University Historians Assembling Archive of Runaway Slave Advertisements

Researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi are assembling an archive of newspaper advertisements from 1790 to 1860 that seek the return of runaway slaves. Douglas Chambers and Max Grivno of the university’s department of history are searching Mississippi newspapers of the period for ads placed by slave masters. They hope to expand the archive to include similar advertisements from newspapers across the South as well as in the Caribbean and Brazil.

Newspaper advertisements soliciting information about the whereabouts or sightings of runaway slaves often include first and last names of the slaves and their masters, where they lived, ages, and names of the current and previous slaveholder. “These advertisements help us see the enslaved as real individuals, not simply as a group,” Chambers said.

“This anthology will be an absolute gold mine for academic researchers, genealogists, and others who want to learn more about this time period, the conditions of slaves and the attitudes of their masters in regard to recovering what they considered their property,” Grivno said.

Chambers and Grivno plan to transcribe the documents and then organize them into a searchable online archive.

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