Friday, June 3, 2016

Runaways! Three Runaways in Jail.

The advertisement above, which ran in the October 8, 1861 edition of the Staunton Spectator has several interesting features.

It was not unusual for captured runaway advertisements to list more than one individual. Often when a group of slaves traveling together were arrested, they were listed together. However, it was not that these three were grouped in one advertisement that caught my attention. A more fascinating aspect were their ages. John Henry Williams was guessed by the jailer to be "about thirteen old;" Fielding Lewis, "about twelve;" as was Joseph Henry Smith. From my experience such young runaways were quite rare. The vast majority of those I normally find listed are in their late teens, twenties, and into their thirties.

Looking to corroborate some of the information through census information, I was unable to locate much 1860 census information on the various individuals that the runaways provided as owners and employers. For example, I did not find William Warren (Fredericksburg), the alleged owner John Henry Williams. Or, his employer Gibron Miles. There were too many John Hollidays in Maryland to determine which one may have been the owner of Fielding Lewis, and I could not find a Fitzhugh Mayo in Richmond that was positively in tobacco work. However, I did find Joseph Henry Smith's employer, Thomas Beale, who was indeed a tobacconist.

Another intriguing feature of the advertisement is that each of the young men worked at a tobacco factory in Richmond. Even more interesting is that they were all apparently working in different factories. Being that these fellows were all about the same age and all were hired to do factory work in the Capital City, it might be that they met each other in their urban workaday world movements, identified with each other's situations, and decided to runaway from their labor situations together.

Urban hired slaves often were allowed to find their own living spaces and lived in what some historians have referred to as "quasi-freedom." If these young men existed in such an environment, it appears that it was not free enough from them and thus they attempted a move to find true freedom. One wonders if they were eventually claimed by their owners or employers and ended up back in their tobacco factory work world until emancipated.  

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