WANTED: MISSING SLAVES: New databases of old newspaper ads are revealing details about the lives of slaves that had long been lost to history.
Who were these people, and what were their lives like? For a long time, historians had only partial answers, relying on a limited scope of primary sources, like diaries and autobiographies written by a small number of literate slaves, or transcripts of interviews with former slaves conducted in the 1930s. But now, new searchable digital databases of old newspaper ads--placed by masters looking for escaped slaves or by former slaves looking for family members--are filling in some of the gaps. The ads are helping historians identify patterns about slavery that had been lost to history; they're also helping genealogists and descendants of slaves to begin reconstructing the missing pieces of family trees.
Among the new databases are:
* Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery (informationwanted.org), which collects ads placed by former slaves trying to locate family members after the Civil War.
* The Geography of Slavery in Virginia (http://www2.vcdh.virginia.edu/gos), which features 18th- and 19th-century ads for runaway and captured slaves from Virginia.
* Freedom on the Move, which aims to digitize up to 200,000 ads by slave masters looking for escaped slaves, from colonial times to 1865. (The project is slated to go live later in 2018.)
Edward Baptist of Freedom on the Move, which is based at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, says the new projects will be extremely valuable to a variety of audiences. They come at a time when many schools are examining their own ties to slavery (see "Slavery & Schools," p. 21).
"[The ads] are going to be a massive broadening of the primary source material that's readily available for not just scholars, but also teachers, students, and the general public to understand the history of slavery in a really immediate way," he says.
When slaves fled plantations and homes, thenowners often placed detailed ads in newspapers offering rewards to anyone who returned them. (The Constitution, ratified in 1788, said escaped slaves must be returned to their masters, and the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850 strengthened that law.) Many of the details included in the written notices describe the runaway slaves more like objects or animals than humans, including references to their mannerisms, skin markings, teeth, and skills.
Some of the content is harrowing.
One ad, written by a slave master named Benjamin Graves of Chesterfield, Virginia, advertises for two runaway slaves named Edmond and Henry. Graves describes the latter as "a tall black fellow, about 24 years of age, many scars on his face and hands occasioned by a burn; on his right cheek there are two or three large welts, also produced by fire."
The scars mentioned in many ads make clear how often the men, women, and children in captivity were whipped, beaten, and shot; were forced to wear metal collars; and had their faces branded. Some advertisers offered bounties for the escapees' corpses or decapitated heads.
These ads also show that some slaves managed to leave with their children and that some were able to pass for white. And the ads document recaptured slaves who kept trying to escape--an important reminder of how vigorously some slaves resisted being enslaved.
To understand slave resistance, historians had long relied on the 100 or so autobiographies written by escaped slaves-- Frederick Douglass's is the most famous--and the roughly 2,300 first-person narratives of former slaves collected from 1936 to 1938 by the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA). But in some ways, Baptist says, the runaway ads provide even deeper insight into acts of resistance.
"What we're talking about with the runaway-slave ads," he says "is actions that were taken in the middle of slavery that broke the authority--even if just temporarily--of the enslaver and the whole system of power that that enslaver represents."
Family Trees & the 1870 Census
After slavery was outlawed in the 1860s (see timeline, p. 20), former slaves often placed ads in newspapers trying to find lost family members who'd been sold to other masters, had run away, or had gone missing while fighting in the Civil War. Judith Giesberg, who heads Last Seen--a project by Villanova University and Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia--says most of the ads on that site were placed by mothers looking for their children or children looking for their mothers.
"Each one is a family history," she says.
Many are rich in detail, and heartbreaking, like an 1866 ad placed by a woman named Elizabeth Williams, who hadn't seen her four children in 25 years. Williams describes how her Tennessee master sold her and she wound up in Arkansas, separated from her family. "Any information given concerning them," the ad reads, "will be gratefully received by one whose love for her children survives the bitterness and hardships of many long years spent in slavery."
