBC invites you to
hear American Adventure and a story entitled The demagogue. Tonight's program originated for NBC from W. PTF Rollei.
American adventure
Runaway justice
Producing Organization
University of North Carolina
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
The story of John Williams, a man who aided fugitive slaves in North Carolina.
Series Description
This series studies the values and characteristics of notable figures from America's early years. It is written by John M. Ehle and directed by John S. Clayton.
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Actor: Kuralt, Charles, 1934-1997
Actor: Bonnets, John
Actor: Young, Joe
Actor: Eder, James
Director: Clayton, John S.
Producing Organization: University of North Carolina
Writer: Ehle, John, 1925-
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 54-12-21 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:30:00?
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Chicago: “American adventure; Runaway justice,” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 28, 2024,
MLA: “American adventure; Runaway justice.” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 28, 2024. <>.
APA: American adventure; Runaway justice. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from