Runaway Slave Advertisements During the Revolutionary War Era

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 K-4:

Topic 1: Living and Working Together in Families and Communities, Now and Long Ago 

STANDARD 1: Family life now and in the recent past; family life in various places long ago. 

Standard 1A: The student understands family life now and in the recent past; family life in various places long ago. 

K-4: For various cultures represented in the classroom, compare and contrast family life now with family life over time and between various cultures and consider such things as communication, technology, homes, transportation, recreation, school and cultural traditions. [Distinguish between past and present]

Standard 1B: The student understands the different ways people of diverse racial, religious, and ethnic groups, and of various national origins have transmitted their beliefs and values.

K-4: Explain the ways that families long ago expressed and transmitted their beliefs and values through oral traditions, literature, songs, art, religion, community celebrations, mementos, food, and language. [Obtain historical data]
3-4: Compare the dreams and ideals that people from various groups have sought, some of the problems they encountered in realizing their dreams, and the sources of strength and determination that families drew upon and shared. [Compare and contrast]

STANDARD 2: The history of students’ own local community and how communities in North America varied long ago.

Standard 2A: The student understands the history of his or her local community.

3-4: Identify a problem in the community’s past, analyzing the different perspectives of those involved, and evaluate choices people had and the solution they chose. [Identify issues and problems in the past]

Standard 2B The student understands how communities in North America varied long ago.

K-4: Draw upon written and visual sources and describe the historical development and daily life of a colonial community such as Plymouth, Williamsburg, St. Augustine, San Antonio, and Fort Vincennes, in order to create a historical narrative, mural, or dramatization of daily life in that place long ago. [Construct a historical narrative]
3-4: Describe and compare daily life in ethnically diverse urban communities long ago, such as a free African American community in Philadelphia, an Italian community in New York, or a Chinese community in San Francisco. [Draw upon visual data and read historical narratives imaginatively]

Primary Resources

  1. DESCRIPTION: Fugitive slave advertisement for LESTER, CAESAR, ISAAC, and MINGO placed by William Bull, New York
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: October 27, 1763
    NOTES: See Conditions of Use
    SOURCE: New-York Gazette; or, the Weekly Post-Boy, October 27, 1763; published in Graham R. Hodges and Alan E. Brown, eds., Pretends to Be Free: Runaway Slave Advertisements from Colonial and Revolutionary New York and New Jersey (New York, 1994). See The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record

RUN AWAY

THE 18th Instant at Night from the Subscriber, in the City of Ney-York, four Negro Men, Viz. LESTER, about 40 Years of Age, had on a white Flannel Jacket and Drawers, Duck Trowsers and Home-spun Shirt. CAESAR, about 18 Years of Age, clothed in the same Manner. ISAAC, aged 17 Years cloathed in the same Manner, except that his Breeches were Leather; and MINGO, 15 Years of Age, with the same Clothing as the 2 first, all of them of a middling Size, Whoever delivers either of the said Negroes to the Subscribe, shall receive TWENTY SHILLINGS Reward for each beside all reasonable Charges. If any person can give Intelligences of their being harbour’d, a reward of TEN POUNDS will be paid upon conviction of the Offender. All Masters of Vessels and others are forwarn’d not to Transport them from the City, as I am resolved to prosecute as far as the Law will allow.

WILLIAM BULL.

N.B. If the Negroes return, they shall be pardon’d.

2. DESCRIPTION: Fugitive slave advertisement for BOOD placed by Wilson Hunt, New York
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: October 27, 1763
NOTES: See Conditions of Use
SOURCE: New-York Gazette; or, the Weekly Post-Boy, October 27, 1763; published in Graham R. Hodges and Alan E. Brown, eds., Pretends to Be Free: Runaway Slave Advertisements from Colonial and Revolutionary New York and New Jersey (New York, 1994). See The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record

HIRTY DOLLARS REWARD

RUN-AWAY from the Subscriber, the 16th of September last, a Negro Man named BOOD, about 38 Years old, 5 Feet 10 Inches high, yellow Complexion, thin Visage, has had the Small Pox; his great Toes have been froze, and have only little Pieces of Nails on them: He is much addicted to strong Liquor, and when drunk very noisy and troublesome. Whoever takes up said Slave, and bring him home, or secures him in Gaol, so that his Master may get him again, shall be intitled to the above Reward of THIRTY DOLLARS, paid by

WILSON HUNT.

Any Person who takes up said Negro, is cautioned to be particularly careful that he does not make his Escape, as he is a remarkable stout, cunning, artful Fellow.

Hunterdon-County,
Maidenhead, December 20, 1766.