The details in the ads not only provide a better understanding of the emotional trauma and violence of slavery, according to Giesberg, but also may help genealogists and descendants of slaves retrace family trees prior to the 1870 Census. Before the 1870 Census, slaves were considered property and not people, so they weren't mentioned.
"To find an ancestor in the 1850 or 1860 Census when that ancestor was enslaved is very difficult, if not impossible," Giesberg explains. She says the specific names and places listed in these ads "can take you beyond that 1870 wall." (Efforts to re-create family trees, however, may be complicated by the fact that many former slaves gave themselves new names after gaining freedom.)
Some of the ads featured on the Last Seen site are also giving historians greater insight into the importance of literacy among former slaves. An 1883 ad placed by a woman named Betty Davis in the Southwestern Christian Advocate newspaper in New Orleans, for example, states, "I am now 55 years old. I learned how to read when I was 50. I take and read the SOUTHWESTERN, it is food for my soul." Davis indicated that she was looking for her mother, Priscilla, and her brother, Henry.
Giesberg says even in cases where the chances of reunion were slim, the newspaper notices served an important purpose.
"The ads were a way of commemorating the families that existed," she says. "So each of these ads was an act of hope and an act of commemoration, which I think we've overlooked."
But despite what the ads illuminate, there's still a lot historians are trying to figure out. To what extent did former slaves looking for family write the ads themselves, for example, or dictate the words to editors or literate friends? How many of the families were reunited? And how many runaway slaves aren't accounted for in these ads, because they were captured before their masters had the chance to place a notice in a newspaper?
Edward Baptist of Freedom on the Move says that the new databases will give historians more tools to answer some of these questions, as well as others they haven't yet considered.
"There are always gaps in the sources," he says. "We think we understand, we think we can interpret, but the more windows we have to understand what was actually going on, the better."
With reporting by Eve Kahn of The New York Times.
Timeline SLAVERY IN AMERICA
First Slaves in America The first African slaves arrive in Virqinia, 12 years after the foundinq of Jamestown, the first permanent Enqlish colony in the Americas.
With the slave population in the American colonies nearinq 500,000, the first society to abolish slavery is founded in Philadelphia. Two years later, Vermont is the first place in America to abolish slavery.
Slaves & the Constitution
The new Constitution says that "fuqitive" slaves must be returned to their masters, and that each slave counts as three-fifths of a person for taxes and conqressional representation.
Fugitive Slave Act
Conqress passes the Fuqitive Slave Act, which strenqthens the riqhts of slave owners and threatens the riqhts of free blacks.
Dred Scott Case.
The Supreme Court rules in Dred Scott v. Sandford that since blacks are not citizens, they can't sue for their freedom in federal court.
Secession & Civil War
Seven Southern states secede from the Union, and the Civil War beqins. Shortly after the war starts, four more states secede.
President Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, which says all slaves in Confederate states are free.
The 13th Amendment to the Constitution is ratified. It abolishes slavery everywhere in the U.S.
Caption: The first slaves, 20 Africans, were brought to Virginia on a Dutch ship.
Caption: A slave auction in America, about 1830
Caption: Dred Scott, about 1857
Caption: President Lincoln meets with the Union Army on * the battlefield of Antietam, Maryland, in October 1862.
Slavery & Schools Students are helping uncover ties to slavery
Did their school benefit from slavery? Six teens at Gonzaga College High School--a Jesuit high school in Washington, D.C.--set out to answer that question last summer.
"I knew it was an amazing opportunity to look at my school's history," says Daniel Podratsky, 16, who helped pore over accounting books, enrollment records, and pamphlets and letters housed at Georgetown University's library.
The students were inspired to sign up for the two-week project, led by their history teacher Ed Donnellan, after hearing a Georgetown professor speak about the university's connection to slavery: In 1838, Jesuit priests sold 272 slaves, worth about $3.3 million in today's dollars, to pay off Georgetown's debt. Gonzaga, which was originally called Washington Seminary, was once part of Georgetown. Did it have ties to slavery too?
