Digital History>Topics>Slavery

Fugitive Slaves

Digital History TOPIC ID 113

Thousands of slaves fled slavery, and many masters responded by publishing advertisements in newspapers. Many of these advertisements are available at:

In analyzing these advertisements, there is a great deal of information that students can extract.

  1. Were masters more likely to advertise for skilled or unskilled slaves?
  2. When did masters advertise for the return of slaves? Immediately or after a long delay?
  3. Were the descriptions of fugitive slaves vague or detailed and specific?
  4. How knowledgeable was the master about the fugitive?
  5. What do the advertisements tell us about the fugitives in terms of:
  • age
  • gender
  • marital status
  • clothing
  • fluency in English
  • skills
  • scars
  • demeanor
  • motives for running away
  • methods for escape
f. What do the advertisements tell us about the escape itself? What means did the runaway use to escape? Did the fugitive run away alone or in a group? Is there evidence that the fugitive receive assistance in making the escape? Did the fugitive travel a short or long distance? What goods did the fugitive take?

g. What kinds of rewards were offered? Why were some rewards larger than others?

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