DESCRIPTION: Fugitive slave advertisement for SANDY placed by Thomas Jefferson, Virginia
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: Sept. 14, 1769
NOTES: See Conditions of Use
SOURCE: Virginia Gazette, Sept. 14, 1769. See The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record

RUN away from the subscriber in Albemarle, a Mulatto slave called Sandy, about 35 years of age, his stature is rather low, inclining to corpulence, and his complexion light; he is a shoemaker by trade, in which he uses his left hand principally, can do coarse carpenters work, and is something of a horse jockey; he is greatly addicted to drink, and when drunk is insolent and disorderly, in his conversation he swears much, and in his behaviour is artful and knavish. He took with him a white horse, much scarred with traces, of which it is expected he will endeavour to dispose; he also carried his shoemakers tools, and will probably endeavour to get employment that way. Whoever conveys the said slave to me, in Albemarle, shall have 40 s. reward, if taken up within the county, 4 l. if elsewhere within the colony, and 10 l. if in any other colony, from

THOMAS JEFFERSON.

DESCRIPTION:  Fugitive slave advertisement for TOM placed by James Jordan, Maryland
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  January 16, 1775
SOURCE:  Maryland Gazette Collection, MSA SC 2313
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

RAN away from the subscriber, living in St. Mary’s county, Maryland, on the 4th of November last, a mulatto man slave, named Tom, about fifty years of age, five feet nine or ten inches high, by trade a carpenter and cooper; he formerly did belong to Philip Key, Esq; at which time he resided chiefly at Beed’s creek, and it is supposed that he is now harboured somewhere in that neighborhood; one of his knees is swelled, which causes him to limp. He has lost the fore finger of his left hand, it was cut off some years ago: had with him many good cloaths of different sorts, and a set of carpenter’s tools; he is an artful deceitful villain, and may endeavour to pass for a free man. Whoever secures him in such a manner that I may have him again, shall receive six dollars reward, and if brought home, reasonable charges paid, by

JAMES JORDAN

DESCRIPTION:  Fugitive slave advertisement for JAMES MASON placed by Walter Beall, Maryland
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  April 6, 1775
SOURCE:  Maryland Gazette Collection, MSA SC 2313
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

FIVE POUNDS REWARD,

RAN away from the subscriber, living in Frederick county, near Bladensburgh, a likely mulatto fellow named James Mason. He is about 5 feet nine or 10 inches high, has short black hair curled behind, and is a straight well made active fellow, of about twenty-seven years of age. He understands a little of the blacksmith’s business, and is a tolerable good waggoner: he had on, when he went away, a brown cloth coat, an old double breasted jacket, a pair of white [ ] or fustian breeches, a white shirt, a new hat with a white band and loop, and a pair of [] buckles in his shoes. As he is a sensible, artful fellow, it is probable he may have a forged pass, or a discharged indenture from some of his acquaintances, and may endeavour to pass as a freeman. Whoever takes up the said slave, and secures him in any jail so as I may get him again, shall have the above reward, and if brought home, their travelling expenses, paid by

WALTER BEALL

DESCRIPTION:  Fugitive slave advertisement for SAM LOCKER placed by Benjamin Brookes, Maryland
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  May 25, 1775
SOURCE:  Maryland Gazette Collection, MSA SC 2313
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

SIX DOLLARS REWARD

RAN away from the subscriber, living in Prince George’s county, near Upper-Marlborough, on Sunday the 26th of March, a negro man, named Sam, but generally called and known by the name of Sam Locker; he is a thin clean made fellow, between thirty and forty years of age, has rather long hair, being of the East-India breed; he formerly belonged to Mr. Isaac Simmons near Pig-Point, in Anne-Arundel county, the said Simmons now lives near Calvert county court-house, and I suppose the fellow may endeavor to get down to his old master’s; as he took with him sundry cloaths, it is impossible to describe his dress with certainty; he had on when he went away, a new searnought coat, lightish colour, blue cloth breeches, osnabrig shirt, felt hat almost new, white yarn stockings, and good shoes, (the soles nailed) has a wife at Mr. Walter Bowie’s, near the Forest chapel, is a talkative artful fellow, and will endeavour to impose himself as a free man. Whoever takes up and secures said runaway, so as his master gets him again shall receive the above reward, from

BENAJMIN BROOKES

DESCRIPTION:  Fugitive slave advertisement for PEIRCE BURN (Irish servant) and NANCY BANNAKER  (slave) placed by Abidnigo Hyatt, Maryland
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  June 15, 1775
SOURCE:  Maryland Gazette Collection, MSA SC 2313
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