The answer, it turned out, was yes. Students found that six Jesuit-owned slave plantations in the Maryland area helped fund, feed, and furnish Washington Seminary. What especially moved the students were references to two slaves, Gabriel and Isaih, who worked on Washington Seminary's campus. Several accounting entries show that Gabriel, who appears to have been brought to the school by a student, was tipped small amounts, like 6 cents for weeding in the garden; a note also indicated that Gabriel was sold for $450 to an unnamed buyer. Students hope to do more research, possibly over spring break, to fill out Gabriel's story.
"We're going to search for that bill of sale," says Joe Boland, a junior at Gonzaga who worked on the summer project.
More than a dozen American universities--including Columbia, Harvard, and the University of Virginia--have recently addressed their ties to slavery; some received initial funding from slave owners, used slave labor on campus, or owned slaves themselves.
Last April, the Jesuits of the United States apologized at Georgetown University to descendants of slaves gathered there. Georgetown has also said it will offer descendants preferential admissions status.
At Gonzaga, the students' findings are helping to start new conversations.
"I encourage us to look at how our past impacts us today," Gonzaga's president, Rev. Stephen Planning, wrote on the website, "particularly as our country grapples with the difficult legacy of racism that still is far from extinguished from our society."
Caption: Gonzaga students (clockwise from top center): Jack Boland, Daniel Podratsky, Jack Brown, Hameed Nelson, and Joe Boland
Caption: A former slave who had escaped to become a Union soldier in the Civil War shows scars on his back from savage whipping (right); a slave family picking cotton in fields near Savannah, Georgia, 1860s (left).
Caption: An 1883 ad in the Southwestern Christian Advocate by a woman looking for her mother and brother (above)
Caption: Founding Father Thomas Jefferson placed this ad in the Virginia Gazette in 1769; he was looking for his runaway slave Sandy, a "shoemaker by trade," who, Jefferson warned, might try "to get employment that way." (Note: Back then, an "s" in the beginning or middle of a word was rendered like an "f.")
LESSON PLAN; PAIRING A PRIMARY & SECONDARY SOURCE
Wanted: Missing Slaves
New databases of old newspaper ads are revealing details about the lives of slaves that had long been lost to history.
1 Set Focus: Pose an essential question to guide discussion: Why is so little known about America's 18th- and 19th-century slaves?
2 List Vocabulary: Share some of the challenging vocabulary words in the article (see right). Encourage students to use context to infer meanings as they read.
3 Engage: Have students brainstorm types of primary sources that shed light on slavery. Explain that newspaper ads are one example.
mannerisms (p. 19)
harrowing (p. 19)
bounties (p. 19)
literate (p. 20)
Print or project:
* Article Quiz (online and on p. T10)
* The Fugitive Debate (primary source; online and on p. T14)
* Analyze the Photo (online and on p. T16)
* Organizing Ideas (outlining; online only)
Analyze the Article
4 Read and Discuss: Ask students to read the Upfront article about new databases of old newspaper ads related to slavery. Review why the article itself is a secondary source. (It was written by someone who didn't personally experience or witness the events.) Then pose these critical-thinking questions:
* How are the new databases of slavery-related newspaper ads helping historians and genealogists?
(The ads--some placed by masters looking for escaped slaves and some placed by former slaves looking for family members--are helping historians better understand what slaves' lives were like. The ads may also help genealogists fill in gaps on many African-Americans' family trees.)
* Why has it been very difficult for descendants of slaves to trace their family histories prior to 1870?
(In censuses before 1870, slaves were considered property rather than people, so they weren't named. Judith Giesberg of the project Last Seen notes that trying to trace slave family histories before 1870 is like hitting a wall.)
* According to the sidebar article "Slavery & Schools" (p. 21) what did Georgetown University recently do to acknowledge its historical ties to slavery? What do you think of the school's actions? How do you think other schools and institutions should handle similar situations? (Georgetown acknowledged its ties to slavery with an apology to descendants of slaves and a promise to give them preferential admissions status. Students will have varying opinions on the school's actions and on how other institutions should handle similar situations, but they should support their opinions with sound reasoning and evidence from the text.)
