New Databases Offer Insights Into the Lives of Escaped Slaves

Runaway_slave

New Databases Offer Insights Into the Lives of Escaped Slaves

When slaves fled American and British farms and townhouses, their owners often placed detailed newspaper ads offering rewards to anyone who returned the fugitives. The written notices described the runaway slaves’ mannerisms, clothes, hairstyles, skin markings, teeth and skills, as well as information about plantations that the escapees might have tried to reach, hoping to reunite with family members or less cruel past owners.

New databases are enabling historians and descendants of slaves to piece together family trees and identify patterns in the lives of runaways. These searchable listings indicate how often slaves managed to leave with their children, how some were able to pass for white and how many recaptured slaves kept trying to escape.

Among the new website projects are Runaway Slaves in Britain, set up by the University of Glasgow, and Freedom on the Move, based at Cornell University and covering American newspapers. More…

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