Lives of Slaves

Read the text and answers the three questions.

What kinds of information does the advertisement reveal about these particular slaves?
What information can you learn about the lives of slaves in general from this material?
How do you think today’s newspaper will contribute to future historical research about our own times (i.e. if there was a scholar one hundred years in the future trying to study how people in America live today, how do you think our newspapers would help them?)

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The “Peculiar” Institution

It is difficult for historians to study slavery in the United States because often there are very few detailed accounts of the lives of slaves. As a result, many scholars try to find other ways of locating information about the lives of slaves in America in other types of primary sources. Historic newspaper advertisements have been one beneficial tool for researchers to discover this elusive information. When slaves ran away from their master or when authorities captured a runaway slave, they frequently placed an ad in a newspaper describing the slave and giving information about the possible master. For many of the unnamed and ignored slaves in the United States, this is the only source about their life in slavery.

In this assignment, read the newspaper ads about runaway slaves below and think about the information it tells you about that slave.

Ranaway—From the subscriber, on Sunday night, the 7th instant, the Negro man Abram: near six feet high, copper color, and about forty years of age. Abram is rather intelligent, handy in the use of tools, and a good carpenter and shoemaker,–has worked on the running-gear of gins. His jaw teeth are several of them missing, and he has a scar on his breast, from the bite of another Negro. He rode off a sorrel mare mule, about seven years old, with a quick, shuffling walk; also took an American-saddle, with a horn to it, quilted seat, rather old. Said Negro has frequently been sent to Hempstead county, Arkansas, where he was raised by Gilbert Clark, and, being known as a confidential Negro in that neighborhood, would be likely to travel that far openly, without interruption. I will pay a liberal reward for the apprehension and delivery to me of said Negro. R.M. Hopkins. Clarksville, Texas, April 13, 1850.

Runaway Taken Up. I have taken up, and now have in my possession, a runaway Negro. The said negro, is a mulatto, of a light copper color, aged about 35 years, and calls his name Tom. He says he belongs to a Mr. Rolston, of Rusk county Louisiana, (meaning perhaps Texas). He is about 5 feet 10 inches high. There are no marks about him, by which he can be more particularly described. He says he has been runaway about a year. The owner is hereby requested to come forward, prove property, pay charges, and take said negro. He is directed to call upon Col. Long, U.S. Agent for the Chickasaws Fort Washita, who will direct him how to get said negro. R.J. Humphreys. Near Fort Washita, Choctaw Nation. Sept. 23, 1850.

Runaway. From the subscriber in December, 1856, a negro boy, Larry, aged about twenty years, five feet nine or ten inches high; he had a mark supposed to be a Seaman’s, of India Ink, upon his arm, I think his left. He was bought by me last Winter in New Orleans of Thomas J. Frisbie. I will liberally reward any one arresting the said boy, or delivering him home. John Walker. Wheelock, Robertson Co. Texas. January 17.

$150 Reward. Ranaway from the subscriber, on the night of the 2d instant, a negro man, who calls himself Henry May, about 22 years old, 5 feet 6 or 8 inches high, ordinary color, rather chunky built, bushy head, and has it divided mostly on one side, and keeps it very nicely combed; has been raised in the house, and is a first rate dining-room servant, and was in a tavern in Louisville for 18 months. I expect he is now in Louisville trying to make his escape to a free state, (in all probability to Cincinnati, Ohio.) Perhaps he may try to get employment on a steamboat. He is a good cook, and is handy in any capacity as a house servant. Had on when he left, a dark cassinett coatee, and dark striped cassinett pantaloons, new—he had other clothing. I will give $50 reward if taken in Louisvills; 100 dollars if taken one hundred miles from Louisville in this State, and 150 dollars if taken out of this State, and delivered to me, or secured in any jail so that I can get him again. William Burke. Bardstown, Ky., September 3d, 1838. For more information on Lives of Slaves visit this:

Lives of Slaves

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