Runaway Slaves in Antebellum Maryland

Introduction

Escaping Slavery, U.S. South, 1850s Runaway advertisements and Notices of Committal are some of the most rewarding sources for ascertaining the movement, motivation, and destination of enslaved persons have have taken flight. Runaway ads were placed by slave owners or their representatives in newspapers. These selection of the press in which to post such ads was aimed at recapture of the fugitive, so often ads were placed in papers outside of the slave's farm or plantation site. Out-of-State owners, especially Virginians, advertised in Maryland's press for the state represented the last obstacle to the "free" North. Committal Notices were announcements of capture and detainment of persons suspected of being fugitives from slavery. Not being able to prove their free status, persons so detained faced return to their masters (if they were fugitives), or sale into slavery at the benefit of the county (if no owner claimed the detainee). Only those able to prove their free status, by document or corroboration of status from white persons, were released. Owners seeking fugitives knew that is was to their advantage to give as complete a description of the person being sought as possible. Names and aliases, gender, age, physical features, and distinguishing marks, clothing and apparel are the most basic components. Often a biographical sketch was included. This gave highlights about the fugitive's friends and familial connections in other parts of the state or region. The picture that emerges is one of a slave community that was not necessarily bounded by the farm or plantation property lines. Many times, advertisers would give hints as to why the enslaved person may have taken flight. While such insights reflected masters' perceptions of the enslaved's world, and are frequently biased, the descriptive quality nonetheless provides researchers with valuable tools for understanding slave psychology as well as the give-and-take relationship between members of Maryland's slave society.

From: Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 3: Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)

STANDARD 1: The causes of the American Revolution, the ideas and interests involved in forging the revolutionary movement, and the reasons for the American victory. 

Standard 1B: The student understands the principles articulated in the Declaration of Independence

7-12: Demonstrate the fundamental contradictions between the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the realities of chattel slavery. [Consider multiple perspectives]

Era 4: Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)

STANDARD 2: How the industrial revolution, increasing immigration, the rapid expansion of slavery, and the westward movement changed the lives of Americans and led toward regional tensions 

Standard 2D: The student understands the rapid growth of "the peculiar institution" after 1800 and the varied experiences of African Americans under slavery.

5-12: Describe the plantation system and the roles of their owners, their families, hired white workers, and enslaved African Americans. [Consider multiple perspectives]
5-12
: Identify the various ways in which African Americans resisted the conditions of their enslavement and analyze the consequences of violent uprisings. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]

Primary Resources

DESCRIPTION:  Advertisement, "FIFTY DOLLARS REWARD..."
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: January 8, 1840
SOURCE:  National Intelligencer (Washington, DC) in Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

FIFTY DOLLARS REWARD for negro boy SAM, or SAM MACKALL, who left home on Christmas day. Sam is a light copper color, about 20 years old, 5 feet 6 inches high, face smooth and rather full, rather bushy head of hair, a little bow-legged, and very likely polite boy, a very fine house servant, though accustomed to plantation work. As he left home without any provocation, I have no doubt he intends to make his escape to one of the non-slaveholding States, and will, very probably, pass through Washington or Baltimore. I will gave $20 for him if he is caught in Prince George's county, and delivered to me, or committed to jail, and information given so that I can get him again; and the above reward of $50 if he shall be caught out of the county, and committed to jail or brought home as above. Sam has relations and acquaintances at Dr. Edward Eversfield's, near Piscataway; at Dr. Bird's, Owensville, Anne Arundel County, and in Washington, at Mr. John Gadsby's. In the neighborhood of some one of these places, he will, probably, conceal himself until he shall be able to make his escape.

W.N.DORSETT,

Near Upper Marlborough, Prince George's county, Md.

DESCRIPTION:  Advertisement, SIX AND A QUARTER CENTS REWARD...
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: June 18, 1840
SOURCE:  Sun (Baltimore) in Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

SIX AND A QUARTER CENTS REWARD. Ranaway from the subscriber, on Saturday last, the 13th inst., a colored boy, by the name of JAMES HENRY ANDERSON. This is to forewarn all persons from harboring or trusting said boy, as the law will be put in full force against all so offending. The above reward will be paid on the delivery of him to the subscriber, living at the head of Wolf st., F.P.