5 Use the Primary Source: Project or distribute the pdf The Fugitive Debate (p. T14), which features excerpts from the Fugitive Slave Act and an Ohio law passed in response. Discuss what makes them primary sources. (They provides direct, firsthand evidence concerning the topic.) Have students read the excerpts and answer the questions below (which appear on the PDF without answers).
* What do you think was the purpose of each law? (The purpose of the Fugitive Slave Act was to require that Americans--even those living in free states--cooperate in returning runaway slaves to their owners. The purpose of the Ohio law was to ensure that free blacks in that state were not seized as fugitive slaves and to require that slave owners who captured runaway slaves in that state prove in a court of law that the slave in question did in fact belong to them. The Ohio law was meant to ensure that the Fugitive Slave Act was not abused in that state.)
* Under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, what was the penalty for interfering with a slave owner's attempts to seize a runaway slave? (Under that 1850 federal law, a person found guilty in district court of interfering with the capture of a fugitive slave faced a penalty of "a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, and imprisonment not exceeding six months.")
* Consider Ohio's location. Why might it have had a large number of escaped slaves passing through? (Ohio bordered two slave states and was also across Lake Erie from Canada. Many slaves escaping from Virginia and Kentucky and points south passed through Ohio on their way to freedom in Canada.)
* Why do you think the Ohio law specified that a slave owner must "[establish] by proof his or their property in such person"? (Ohio lawmakers wanted to avoid the possibility that slave owners would seize free blacks or escaped slaves who did not belong to them.)
* Based on the Upfront article and these excerpts, why do you think the Fugitive Slave Act was so controversial? (Many in the North were strongly opposed to slavery. By requiring Northerners to participate in returning slaves to their masters, the Fugitive Slave Act made them complicit in slavery's evils.)
Extend & Assess
6 Writing Prompt
Read the ad that Thomas Jefferson placed in 1769 to find his escaped slave, Sandy (p. 20). What does the ad tell you about Jefferson? Does it significantly change your view of this Founding Father? Explain.
Use the quiz on p. T10 to assess comprehension.
8 Classroom Debate
Defend your view: Will America ever fully heal from the wounds of slavery?
9 Paired Texts
Read the autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, American Slave (1845), and discuss Douglass's journey from slavery to freedom. Juxtapose Douglass's account with ads seeking escaped slaves in the new databases.
Wanted: Missing Slaves
Choose the best answer for each of the following questions. For the analysis section, refer to the article as needed.
1. The newspaper ads discussed in the article were placed mostly by
a Northerners opposed to slavery.
b escaped slaves looking for work and lodging in free states.
c slave owners and by former slaves looking for missing relatives.
d slave traders advertising slaves for sale.
2. The newspaper ads are making news now because
a they were recently discovered in a church basement.
b they have been organized into new searchable databases.
c their authenticity has been questioned.
d all of the above
3. What did the U.S. Constitution say about slavery when it was ratified in 1788?
a Slaves could be kept only in certain states.
b Slaves were human beings, not property.
c Slavery was illegal in the United States.
d Escaped slaves must be returned to their masters.
4. In U.S. censuses before 1870, slaves
a were counted as people but not named.
b were counted and named, along with their skills and places of residence.
c were considered property and not counted as people.
d none of the above
ANALYZE THE TEXT
5. The article notes that historians rely on primary sources to learn about the lives of slaves. Which of these is NOT an example of a primary source?
a an autobiography by a former slave
b a diary kept by a slave
c a nonfiction book about slavery
d a transcript of an interview with a former slave
6. As it is used in the article, the word harrowing most nearly means
a deeply distressing.
b difficult to understand.
d very old.
7. Which excerpt from the article best supports the answer to question 6?
a "But in some ways, Baptist says, the runaway ads provide even deeper insight into acts of resistance."
b "These ads also show that some slaves managed to leave with their children..."
c "Who were these people, and what were their lives like?"
d "The scars mentioned in many ads make clear how often the men, women, and children in captivity were whipped, beaten, and shot..."