RAN away from the subscriber, living in Frederick county, on the 15th of April last, an Irish servant named Peter Kelly, but has changed his name to Peirce Burn, and has a pass for that purpose; he is about 5 feet 8 inches high, has dark brown hair, and of a dark complexion, and down look, this apparel is a light coloured country cloth coat, 1 Holland shirt, 2 osnabrigs ditto, blue yarn stockings with shoes and buckles, a felt hat bound with black worsted binding, striped linen trousers; also went with him a lusty negro woman named Rhoad, now goes by the name of Nancy Bannaker, her apparel a white humhums gown, her other clothing such as is common for slaves. Whoever takes up said servant and slave, and secures them, so that their master gets them again, shall if taken in this province, be intitled to 20 dollars reward, and if out, the sum of ten pounds, including what the law allows, paid by

ABIDNIGO HYATT

DESCRIPTION:  Fugitive slave advertisement for TOM placed by John Ashton, Maryland
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  June 15, 1775
SOURCE:  Maryland Gazette Collection, MSA SC 2313
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

SIX POUNDS REWARD

RAN away from the subscriber, living near Bellair, on Patuxent, in Prince George’s county, Maryland, a mulatto fellow called Tom, a shoemaker by trade: he is about one and twenty years old, 5 feet 9 or 10 inches high, stoops naturally, he is fair, but has a remarkable beard when he lets it grow; he has the look of a rogue when sharply spoken to, and discovers a great deal of assurances and impudence in his conversation. As he has always lived in the neighbourhood of Queen Anne’s, the Governor’s Bridge, and Bellair, and has been acquainted with the priests of this province, his conversation may easily discover him: It is likely he may call himself free, and have a forged pass under another name, or he may probably be concealed and kept at his trade in Annapolis, or in the neighbourhood of Bellair, on Patuxent, where he lived, by some white people, who make to familiar with my slaves to my great prejudice, and whom I hereby forewarn from having any dealings with them, either in the shoemaking business, or in any other way, without my express consent. Whoever secures the above fellow in jail, or brings him home to me, will be entitled to the above reward, from

JOHN ASHTON

DESCRIPTION: Fugitive slave advertisement for TOM and MILBEY placed by Roger Johnson
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  June 19, 1776
SOURCE:  Maryland Gazette Collection, MSA SC 2313
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

FIVE POUNDS REWARD

RAN Away last Monday morning, from Bush Creek Forge, near Frederick-Town, two NEGRO men, viz.

TOM, a country born fellow, about 33 or 34 years of age, 5 feet 8 or 9 inches high; thin faced, he formerly belonged to Mr. Thomas Johnson, late of Leonard’s-Creek, in Calvert county; had on and with him two felt hats, country linen shirt and trousers, a blue jacket without sleeves, figured with white.

MILBEY, about 23 years of age, 2 feet 9 or 10 inches high, not very black, was lately purchased on Mr. Samuel Wilkins, of Princess-Anne, in Somerset county; had on a country linen shirt, old country cloth breeches, shoes lately soaled;

There were both seen at Mansfield’s, on their way, as supposed, to Annapolis or Calvert county, though they may probably separate, and each make for the place he came from.

Five pounds for taking up and securing them, or fifty shillings for either.

ROGER JOHNSON

DESCRIPTION: Fugitive slave advertisement for SARAH placed by George Somerville
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: January 27, 1778
SOURCE: Maryland Journal & Baltimore Advertiser
REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

TEN POUNDS REWARD

January 24. 1778

RAN away, on the evening of the 14th instant, from George Fox’s plantation, near Dr. Stevenson’s copper mine, in Frederick county, a likely molatto wench, named SARAH; she took with her a molatto boy, about 6 or 7 years old; she also stole and carried off a man’s surtout coat, and a straight bodied ditto, both light colour’d, three mens white shirts, a sum of money, a bed and beding, and many other articles — She went off in the company of Valentine Lind, by trade a taylor, who had been employed in that neighbourhood; ’tis supposed they have one or more horses with them, and may possibly attempt to pass for man and wife.– She is a lusty wench, speaks good English and Dutch, has plenty of good clothes with her, and a large sum of money.—-Whoever apprehends said woman and boy, and brings them to the copper mine, or to the subscriber in Baltimore, shall have the above reward, and all reasonable charges, paid by

GEORGE SOMERVILLE

DESCRIPTION: Fugitive slave advertisement for DAVID placed by Basil Roberts
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 17, 1778
SOURCE: Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser Collection
REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

TEN DOLLARS REWARD

March 16, 1778.

RAN away, on Sunday morning the 1st of February last, from the subscriber, living in Montgomery County, at Mr. Dawden’s tavern, on the main road that leads from Frederick Town to George-Town, a likely Negro man, named DAVID, about 30 years of age, 6 feet high, is country born, speaks very slow, and seems by his discourse as if he would not tell a lye, and will be apt to say he is free, as he has often before told strangers; he has a large scar on his throat, and another on the side of his mouth; he has one or two teeth out before. It is needless mentioning his clothes, because, if he is at camp, I expect he has changed them ere this, tho’ had on when he went away, a soldier’s old blue coat, with linsey sleeves, old leather breeches, grey yarn stockings, old shoes, country linen shirt, and a new felt hat, with a yellow button.–
About the time he went away, there was six baggage waggons passed by, going to Little York, to stay all winter, and I expect, if he is gone to camp, he kept with them until they stopt and then went forward, and perhaps will endeavour to get to the English. — Whoever will apprehend the above Negro, and secure him, so that the owner may get him again, shall receive the above reward, and if brought home, reasonable charges, paid by

BASIL ROBERTS.

