Throughout the 250-year history of slavery in North America, enslaved people tried to escape. Once newspapers were common, enslavers posted “runaway ads” to try to locate these fugitives.
When fugitives escaped, enslavers often placed runaway notices in newspapers. Such ads included any kind of information that might help readers identify the fugitive: the name, height, build, appearance, clothing, literacy level, language, accent and so on of the runaway. Often the ads speculate on where the escapee might be headed and why, when they were most recently sold, and what kinds of scars and marks they had.
A $100 bounty for a runaway slave named Abram from Richards' Ferry, Culpeper County, Virginia. September 24, 18-.
A $300 bounty for three escaped slaves named Bob, Charles, and Alfred from Leesburg, Virginia. Bob and Charles were owned by Ish, while Hawling was the owner of Charles. 10 June 1839.
Runaway slave broadside from Fairfax, Virginia, 23 August 1839.