Runaway slave ad, 1860

Runaway slave broadside, May 9, 1860 (Gilder Lehrman Institute, GLC06377.01)Runaway slave ads were a reality in America as long as slavery existed. Appearing as broadsides and in newspapers, such ads offered monetary rewards from slaveholders for the capture and return of escaped slaves.

On May 9, 1860, Enoch Duley of Kentucky offered a reward for the capture and return of his slave Manuel. Under close scrutiny, the lives of particular slaves emerge in fragmentary details, including names, physical descriptions, talents, personalities, and other hints of their individuality. This broadside describes Manuel’s height, weight, and other physical characteristics as well as more subjective views of the slave as “well dressed” with a “shrewd expression of the eye.” According to historian Marion Lucas, an enslaved laborer such as Manuel was then worth about $1,000,[1] and Duley’s reward for Manuel’s return was correspondingly substantial. Duley offered $50 if “apprehension and delivery” took place within Kentucky, or $200 if “taken in any other State,” an offer that might induce people to return a slave who had escaped to a free state.

[1] Marion Brunson Lucas, A History of Blacks in Kentucky: From Slavery to Segregation, 1760–1891 (Frankfort: Kentucky Historical Society, 1992), 85.