DESCRIPTION:  Fugitive slave advertisement for SAMUEL JOHNSON placed by Peregrine Thorn
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  July 28, 1785
SOURCE:  Maryland Gazette Collection, MSA SC 2313
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

TWENTY POUNDS REWARD.

Charles county, near Newport, July 18, 1785.

RAN away from the subscriber, the 14th instant, a likely negro named SAM, alias SAMUEL JOHNSON, and has frequently passed under the  names of James Willis and Samuel Perkins, by the latter he had a pass by a person in Baltimore, under the appeliation of a magistrate. Sam is about 23 years old, near 6 feet high, of a yellowish complexion, has a down impudent look, is pitted with the small-pox, and has a remarkable cut with an ax on one of his legs, which may not yet be well; had on when he went off, an old pair of trousers, asnabrig shirt worn through at the elbows, and old short blue jacket without sleeves, and an old hat; he is an artful rogue, born on the eastern shore, and is well known there and in Baltimore, where he ran away from his master in time of the war, was taken up in Philadelphia, after making several voyages to the West-Indies, has been latterly sent to Baltimore for sale, he then made his escape for several days, but was luckily apprehended, and is now, I understand, making for that place, and it is more probable will pass by many other names, as he has informed sever, since gone, that he is free, and others that he has a master in Baltimore, and is going to inform him of his being wrecked down the bay, carrying him a parcel of goods. Whoever takes up the said negro, and brings him to me, shall receive the above reward, by

PEREGRINE THORN

DESCRIPTION:  Fugitive slave advertisement for MATTHEW BUTLER placed by Basil Edelin
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  February 23, 1786
SOURCE:  Maryland Gazette Collection, MSA SC 2313
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

SIXTEEN DOLLARS REWARD
Piscataway, Prince-George’s county, February 8, 1786.

WENT away last October, from Mr. Queens, Eastern Branch a yellow negro fellow, of the Butler breed, named MATTHEW, about nineteen or twenty years of age, five feet 7 or 8 inches hight; when examined speaks soft, and has a down look. He formerly belonged to Edward Newport, of Charles county; he was seen at Annapolis about three or four weeks before Christmas, and it is supposed he went from there to Baltimore about that time. His father and mother belong to one Mrs. Bradford, near Bladensburg, and he may perhaps be lurking about there. Whoever will secure the said fellow, so that I get him again, shall receive the above reward, and if brought home all reasonable charges, paid by

BASIL EDELEN.

N. B. I do not recollect his apparel; he probably may change his name, and endeavour to pass for a free man.

DESCRIPTION:  Fugitive slave advertisement for NACE placed by Samuel Abell
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  May 29, 1788
SOURCE:  Maryland Gazette Collection, MSA SC 2313
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

TWENTY DOLLARS Reward.

RAN away from the subscriber, living in Saint Mary’s county, and state of Maryland, a negro man named NACE, about twenty five years of age, of a dark complexion, about 5 feet 9 or 10 inches high; his cloaths uncertain, as he had many, and very likely may shift them. The above negro formerly belonged to my brother Robert Abell, who lately removed to Kentucky, and believe he ran away on account of his unwillingness to go out with him, although I purchased him some time before, he thinking it was a sham sale, in order to keep him until my brother set off, and then that he was to be confined and carried out with him. The above reward will be paid to any one securing the said negro in any gaol so that I may get him again, and if brought home the above reward and all reasonable traveling charges, including what the law allows.

SAMUEL ABELL, Youngest

DESCRIPTION:  Fugitive slave advertisement for BESS and JERE placed by Henry Hill, 3d
DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  August 27, 1789
SOURCE:  Maryland Gazette Collection, MSA SC 2313
REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

RAN away from the subscriber, on the 3d inst. a mulatto wench and fellow; the wench named BESS, is about fifty years of age, a bright mulatto colour, and mother to the fellow, who is called JERE, is about sixteen years of age, and lighter than his mother; as to their cloaths it is uncertain; it is supposed that they will make for Annapolis, as they pretend to be descendants of the famous NELL BUTLER. Whoever will take them up and secure them, so that their matter can get them again, shall receive, besides what the law allows, four dollars for each, paid by me

HENRY HILL, 3d

All persons are forewarned hiring the above-mentioned slaves.