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Appears in Collections:History and Politics eTheses
Title: Fugitive Slave Advertisements and the Rebelliousness of Enslaved People in Georgia and Maryland, 1790-1810
Author(s): Wallace, Shaun
Supervisor(s): Nicolson, Colin
Keywords: slavery
United States
fugitive slave
fugitive slave advertisements
print culture
early national
early national period
runaway slaves
fugitive slave database
reading and writing
slave narratives
Frederick Douglass
South Carolina
Atlantic Studies
Slave Trade
American Studies
Issue Date: Sep-2017
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: This dissertation is a systematic investigation of fugitive slave advertisements aiming to understand the nature of fugitives’ rebelliousness in Georgia and Maryland between 1790 and 1810. Hitherto, historical inquiry pertaining to slave fugitivity has focused on other states and other times. This study provides a close reading of 5,567 advertisements pertaining to runaway slaves and analyses extracted data pertaining to the prosopography of 1,832 fugitives and their fugitivity. Its main research questions focus on advertisements as manifest records of rebellion. Who were the fugitives? What do the fugitive slave advertisements reveal about enslaved people’s contestation of slaveholders’ authority? The principal findings are as follows. First, the typography and iconography of fugitive slave advertisements were expressly intended to undermine the individualism and agency of enslaved people. Second, with regard to Georgia and Maryland, while there were spikes between 1796 and 1798 and 1800 and 1801, fugitivity was a daily occurrence, and thus a normative act of rebellion distinct from insurrection. Third, quantitative analysis indicated fugitives were typically young males, in their twenties, likely to escape at any time of the year; Georgia fugitives were more likely to escape in groups. Fourth, qualitative analysis of advertisers’ descriptions of fugitives revealed evidence of challenges to their authority. Depictions of fugitives’ character and remarks or notes on their behaviour constitute evidence of observed characteristics. From the advertisers’ perspective slaves were at their most dangerous when they could read and write or when they were skilled in deception. The “artful” fugitive in particular possessed many skills, sometimes including literacy, which could be used to defy the power that kept him or her in subjection. Fifth, further investigation established clear linkages between literacy and fugitives’ rebelliousness. Qualitative studies to date speak of slave literacy’s theoretical liberating and empowering effects but do not provide tangible accounts of who the literate slaves were or consider literacy as a factor in rebelliousness. The dissertation identified 36 literate slaves in Maryland and 9 in Georgia, and statistical analysis suggested 3.6 percent of US fugitive slaves were literate. Finally, it was evident that literacy was part of a larger contest to circumvent slaveholder authority and attain self-empowerment. Fugitivity itself was the outcome of a history of contestation that might be hidden from history were it not for the advertisements themselves.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

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