Monday, July 29, 2013

Running at Large in the City

The sheer volume of captured fugitive slaves incarcerated and thus advertised as being in the Louisville jail has amazed me. In my database of 576 captured runaways advertised in Kentucky's newspapers from 1861-1865, 175 of them were lodged in the Louisville jail. These large numbers are corroborated by a report made by the Louisville chief of police on January 7, 1863, to the mayor of Louisville, Major Harney. This was at the time when the greatest number of slaves were apparently housed there.

The chief's report is interesting in a couple of aspects. He mentions first that owners of captured fugitives are "written to, immediately." I found this intriguing in that many of the slaves that were caught and jailed were from states that had seceded; largely Tennessee and Alabama. I wonder how successful those citizens of a different country were in ultimately reclaiming their property. The other thing I found curious is his mention that "the Civil law" made no provisions for runaways. The Kentucky state laws certainly spelled out how to handle such cases, so I am not sure what he meant by that statement, other than possibly he was speaking of the lack of a city specific ordinance on runaways. Anyway, that report is as follows:

D[ear]r Sir
I ought sooner, perhaps to have explained to you the method and manner treating runaway negroes which are found running at large in the City. The Jail has been full for several months and the County Court has made no further provision for them. My orders tot he Police have been, to commit them according to law as far as possable by taking them before a Magistrate, and take the Mittimus and negro to the Jailor, and if refused admittance by him, to do the best they can by placing them in a place of security until their owners can be heard from. In every instance the owner is written to, immediately. This course has very generally been persued and many have been returned to their owners by this plan. The evil of permitting them to prowl about the City can hardly be tolerated, the Civil law making no provisions for such cases, and there being quite a number turned loose recently that had been secured in the manner above stated I thought it advisable to get your opinion as to the disposition to be made of them hereafter, if any  Hoping to hear from you on the subject I am Very Respectfully You Obt. Svt.
Chas L. Stancliff

Image of the interior of an Alexandria, Virginia, slave jail courtesy of the Library of Congress.

No comments:

Post a Comment