BARNEY BURGESS

DESCRIPTION:  Advertisement, TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS REWARD...
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: November 26, 1840
SOURCE:  Sun (Baltimore) in Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS REWARD. Ran away from the subscriber, living on the north side of Severn, at the Ferry, about sunrise on the morning of the 25th November, a Negro Man, who calls himself HENRY HAMMOND. He was formerly the property of Dr. Rea, from whose estate I purchased him about four years ago. He is about 29 years of age; about 5 feet 6 inches high; very bright color, but not a mulatto; has a scar from the bite of a dog on one of his legs, which was seared with an iron to prevent hydrophobia. The clothing which he took with him, as far as can be ascertained, was a black cloth body coat, and black pantaloons, not very much worn; and plain black Russian hat. His working clothes, which he had on, are, drab pantaloons, which several patches on them, and drab coat, bull woolly; and a pair of new coarse pegged boots. It is probably that he has a pass bearing the name of Samuel Wilson, (a deceased negro) from whose wife he endeavored to obtain said pass during the last summer.

I will give 200 dollars for apprehension of the above described negro, if he is taken out of the state of Maryland; and if taken in the state I will give $100 if safely lodged in jail or delivered to me.

GEORGE B. HAYDEN

Annapolis, Nov. 25

DESCRIPTION:  Advertisement, TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS REWARD...
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: May 5, 1851
SOURCE:  National Intelligencer (Washington, DC) in Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS REWARD. Ran away from the subscriber, on the 10th of April, a negro man, calling himself Robert Butler, about 25 or 30 years of age, about 5 feet 8 or 10 inches high, well proportioned, and of rather light color and polite address. He had on when e left home a dark cassinet roundabout, striped pantaloons, and fur hat; he also carried with him a cloak. It is probably, however, that he has changed his clothes. He has a wife at Stephen Beard's Senior, Anne Arundel County. He may be in the neighborhood. He can read, and I think can write, and it is highly probably has forged a pass to Baltimore, with intent to escape out of the State. I will give the above reward to any one who will secure him in jail, or in any other way that I may get him again.

THOMAS C. GANTT,
Prince Frederick Calvert Co.

DESCRIPTION:  Advertisement, $50 REWARD...
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: August 21, 1851
SOURCE:  Sun (Baltimore) in Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

$50 REWARD.-- Ran away, on the 26th of July, from my plantation in Prince George's county, Md., a NEGRO WOMAN, named MILLY TYLER. She is of a copper color, 18 years of age, rather a pleasant countenance, stout and well made, has a short quite walk, and stammers very much when she speaks. Her father is a free man, and she has free relatives in Washington City. I will give $25 if she is taken in Prince George's county, and $50 if she is apprehended elsewhere. In either case she must b delivered to my Manager, Mr. Calvert Brown, or secured in jail so that I get her again. Direct letters to the subscriber, at "Heampstead," King George county, Va.

R. H. STUART

DESCRIPTION:  Advertisement, RUNAWAY...
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: June 14, 1855
SOURCE:  National Intelligencer (Washington, DC) in Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

RUNAWAY.-- Was committed to the jail of Washington county as a runaway, on the 4th instant, a negro man, who calls himself EDWARD J. BROWN, sometimes Sad Nelson Brown. Is about 36 years of age, five feet seven or eight inches high, stout made, quite black; has lost some of his front teeth; has a scar on his left leg; says he is a free man from Charlestown, Virginia, and had his home with John W. Gardner; had on, when committed, a mixed cloth coat, black cloth pants, black slouch hat, new shoes; his feet very much swollen from travel. The owner of the above-described negro is requested to come forth, prove his property, pay charges, and take him away, else he will be discharged agreeably to law.

WILLIAM LOGAN, Sheriff

DESCRIPTION:  Advertisement, $30 REWARD...
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: October 3, 1860
SOURCE:  Planter's Advocate (Upper Marlboro) in Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

 $30 REWARD

RANAWAY from the subscriber, about the first of July last, negro woman BARBARY, commonly called

BARBABY WILLIAMS

She is about fifty years of age, five feet seven or eight inches high, slender built, stoops in her walk, black color, a little grey, and squints a little out of her right eye. She has relations living at Mr. Thomas E. Berry's Oxen Hill farm, on the Potomac River, and at his Henson Quarter farm, in Spaldings' DIstrict, and at Robert W. Brooke's in Bladensburg District, and also on the Springfield estate of the late Elisha Berry, and on the estate of the late David Cranford. I purchased her at the sale of the late Mrs. Mary Berry, in which neighborhood she was extensively known as the wife of Jerry Williams, who was carriage driver for the late Mrs. Berry for many years. 

