Thursday, May 16, 2013

Telling Testimony

I know this image is difficult to see at this size, but it is one whole page from the March 23, 1863, edition of the Frankfort Tri-Weekly Commonwealth. On it are 76 notices for runaway slaves that were incarcerated in Kentucky county jails. There is only one ad not for runaways (bottom right corner).

What is really surprising though is that this page shows only three county jails; Jefferson (Louisville), Warren (Bowling Green), and Franklin (Frankfort). The runaways are noted as coming largely from neighboring state Tennessee. A number also come from Alabama. Some are from as far away as Mississippi, Louisiana, and South Carolina.

The proliferation of ads at this time are due, of course, in part to the disruption that the Civil War caused to a slaveholding society. Enslaved people used that disruption to make their attempt to break away from bondage and get a taste of freedom. Some, like these, were caught. But, it makes one wonder, if this many were captured, just how many remained undetected?

The second reason so many ads appear at this time was that Kentucky passed a new law on March 2, 1863, that dealt specifically with runaway slaves. The previous state law demanded that county jailers advertise captured runaways for six months. If the slaves were not claimed by their owners within that time they were to be sold to pay for their keep. But, apparently due to the large number of arrested runaways in Kentucky caused by the war, the law was amended to reduce their keep to one month, at which point they could be sold. Since many of the slaves were from owners in what was at that time was the Confederate States (another country) there was little chance that these slave owners would "come forward, prove property and pay charges," and thus these people would "be dealt with as the law requires." And additionally, potentially produce some much needed revenue for the county.

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