I gave a lecture last Saturday on researching the enslaved at the Montgomery County Historical Society. I had a great time. My Prather relatives are from Montgomery County, Maryland. I found a lot of Montgomery County Runaway Ads online through the Maryland State Archives’ Legacy of Slavery webpage. This database is jam packed. One night I stayed up until 1 am just looking at Runaway Ads, which I’ve discussed here before and have a particular fascination with. Here are some of my observations from perusing the various ads:
1) Slaveowners knew a surprising amount of information about their slaves’ families. These also speak to the extended kinship communities that slaves formed:
This one even names the slave’s father:
Some of the ads demonstrate that slaves had surnames they were known by, although certainly many didn’t print them in the ads. I think it’s interesting that they say “he calls himself”:
There are also common themes of the slaveowner’s belief that the escaped slaves were headed to Philadelphia and also that they were aided or had free papers from a free negro. Maryland had over 83, 000 freed blacks by 1860 and these show the slaveowners high level of distrust of them:
This one must have been the most popular slave in Maryland!:
Evidence abounds of the violence slaveowners exerted to hold slavery in place. This man received a burn on his face “for his villainy”:
This one’s back is “very much cut for his rogueness”:
In this one (like the others), I felt myself rooting for the “gang of six.” They made it all the Pennsylvania, and the slaveholder derisively mentions the “abolition magistrate” that let them go:
Runaway Ads all by themselves explode several myths of the slaveowner’s mind, such as:
1) the slaves did not form the emotional attachments to their family in the same way that whites did. This was the one they often used to defend the buying and selling of human beings. If that were so, why is it that so many slaves escape and are headed back to their wives, parents, etc.?
2) that the natural state for negroes was slavery; they needed white caretakers; that they were happiest this way. If so, why do so many run away again and again, even when the odds were overwhelmingly against them? Why do they run away even when they already wore the marks of painful physical punishment?
I’ll end with one 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”:
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.