Aired: May 9, 2009

Searching for Runaway Slaves

011769march9The “Geography of Slavery” website catalogs more than 4,000 advertisements offering rewards for runaway slaves—placed in newspapers from 1736 through 1803. Tom Costa (University of Virginia’s College at Wise) gathered these ads as a Fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. He says that, taken as a whole, these humanize the stories of men and women by giving modern historians information about their physical appearance, clothing, skills, family ties, and even their owner’s speculation on why they were escaping. 

Also: 150 years ago, John Brown either sought martyrdom or earnestly tried to free Virginia’s slaves through his assault on the Harper’s Ferry arsenal.  Michael Hunt (University of Virginia College at Wise) dissects history as a form of theater, looking at Brown’s decades-long rehearsal for his “performance” of the raid, his trial, and hanging.


Want to dig deeper? Explore Encyclopedia Virginia:

Runaway Slaves and Servants in Colonial Virginia

John Brown



2 Comments on “Searching for Runaway Slaves”


    I don’t wish to complain, but felt I should point out that the mood of your presentation was quaint, “fascinated,” even almost enchanted in response to the accounts of your guest of the human atrocity of treating others as property.

  2. Brendan Wolfe

    Mr. Noblett, I’d be interested to know what sort of tone you’d prefer here. Would “shock” (the host does use that word) and anger and disgust serve the material better? Or, in 2009, can we all agree that slavery was an atrocity? If we can agree — and I think we can — then perhaps we don’t need to waste time convincing one another with our tones and therefore can move on to the history, which IS fascinating.

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