Thousands of Untold Resistance Stories
December 4, 2018 10:14 AM   Subscribe

Freedom on the Move from Cornell University is the first major digital database of fugitive slave ads from North America.

The Freedom on the Move (FOTM) public database project, now being developed at Cornell University, is the first major digital database to organize together North American fugitive slave ads from regional, state, and other collections. FOTM recently received its second of its two National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) digital humanities grants.
posted by standardasparagus (6 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, awesome! The site requires a free login to access. Here's the landing page after you log in.

This early version is pretty limited; no text search on the ads, a small database. But it's very promising! I'd really like to be able to search by the name of the person who placed the ad. I've used the slave schedules in the past (via Ancestry) to figure out that some of my relatives owned slaves.

What I'm really wondering is, are there any records of slave ownership itself? Like did slave owners in America ever register their property? Did states charge taxes per slave? There's a remarkable amount of genealogical work for African Americans but there's so little original records.
posted by Nelson at 10:39 AM on December 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

What an amazing read.

On one hand, I love reading about these people that ran away, on the other hand, I am saddened that such an occasion needed to happen. (Forgive my phrasing, I don't know how to put words to this feeling)
posted by FleetMind at 2:42 PM on December 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Nelson, slavers sometimes insured their property. You might try looking up slavery era insurance by state; has the U.S. Slave Era Insurance Policies Index, from 1640-1865, as published by the Illinois Department of Insurance. Also, Virginia has the database project "Unknown No Longer," which pulls from a variety of documents, including plantation records.

If any of your roots wind through the Caribbean, there's Puerto Rico's Registro Central de Esclavos (at, a slavery census from 1872. It's a registry with the names of the enslaved which also includes the names of slaveholders.

Lastly, speaking of original genealogical records in general -- I recently learned that the Freedmen's Bureau's records are online: Emancipation freed nearly 4 million slaves. The Freedmen’s Bureau was established to help transition them from slavery to citizenship, providing food, housing, education, and medical care. And for the first time in U.S. history, the names of those individuals were systematically recorded and preserved for future generations.
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:28 PM on December 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

I spent one of my semesters of grad school going through microfilm/fiche of pre-revolutionary newspapers from the Southeast looking for runaway slave ads for the professor I was working for.

My personal - but unresearched belief - is that these runaway slave ads were basically the main revenue source for newspapers in the South.

Bookmarked! Thanks so much for the post.
posted by absalom at 4:45 PM on December 4, 2018

Here in Syracuse, NY a play debuted recently which told the story of a young woman, brought to the city as a family’s slave, who escaped to freedom with the help of local abolitionists. The focus of the play was a debate between this woman, Harriet Powell, and Elizabeth Cady (soon to be Stanton), who was herself concerned with issues of marriage and its consequences. The setting was the home of Gerrit Smith, prominent Peterboro abolitionist. (The National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum is in Peterboro.)

Little is known of the specifics of Ms. Powell other than what was provided by her owners in attempts to reclaim her; the playwright used information from the ads to flesh out her character.

I find it ironic that these ads—certainly intended to strip their objects of humanity—have instead provided evidence of it which has outlived those who posted them.
posted by kinnakeet at 12:52 AM on December 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Sort of the flip side of the coin: database of "Lost Friends" advertisements published in the Southwestern Christian Advocate after emancipation, to help formerly enslaved people reconnect with their loved ones. (This is a project of my organization, but I did not work on it directly.)
posted by CheeseLouise at 8:38 AM on December 5, 2018

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