I will give the above reward for her apprehension -- no matter where taken -- provided she is brought home to me or secured in jail, so that I can get her again.

ZACHARIAH BERRY, of Wash[ington]
Forest of Prince George's COunty,
near Upper Marlborough, Md.

See also:

  1. DESCRIPTION:  Escaping Slavery, U.S. South
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1850s
    NOTES: See Conditions of Use
    SOURCE:  Anon., The Suppressed Book About Slavery! Prepared for Publication in 1857 (New York, 1864), facing p. 336. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-30803). See The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record
  2. DESCRIPTION:  Fugitive Slaves and Bloodhounds, U.S. South
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1850s
    NOTES: See Conditions of Use
    SOURCE:  Anon., The Suppressed Book About Slavery! Prepared for Publication in 1857 (New York, 1864), facing p. 241. See The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record
  3. DESCRIPTION:  Fugitive Slave Trapped, U.S. South
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  19th century
    NOTES: See Conditions of Use
    SOURCE: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-56053; original source not identified. See The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record
  4. DESCRIPTION:  Fugitive Slave Attacked by Dogs
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  19th century?
    NOTES: See Conditions of Use
    SOURCE:   Isabelle Aguet, A Pictorial History of the Slave Trade (Geneva, Editions Minerva, 1971), plate 117 p.110; original source not identified. See The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record
  5. DESCRIPTION:  Ad for "Robert Porter" placed by Dr. W. J. Thomas
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  Maryland, 19th century
    NOTES: See Conditions of Use
    SOURCE:  See The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record
    REPOSITORY: Chicago Historical Society
  6. DESCRIPTION: Handbill Offering Reward for Fugitive Slaves, St. Louis, 1847
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: St. Louis, 1847
    NOTES: See Conditions of Use
    SOURCE:  See The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-62797
  7. DESCRIPTION: Ad for "Nelly Forrest" placed by F. M. Bowie
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: Maryland, 1857
    NOTES: See Conditions of Use
    SOURCE:  See The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record
    REPOSITORY: Chicago Historical Society

Additional Media Resources

The Underground Railroad @ nationalgeographic.com

The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record

Freedom and Bondage in the Colonial Era

Runaway Slave advertisements from 18th-century Virginia newspapers

The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record

Glossary of Terms Used in the Runaway Advertisements

Additional Instructional Resources

Runaway Slaves: From the Revolution to the New Republic. From UMBC Center for History Education, Teaching American History Lesson Plans.

Daily Lives of Slaves - What Really Happened? From UMBC Center for History Education, Teaching American History Lesson Plans.

Slavery and Civil Disobedience: Christiana Riot of 1851. From the UMBC Center for History Education, Teaching American History Lesson Plans.

Speaking Up and Speaking Out: Exploring the Lives of Black Women During the 19th Century. From the UMBC Center for History Education, Teaching American History Lesson Plans.

Freedom Fire. From PBS TeachersSource

Political Symbols. From PBS TeachersSource 

Families in Bondage

Secondary Resources

Franklin, John Hope and Loren Schweninger. Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation, 1790-1860. New York and London: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Johnson, Michael P. "Runaway Slaves and the Slave Communities in South Carolina, 1799 to 1830" The William and Mary Quarterly (Jul. 1981): 418-441.

Lord, Donald C. "Slave Ads as Historical Evidence" The History Teacher (May 1972): 10-16.

Mason, Matthew and Rita G. Koman. "Complicating Slavery: Teaching with Runaway Slave Advertisements." Magazine of History (2003): 31-34.

White, Shane and Graham White. "Slave Clothing and African-American Culture in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries" Past and Present (Aug. 1995): 149-186.

Associated Heritage and Preservation Organizations

Sotterly Plantation
44300 Sotterley Lane
Hollywood, MD 20636

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Credits

Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by Nancy Bramucci.

 

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