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» Slavery and Freedom in Maryland
» Freedom Seekers
» The Role of Baltimore
» Industrial Slavery - The Baltimore Iron Works
» Runaway Ads Posted by Charles Carroll
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» Underground Railroad Network to Freedom
The explosive growth of Baltimore’s free African American community from a few hundred in 1790 to more than 10,000 by 1820 played a role in the evolving pattern of runaway destinations. Constituting a majority of Baltimore’s African Americans after 1810, free people of color could ally with runaways, harbor them or provide other services. In addition there were many religious and abolitionist groups active in the city that provided support.

Many free and enslaved African Americans sometimes remained in Baltimore instead of traveling farther north for a number of reasons: employment opportunities, family, and perhaps most important the feeling that no matter the hardships, their lot in Baltimore was considerably better than on the plantation as a enslaved person or a hired laborer. Frederick Douglass recalled that “life in Baltimore, when most oppressive, was a paradise” when compared to the plantation.

The freedom seekers who escaped to Baltimore in the late eighteenth century appear to have shared a number of characteristics with their free African American counterparts. In a study of Baltimore freedom seekers, it was found that between 1747 and 1790, most runaways, were young and male. Eighty percent of those fugitives were male and seventy five percent were between the ages of fifteen and thirty-four. About one quarter were listed as having skills such as ship carpentry or blacksmithing. An example from Charles Carroll’s runaway ads is that of “EDDENBOROUGH, a cooper” (barrel maker) by trade.

Advertisements for freedom seekers in Maryland newspapers suggest that escapes soared in the years following the Revolution. In the 1770s and 1780s it appears that most masters had thought that Pennsylvania or other more distant locations were as likely to be the fugitive’s destination as Baltimore. But, over time, male runaways were increasingly likely to remain in Baltimore, with the 1790s and the years from 1810 to 1819 showing major increases in the proportion of enslaved persons who were thought to be hiding in and around the city. One historian of Baltimore has estimated that from 1773 to 1819 nearly twenty percent of freedom seekers in the region escaped to Baltimore (increasing to nearly thirty percent in the 1810s) whereas only seven percent went to Pennsylvania.

This is reflected in the runaway ads posted by Charles Carroll. The two from the earlier period 1754 and 1764 were posted in the Pennsylvania Gazette while the later ones from 1777 and 1780 were in the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser.

When an enslaved person did run off, search and recapture could stretch out over days or weeks. Typically sliding scale cash rewards were offered, keyed to the fugitive’s distance from home when captured and returned. Examples of this are found in the ads for the runaways from the Iron Works posted by Charles Carroll that state, “if taken under ten miles from home, fifteen schillings, if twenty miles, Thirty schillings, and if out of the Province Two Pistoles and reasonable charges if brought home.”


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