What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The fellow run away two months from the above date.”
This runaway slave advertisement includes a truncated family history of “a negro man slave named NED.” Although Peter Sanders, the slaveholder who placed the advertisement, did not indicate the origins of Ned’s parents, he did report that the fugitive had been born in South Carolina. Sanders also revealed that Ned had a wife and children, though he did not name them, give ages for any members of the family, or specify how many children. Along with several of his relatives, Ned previously belonged to Colonel William Waters, but he had been separated from them when the executor of Waters’s estate sold him at a public auction. While the white community mourned the death of Waters, the members of at least one enslaved family experienced the emotional trauma of having their fates determined by the division and settling of the estate, a process that treated them as property rather than people.
Yet Ned did not abide by the outcome of the auction that separated him from his family. Instead, he made repeated attempts to reunite with them. Sanders noted that Ned’s mother, wife, and children remained “at the plantation of said Waters at Goose-creek, or Wampee-Savannah,” which led him to believe that accomplices “harboured” him there. Ned’s new master suspected that black men and women, either family or friends, hid the runaway, but he did not dismiss the possibility that Ned, who was “well known at Stono, or at the plantations above mentioned,” had enlisted the aid of sympathetic white colonists. Racial lines did not necessarily overrule personal relationships in every situation. That being the case, Sanders offered a reward to any informers upon the conviction of anyone who assisted Ned: five pounds for a black accomplice and twenty pounds for a white person.
In the time since Sanders had purchased Ned, the enslaved man spent as much time on the run as laboring for his new master. Ned escaped in order to rejoin three generations of his family. Every advertisement for runaway slaves implicitly testifies to a thirst for freedom from bondage, but the advertisement for “a negro man slave named NED” also explicitly tells a powerful story about one of the many reasons why freedom was as important to enslaved men, women, and children as it was to white colonists.