“Runaway slaves” ads: Genealogical perspective

Facilitator: Nicholas Mayers

The runaway slave ads offer descriptive information about enslaved individuals for whom usually there is very little in the archives. Ads contain a variety of identifying information, such as names, age, appearance, skin colour, clothes, skills, accent, any distinguishing features, including “marks of their country” or signs that are obviously a result of violence (e.g., missing limbs, scars). More importantly, these ads offer information about relatives and friends that can allow us to reconstruct networks of people.

Here are some examples of the types of information ads in “Barbados Mercury” provide:

November 8, 1783

Was there a significant Indian population on the island during the late 1700s?

What type of Indian was he? Amerindian; either Arawak (Taino) or Carib (Kalinago), Native American from the USA?

Was he a child of an interracial relationship hence the description, “dark complexioned Indian fellow”?

January 17, 1807

Was it common for polygamy to be practised amongst the enslaved?

Running away seems to be a practised within his family. (His sister named Sally passed for a free woman; his brother named Anthony also ran away).

April, 11th, 1807

Was it common for free blacks and colours to harbour runaways?

March 24, 1807

Which African tribe/nation practised filing their teeth?

April 14th, 1807

Was marriage practised amongst the enslaved population?

How did the enslavers acquire intimate knowledge pertaining to those enslaved?


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