Saturday, July 25, 2015

I Will Give $2 Reward

I have been on quite the reading tear; and will have some "Just Finished Reading" posts soon. But, in between books, I did some browsing through the Chronicling America newspaper database on the Library of Congress website. Of course, I got distracted by the notices and advertisements.

The latest book I am reading is a biography of Hinton Rowan Helper, the North Carolinian who wrote The Impending Crisis of the South in 1857. I was searching through the database to see if any reactions to the book were made in Virginia's newspapers. Not finding much, I paged through the August 1, 1860 edition of the Richmond Daily Dispatch when the ad pictured above particularly caught my eye.

In it Mary Brown, "A free woman of color" offered a $2.00 reward to anyone who happened to find her "FREE PAPERS," which she lost on Saturday, July 28 "near the Old Market." The importance of the papers are indicated in the considerable reward and in the fact that Ms. Brown mentioned that "They were in a tin box," presumably for safekeeping.

As one might image free papers were invaluable for free people of color in the slave states. Without their papers free people had to rely on a white patron who could vouch for their free status. Those without a white patron, they could be subject to be imprisoned and advertised as a runaway and then sold when not claimed.

Having such as common name, an attempt to find out more about Mary Brown by searching in the 1860 census turned up too many black and mulatto free Mary Brown's in Richmond to pinpoint the one in the advertisement. Some of the Mary Browns had occupations listed. Among them were: "washer," "nurse," "wash woman," and "servant." Of course it is pure speculation, but I could image the Mary Brown in the advertisement was likely employed in a similar type position and was probably doing her market shopping when perhaps she was distracted by something and sat her tin box containing her spending money and free papers down and moved on forgetting to retrieve the box.

Did Ms. Brown have the tin box returned? If so, who found it? Was it found by another free person of color or a white shopper at the Old Market? If they were not found, was she able to petition for a new set of free papers? How long did it take to get a new set of free papers? Did she have to pay a fee to get a new set of free papers? Did she experience much trouble over not having her free papers? Always . . . the questions!

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