Lady Fanm: Master of Disguise
Posted March 25, 2024
Topics: African American History

By Valerie Boyer, School and Inclusive Community Programs Coordinator

Lady Fanm Goumen, a Creole woman, was known as many different people throughout her life. She’s said to have been born in the summer between 1807 and 1815 in Franklin, Louisiana. Keep in mind that chattel slavery was a time of not seeing enslaved persons as people, but rather property, so we don’t necessarily have birth certificates at the time to confirm this.

After having enough of some of her master’s practices, she snuck into the back of a cargo wagon in 1845, which ended up stopping in Montgomery, Alabama. It is along this wagon ride, and in Alabama, that she learns of the “free north”. Because of her lighter complexion and ambiguous hairstyles, she was often confused for someone else. Lady Fanm realizes that this could work to her advantage. She was what history calls at that time “passing”, which is just code for racially ambiguous. In winter of 1851, she began to head north. She had 52 disguises on record that she was able to acquire in her travel navigating the Underground Railroad.

Lady Fanm picked up quite a few companions along the way, with the intentions of settling in Canada.  In 1853, after 2 years of travel, she ultimately decided to settle and make a home in Ohio.  Lady Fanm lived out her days as both a teacher and caretaker for the elderly, approximately for a year. She also had a “sister circle” comprised of 5 women who looked out for each other as much as they could. Unfortunately, it would not be long before one of them was spotted by a slave catcher. In the complication of all that comes with chattel slavery and capture, the woman informed the slave catcher that she wasn’t the only one there, and exposed Lady Fanm as Black woman. Lady Fanm made it abundantly clear that she would never go back, so when surrounded by the group of 5, she hunkered in her home with her many guns and protected herself as much she could. In a tragic event where she was able to fend off 4 of the slave catchers, the 5th one was able to subdue her.

While the ending is tragic, her legacy of freeing more that 50 enslaved people on the Underground Railroad by her many different looks, helping to build a town around her, and living free until her passing is a fascinating and inspiring story.

Subscribe to Our Blogs