Research

The Documenting Runaway Slaves (DRS) research project is a collaborative effort to compile and make available newspaper advertisements placed by masters seeking the capture and return of runaway slaves. Dr. Douglas B. Chambers and Dr. Max Grivno, lead researchers and faculty members in the Southern Miss Department of History, are focused on creating a central repository for runaway slave advertisements. Wherever there was slavery, there were runaway slaves; and wherever there was slavery, and newspapers, there were runaway slave advertisements.

Our approach is to provide accurate transcriptions of these materials as texts, to preserve the narrative quality of many of these primary sources. As well, our focus is on individuals, to document particular people and thus to avoid multiply listing (or duplicating) individual slaves who ran away.

Runaway slave advertisements personalize history, providing important clues about the lives of enslaved people, their efforts at self-emancipation and resistance, the patterns of forced migration, and the viewpoints of their owner. The adverts and notices often include first and last names of the slaves and their masters, where they lived, ages, special skills or talents, personality and physical features, and material culture such as clothing, tools and weapons. Sometimes they also include names of the previous slaveholder(s), reasons why the slave fled, family and other connections, and possible destinations. In the Caribbean, and largely unlike advertisements in North America, these materials also tended to identify the African-born slaves by ‘nation’ or ‘country’, that is, by ethnicity, and did so for at least a decade after the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. These primary sources, especially from the West Indies and Brazil, are particularly helpful in the study of the African diaspora.

This project will gather these documents into a single text-based repository, from the U.S. South to the Caribbean and eventually to Brazil and beyond, and will organize them into standardized, full-text searchable online resources for academic researchers, genealogists and anyone who wants to learn more about the Atlantic world in the era of slavery.

Through the collaboration of a network of scholars and researchers, the DRS project will soon expand to include materials from throughout the nineteenth-century U.S. South, including documenting runaway slaves in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas, as well as in the Caribbean and Brazil. Affiliated scholars include Kyle Ainsworth (East Texas Research Center, SFA), S. Charles Bolton (University of Arkansas at Little Rock), Daniel B. Domingues da Silva (University of Missouri), Mary Niall Mitchell (University of New Orleans), Susan Eva O’Donovan (University of Memphis), Joshua D. Rothman (University of Alabama), and Ibrahima Seck (Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar [Senegal]).

Related academic conference panels and presentations (completed and planned) include African Studies Association (2011) and (2012); American Historical Association (2013) and (2014); Igbo Studies Association (2013); Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora [ASWAD] (2013); Gulf South Historical Association (2013) [two panels].


Sponsors

The Documenting Runaway Slaves research project has received generous support from the Mississippi Humanities Council, the U.S. National Park Service’s Lower Mississippi Delta Initiative, the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program, and The University of Southern Mississippi, including the Department of History, the Center for the Study of the Gulf South, and the College of Arts & Letters.