Runaway Ads for enslaved people throughout Maryland are available online at the Maryland State Archives’ Legacy of Slavery database. The ads tell us much about the mind of the slaveowner.
Here are some of my observations:
1) Slaveowners knew a surprising amount of information about enslaved families. This also speaks to the extended kinship communities that slaved people formed:William Belt Robert Clagett
This one even names the slave’s father:Roberts
Some of the ads demonstrate that slaves had surnames. I think it’s interesting that some ads say “he calls himself”:Basil Burgess Richard Wms
There are also common themes of the slaveowner’s belief that the escaped slaves were headed to Philadelphia. Also, many state that the runaways were aided or had free papers from a free negro.
Maryland had over 83,000 freed blacks by 1860 and the ads illustrate the slaveowner’s distrust of them:Nathan Magruder
The man in the ad below sounds like the most popular slave in Maryland!:Thomas Rawlins
Evidence abounds of the violence slaveowners exerted to hold slavery in place. The man described below received a burn on his face “for his villainy”:William
This one’s back is “very much cut for his rogueness”:Sam Magruder
In the next ad, I felt myself rooting for the “gang of six.” They made it all the Pennsylvania. The slaveholder derisively mentions the “abolition magistrate” that let them go:Gang of Six
Exploding the Myths
Slaveowners devised every more elaborate reasons why slavery was moral, correct and necessary. Runaway Ads all explode several of the myths that slaveowners made up as rationalizations. Here are two:
Myth 1. Slaves did not form the emotional attachments to their family in the same way that whites did.
This was the justification often used to defend the buying and selling of human beings.
If that were true, why is it that so many slaves escape and are headed back to their wives, parents, etc.?
Myth 2. The natural state for negroes was slavery; they needed white caretakers; that they were happiest this way.
If that were true, why do so many run away repeatedly, even when the odds were overwhelmingly against them? Why do they run away even when they already wear the marks of painful physical punishment?
I’ll end with an ad that took my breath away. It’s a little harder to read than the others, but it describes Susan, a runaway who was”far advanced in pregnancy”:Thomas
What must have happened to Susan to take off on a journey that would almost certainly fail, especially in her state? I imagine it must have been something horrific.
This was what slavery was everyday, and I never forget that.
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.