United States, Runaway Slave Advertisements (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2013. It is an excerpt from their course Research: African American Ancestors  by Michael Hait, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


Lying somewhere between passive resistance like slow work and the armed rebellion of leaders like Nat Turner and John Brown, running away was a common form of protest for those slaves unable or unwilling to accept their fate. Slaves would often take advantage of the slightest opening to escape from their owners. Though some slaves would attempt to escape to the north via the famed Underground Railroad, others would run away to join family or friends who had been sold away from them—sometimes only escaping to an adjacent county.

To recover their human “property,” slave owners would usually post advertisements in local newspapers, offering rewards for the return of their runaway slaves. The first example below names the runaway by both first and last name, while the others only provide first names. If your slave ancestor ever ran away, an advertisement could help you discover the name of their owner. The advertisement could also report, as you can see in the below examples, the age, physical description, and other details, such as the location of other family members.

New-Orleans Argus - Runaway Negroes

“Runaway Negroes,” advertisements, New-Orleans (Louisiana) Argus, 27 August 1828, page 1, columns 2-3.

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Baltimore Sun - Runaway Slave Reward

Runaway slave advertisements, Baltimore (Maryland) Sun, 1 January 1863, page 3, column 3.

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Georgia Gazette - Runaway Slave Reward

Runaway slave advertisements, Georgia Gazette, Savannah, Georgia, 20 February 1800, page 2, column 1.

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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: African American Ancestors offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

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