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Fugitive Slave Ads: Topics in Chronicling America

A guide for researching the topic of "fugitive slave ads" in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.


Columbus Democrat. August 18, 1838. Columbus, MS, Image 4. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

WANTED: Fugitive slaves! Slave owners place ads in newspapers offering rewards for the capture and return of those who defiantly escape enslavement. Ads contain names and descriptions of escapees, including physical and distinctive features, literacy level, specialized skills, and where an escapee might be headed and why. Discover rare details about the lives and experiences of those who resist slavery. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.


Prior to 1865 Hundreds of thousands of black slaves attempt to flee from bondage.
February 12, 1793 The Fugitive Slave Act enacted into law requiring local governments of free states to enforce the capture and return of runaway slaves to their masters. This sparks outrage in Northern states who work to circumvent the law.
September 18, 1850 Amendment to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 passes, known as the "Compromise of 1850," enforces harsher penalties for those who interfere with the capture and return of runaway slaves. 
1730 - 1865 An estimated 200,000 fugitive slave ads appear in U.S. newspapers.