8. Based on the article, you can infer that a newspaper ad placed by a slave owner seeking a runaway slave would most likely mention
a the slave's interests.
b how much the slave's family missed him or her.
c the slave's height and age.
d all of the above
IN-DEPTH questions Please use the other side of this paper for your responses.
9. How will these newspaper ads help historians?
10. What do you think Judith Giesberg means when she says that many of the newspaper ads "were a way of commemorating the families that existed"?
1. [c] slave owners and by former slaves looking for missing relatives.
2. [b] they have been organized into new searchable databases.
3. [d] Escaped slaves must be returned to their masters.
4. [c] were considered property and not counted as people.
5. [c] a nonfiction book about slavery
6. [a] deeply distressing.
7. [d] "The scars mentioned in many ads make clear how often the men, women, and children in captivity were whipped, beaten, and shot..
8. [c] the slave's height and age.
PAIRING A PRIMARY & SECONDARY SOURCE
The Fugitive Debate
The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act doled out heavy penalties to Americans who failed to return runaway slaves to their masters. In response, some Northern states passed what were known as personal liberty laws in an attempt to ensure due process and protect free blacks. Below are excerpts from the Fugitive Slave Act and a personal liberty law from Ohio. Read them along with the Upfront article about slavery, then answer the guestions.
From the Fugitive Slave Act, 1850
Section 6: And be it further enacted, that when a person held to service or labor in any State or Territory of the United States, has heretofore or shall hereafter escape into another State or Territory of the United States, the person or persons to whom such service or labor may be due, or his, her, or their agent or attorney ... may pursue and reclaim such fugitive person, either by procuring a warrant from some one of the courts, judges, or commissioners ... or by seizing and arresting such fugitive, where the same can be done without process, and by taking, or causing such person to be taken, forthwith before such court, judge, or commissioner, whose duty it shall be to hear and determine the case of such claimant in a summary manner.... In no trial or hearing under this act shall the testimony of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence.
Section 7: And be it further enacted, that any person who shall knowingly and willingly obstruct, hinder, or prevent such claimant, his agent or attorney, or any person or persons lawfully assisting him, her, or them, from arresting such a fugitive from service or labor... or shall rescue, or attempt to rescue, such fugitive from service or labor, from the custody of such claimant, his or her agent or attorney, or other person or persons lawfully assisting as aforesaid ... shall, for either of said offences, be subject to a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, and imprisonment not exceeding six months, by indictment and conviction before the District Court of the United States ...
From Ohio's Act to Prevent Kidnapping, 1857
Section 1: Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Ohio, that no person or persons shall arrest and imprison, or kidnap, or forcibly or fraudulently carry off or decoy out of this state any free black or mulatto person or persons within this state ... unless it be in pursuance of the laws thereof.
Section 2: that no person or persons shall arrest and imprison, or kidnap, or forcibly or fraudulently carry off or decoy out of this state any black or mulatto person or persons within this state, claimed as fugitives from service or labor... without first taking such black or mulatto person or persons before the court, judge, or commissioner of the proper circuit, district, or county having jurisdiction, according to the laws of the United States, in cases of persons held to service or labor in any state escaping into this state, and there, according to the laws of the United States, establishing by proof his or their property in such person.
Section 3: that any person or persons offending against the provisions of this act shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and on conviction thereof by indictment in the court of common pleas of any county in this state, shall be confined in the penitentiary at hard labor for any space of time not less than three years nor more than eight years at the discretion of the court ...
1. What do you think was the purpose of each law?
2. Under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, what was the penalty for interfering with a slave owner's attempts to seize a runaway slave?
3. Consider Ohio's location. Why might it have had
a large number of escaped slaves passing through?
4. Why do you think the Ohio law specifies that a slave owner must "[establish] by proof his or their property in such person"?
5. Based on the Upfront article and these excerpts, why do you think the Fugitive Slave Act was so controversial?
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|Title Annotation:||TIMES PAST|
|Publication:||New York Times Upfront|
|Date:||Jan 8, 2018|
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