Throughout the 500-year history of slavery in North America, enslaved people tried to escape. Once newspapers were common, enslavers posted “runaway ads” to try to locate these fugitives.
When fugitives escaped, enslavers often placed runaway notices in newspapers. Such ads included any kind of information that might help readers identify the fugitive: the name, height, build, appearance, clothing, literacy level, language, accent and so on of the runaway. Often the ads speculate on where the escapee might be headed and why, when they were most recently sold, and what kinds of scars and marks they had.
A $100 bounty for a runaway slave named Abram from Richards’ Ferry, Culpeper County, Virginia. September 24, 18-.
A $300 bounty for three escaped slaves named Bob, Charles, and Alfred from Leesburg, Virginia. Bob and Charles were owned by Ish, while Hawling was the owner of Charles. 10 June 1839.
Runaway slave broadside from Fairfax, Virginia, 23 August 1839.
Block of advertisements announcing slave auction and rewards for run away slaves. The Daily Picayune newspaper, New Orleans, 20 March, 1852.
1853 advertisement offering reward for escaped slave boy, posted by P.G.T. Beauregard.
Copied from ‘Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl’ by Harriett Jacobs, p.215. The book states that the ad ran in the Norfolk, VA, American Beacon newspaper on July 4, 1835. From General Negative Collection, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC.
Advertisement in a newspaper for a runaway slave named Bill, who had been captured and turned over to the Jefferson County Jail.
Notice published by future president Andrew Jackson offering a $50 reward, plus expenses, for the return of an enslaved mulatto man who escaped from Jackson’s plantation. In a move unusual for the time, the notice offers “ten dollars extra, for every hundred lashes any person will give him, to the amount of three hundred.” 3 October 1804.
Advertisement announcing reward for run away slave. New Orleans Delta, Sept. 25, 1849.
Female runaway slave, illustrated reward broadside, Alexandria, Virginia, 19 February 1851.
Fugitive slave broadside, Greenbrier County, 20 October 1829.
Three advertisements announcing rewards for run away slaves. Georgia Journal & Messenger, Dec. 19, 1849.
Notice published in the Cambridge Democrat (1849), offering a reward for the return of Harriet Tubman and her two brothers, 3 October 1849.
Harriet Jacobs Reward, 4 July 1835.
Advertisement announcing reward for run away slave. Louisiana Courier, Feb. 4, 1851. Note slave is listed as being a baker and bilingual; rather unusually low reward of $5 offered. 4 February 1851.
Maryland 1853 runaway slave reward broadside.
Advertisement announcing reward for run away slave. New Orleans Bee, March 12, 1851. Note slave is listed as being bilingual and literate. 12 March 1851.
New York reward broadside for ran-away slave Tom, 1793.
Runaway advertisement for Oney Judge, enslaved servant in George Washington’s presidential household. The Pennsylvania Gazette, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 24, 1796.
Runaway slave advertisement, 1774.
Rewards for runaway slaves published in The Baltimore Sun on 8 August 1839.
Advertisements offering reward for capture of runaway slaves, as published in The Daily Picayune, New Orleans, April 26, 1857.
Printed broadside on laid paper, 7.25 x 9 in., headed Forty Dollars Reward…for capture of Negro Harry and Negro Len of Maryland, their physical appearances described in detail, issued by Harry and Len’s masters, James and Baker Johnson, dated October 23, 1802. Fredericktown, MD. Printed by John P. Thomson. With added manuscript on verso referring to a transfer of land deeds.
1858 poster advertising $100 reward for runaway slave, Washington D.C.
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