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Runaway Slave Advertisements Essay

1265 words - 5 pages

Slavery and indentured servitude was the backbone of the Virginia economy. Slaves were considered an investment in the planter’s business and a necessity for success. The treatment of slaves was much the same as owning a piece of property or equipment. Slaves were not viewed as fellow human beings, quite the opposite they were of lesser status. Slaves and indentured servants grew tired of their treatment and responded with acts of rebellion. One such act was for the slaves and servants to run away. Indentured servants and slaves both made the incredibly brave decision to risk fleeing and capture in the hope of finding a free and better life, as opposed to continue living in their oppressed conditions. Runaway slave advertisements became commonplace in newspapers in Virginia and across the south. The advertisements represented the increasing resistance on the part of both indentured servants and slaves of their poor treatment. The advertisements were the slave owner’s resource in the return of their property. When analyzing the advertisements, it is clear the attitudes towards the servants and slaves were more of a piece of property than that of a human being. The slave owners list thing such as physical descriptions, special skills, rewards for their capture and return. This paper will compare and contrast the advertisements of indentured servant and slave runaways.
One of the most notable features in the advertisements for both the indentured servants and slaves is the physical descriptions. The descriptions are given with great detail, however they do not contain a personal tone to them. The descriptions sound very unattached, as if describing an inanimate object. The advertisements almost all begin with “Negro man” or “Negro woman” which seems to be an unnecessary item to point out. Perhaps the use of those words was to reiterate the fact that the readers were looking for Negro slaves who were considered lesser class and worthy of capture. The descriptions continue with physical accounts such as, a man of “a middle stature”, “a small, thin visage fellow”, and “low stature”. There seemed to be a difference in the way the men and women runaways were described. The women’s descriptions had a sexual overtone to them with examples like, “well featur’d” and “well set”. These terms were obviously describing the women’s breasts. The descriptions of both indentured servants and slaves also include the complexion of their skin, “a pale complexion”, “of a yellowish hue”, “pretty black”, and “smooth-faced complexion”. Any scars or other characteristics that can visibly seen, such as “much Pock-fretten”, “Lips are remarkably red”, “has a wide-mouth”, “scar on top of his head”, and “limps with her right leg” are among a few given. These physical limitations were not given out of concern for the runaways health, merely to offer visible clues that could lead to their capture. Several of the slave advertisements also mention if they speak English or not....

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