Runaway Slave Advertisements in the New Republic

Introduction

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, "RAN away last night..."
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: May 6, 1790
SOURCE:  Maryland Gazette (Annapolis) in Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

West River, May 2, 1790.

RAN away last night, from the subscriber, living in Anne Arundel county, near Annapolis, a mulatto woman slave named BET, alias BET COOK, about twenty-eight years of age; she is a tall wench, and has a long visage, and down look; her apparel I cannot describe, as she has with her several suits, and them very good. The above woman went off in company with a mulatto free fellow named Tom Turner, who follows the water for a living, and calls her his wife. I will give ONE GUINEA for taking up the said woman and securing her so that her owner may get her again, or FIVE POUNDS for them both, provided she is under the free fellow's protection when taken.

JAMES DISNEY

DESCRIPTION:  Advertisement, "Ten Dollars Reward ..."
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: October 11, 1801 
SOURCE:  Maryland Gazette (Annapolis) in Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

Ten Dollars Reward.

RAN away from the subscriber, living on West river, on the 26th of October last, a very likely negro girl named PEGG, she is about fifteen years of age, very black and small for her age, speaks low when spoken to, has been used to wait in the house: had on when she went away an old blue cotton jacket and petticoat, but is is probable she got other cloathing since her elopement. The above reward, including what the law allows, will be given to any person apprehending said girl, and securing her in any gaol, so that I get her again, or reasonable charges if brought home, by

GASSAWAY PINDELL.

All persons whatever are forbid harbouring or employing said girl at their peril.
Anne Arundel county, January 4, 1801.

DESCRIPTION:  Advertisement, "COMMITTED to my custody..."
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  June 1, 1803
SOURCE:  Maryland Gazette (Annapolis) in Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

COMMITTED to my custody, as a runaway, a negro man by the name of JOSEPH, who says he belongs to GRIFFIN GARLAND, of Richmond county, Virginia, he is about 30 years of age, 5 feet 7 or 8 inches high, and has a dark smooth skin; his cloathing a white flannel short coat, an old long yellow cloth coat, a pair of old fustian pantaloons, an old white shirt, a pair of old white yarn stockings, a pair of old shoes, one of them longer than the other, and an old hat. His owner is requested to release him, or he will be sold for his fees as the law directs.

FRANCIS MILLARD, Sheriff of
Saint-Mary's county, Maryland.

May 30, 1803

DESCRIPTION: Advertisement, "Ten Dollars Reward."
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: November 17, 1803
SOURCE:  Maryland Gazette (Annapolis) in Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives 

Ten Dollars Reward.

RAN away from the subscriber's dwelling plantation, near Pig Point, on Sunday the 30th of October, a negro lad named SOLOMON, 18 years of age, about 5 feet 2 or 3 inches high; had on when he went away, a pair of blue cloth trousers, a white kersey pea jacket, osnabrig shirt, and an old hat, he has a smiling look, free spoken, with very white teeth, and a flat nose. Perhaps he is harboured about Jeremiah Thomas's, as he has an aunt living there. Whoever takes up with the said lad, and brings him home, or secures him so that the owner gets him again, shall receive the above reward, paid by

WILLIAM DRURY, Sen.

November 9, 1803

DESCRIPTION: Advertisement, THIRTY DOLLARS REWARD.
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: January 2, 1816
SOURCE:  National Intelligencer  (District of Columbia) in Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

THIRTY DOLLARS REWARD.

RAN AWAY from the subscriber, one mile from Georgetown, (D.C.) on Saturday night last, a negro man named NACE, of a black complexion, tall, very spare and likely; about 22 years of age. He is suppose to have stolen the horse which is advertised to have been taken from Mr. Plater, the same night. Any person delivering the said negro to Mr. Plater, or securing him in any jail so that I get him again, shall receive the above reward and reasonable expenses paid.

ANN KEY

October 10

DESCRIPTION: Advertisement, 100 DOLLARS REWARD.
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: January 3, 1816
SOURCE:  National Intelligencer  (District of Columbia) in Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

100 DOLLARS REWARD

RAN away on the night of the 28th ult. from the service of Mr. Alexr. Henderson, of this place, a young negro man named Cassius,--(he adds Montgomery.) He is about 5 ft. 6 in. high, well formed, and has a very fine countenance, is remarkably black, has lived for the last six years at Triplett's hotel in this town, is an accomplished waiter and possesses a very insinuating address--he carried with him a trunk full of fashionable clothing. The above reward will be given for his apprehension and secure lodgment on application to the subscriber. As he has no doubt gone to the north by the aid of persons who can read, it is hereby declared to him that if he will return within one month from this date, he will be forgiven, and may resume his services free from the punishment he merits.

A. MOORE

January 3

DESCRIPTION:  Advertisement, 150 DOLLARS REWARD
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  
SOURCE:  National Intelligencer  (District of Columbia) in Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

150 DOLLARS REWARD

RAN AWAY from the farm of the late Jacob Franklin, on West River, in Anne Arundel County, Md. on Thursday the 30th December last, a negro man, named COMMODORE, 38 years of age, about 5 feet 6 inches high; stout and well made; he is a bright mulatto, much marked in the face with the small pox, has rather a down look, and shows his teeth very much when talking or smiling; his dress cannot be described, as he left his clothes behind, except a green coating great coat with a large cape, which he had on when he went away. It is supposed he will go to the city of Washington or Baltimore. He has a wife in the latter city living with Mr. James Sterling. Whoever will take up and secure the said runaway in any jail so that I get him again, if within the state, or District of Columbia, shall receive S100; if out of the state, or District of Columbia, the above reward,

THO. FRANKLIN, executor of
JACOB FRANKLIN

Annapolis, jan. 6

DESCRIPTION:  Advertisement, TWENTY DOLLARS REWARD.
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  
SOURCE:  National Intelligencer  (District of Columbia) in Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

TWENTY DOLLARS REWARD

RAN away from the subscriber, some time in the month of July last, a negro man named Remus, about 25 years of age; well made; about five feet ten inches high; of dark complexion, with very white teeth and eyes; has rather a bad countenance; his left foot turns outwardly from having been afflicted with the rheumatism when a boy, which causes him to limp a little when walking. He has also a lump on one of his hands (I think the right) which occasions in stiffness in the little finger.

It is most likely Remus has procured free papers, and will attempt to pass as a free man, and make his way onward to the North, or he may be in Washington, or at work on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Whoever will deliver the said fellow to the subscriber, or to Mr. Geo. White, Commission Merchant and Auctioneer, Alexandria, or secure him in any jail so that I get him again, shall receive the above reward, and all reasonable expenses paid.

JAMES ARNOLD

Charles County, Md. Oct. 7

Additional Media Resources

The Underground Railroad @ nationalgeographic.com

Freedom and Bondage in the Colonial Era

PBS.org, Africans in America, Judgment Day

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.

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.

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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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