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Freedom Seekers in Harrisburg, 1749-1820

A Sampling of Advertisements

Two African American men in tattered clothing and carrying packs emerge from a covered bridge in 1848.

The advertisements below, from the pages of newspapers circulated in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, document some of the earliest fugitive slaves to move through Harrisburg.  Most were enslaved locally, and did not travel far, sometimes only to the next town with an African American community, which was the surest way to find sympathetic persons and aid.  A few of the advertisements hint at the help that these freedom seekers may have received from other African American residents in the vicinity--the earliest activists on the Underground Railroad.  Few fugitive slaves could count on aid from local whites during the time period covered by these ads.

In the following decades, most of the fugitive slaves appearing in Harrisburg would not be running from local slave holders, but would be from southern states, mostly Maryland and Virginia.  As slavery became increasingly associated with the south, it became slightly easier for local whites to justify opposition to the practice.  By the 1840's, a few white Harrisburg anti-slavery advocates would join with local African Americans in active resistance, in the form of feeding, sheltering and forwarding fugitive slaves.  Of white Dauphin County residents, only the Rutherford family appears to have been involved with Underground Railroad activity before this time.

The Pennsylvania Gazette, July 13, 27, 1749.
"Run away, some months ago, from Capt. Thomas Prather, of Prince George's county, Maryland, a Negroe man, named Scipio, is of short stature, plays on the Banjo, and can sing. It is said that the said Negroe was, about two months ago, at Mr. Harris's, on Susquehannah, and wanted to come to Philadelphia to his master, that he had a pass with him, and pretended to be a free man. Whoever takes up said slave, and brings him to Mr. George Croghan, or Mr. George Gibson, in Lancaster, or to Marcus Kuhl, in Philadelphia, shall have Three Pounds reward, and reasonable charges, paid by George Croghan, George Gibson, Marcus Kuhl."

The Pennsylvania Gazette, September 4, 1766.
"RUN away from the Subscriber, in Paxton Township, Lancaster County, on Monday, the 19th of May last, a certain Negroe Man, named Dick, about 5 Feet 6 Inches high, a slim built black Fellow, about 23 or 24 Years old, speaks good English, some Low Dutch, and some French; had on, when he went away, an old Hat, Blanket Coat, good Leather Breeches, old Stockings, good Shoes, but a good deal too large for him, tied with Strings. As he formerly lived with one Mr. Hunt, in the Jerseys, it is thought will make that way, or towards Philadelphia. Whoever takes up said Negroe, and secures him, so as his Master may have him again, shall receive Six Dollars Reward, and reasonable Charges, paid by JOHN POSTLETHWAIT."

The Pennsylvania Gazette, June 15, 1769.
"York County, in Pennsylvania, June 10, 1769. RUN away, on the 13th of March last, from the Subscriber, at Sasquehanna, near Harris Ferry, a Negroe Man, called Will, alias William Keith; he is about 5 feet 9 Inches high, thin visaged, a little Pock marked, not very black, about 40 years old, a smooth talking Fellow, can be very mannerly, reads and writes, and is a Cooper by Trade and is also very handy about a Farmer's House; he is well acquainted in Philadelphia, having learnt his trade there, and lived several years ago with Dr. Graham, of that city; he had on, when he went away, a brown homespun Cloth Coat, pretty much worn, yellow buttons; an old white Flannel Jacket, Buckskin Breeches, and an old Felt Hat. He told on the Road, that he was a free Negroe, formerly belonging to one Mr. Blunston, of Lancaster County. Whoever takes up said Slave, and secures him, so that his Master, the subscriber, may have him again, shall have THREE POUNDS Reward, and reasonable Charges, paid by
N.B. All Masters of Vessels are requested not to carry him off."

The Pennsylvania Packet, December 17, 1777.
December 6, 1777. TWENTY DOLLARS REWARD.
RAN AWAY from the subscriber, living in Paxton Township, Lancaster County, on the 4th of this inst. a Negro man named JOE, about twenty five years old, a thick well set fellow, speaks the English and German tongues well; had on when he went away, an orange coloured coat, a lead coloured jacket, a coarse shirt, and leather breeches. He took with him a black MARE, big with foal, about six years old, a natural trotter and carries herself well, and has no brand: It is supposed that he intends to go to Howe's army. Whoever takes up said Negro and Mare, shall receive the above Reward, or for any one of them, secured so that the owner gets them again, the one half of the above Reward, and reasonable charges, paid by JACOB AWL."

The Pennsylvania Gazette, April 25, 1781.
"One Ton of BAR IRON Reward, (or the value thereof in currency) RAN away from James Sharps, in Sadsbury township, Chester county, on the 10th day of April, 1779, a remarkable likely Negroe Man, very black, named Abel, about 24 or 25 years of age, 5 feet 10 or 11 inches high, with a mole on one of his cheeks, his clothes unknown; it is supposed he harbours between New Castle and St. George, or about Appquinimink, in Delaware State, as he has some friends that are freemen living in a cedar swamp in that neighborhood. Whoever takes up said Negroe, and secures him in any goal, or brings him to is master living at Hopewell forge, in Lancaster county, shall have the above reward, paid by
N.B. It is probable he will pass for a freeman, he having got a pass from a free Negroe, named NAT, and may pass by that name.
March 31, 1781."

The Pennsylvania Gazette, September 06, 1789.
"Six Dollars Reward. RAN away from the subscriber, living at the Carlisle ironworks, in Cumberland county, a Negroe woman, named BETT, about 40 years of age, between five and six feet high, speaks good English and German. It is supposed she will make for the city of Philadelphia, as she was seen on the road between Lancaster and the city. Whoever secures said wench, so that I may get her again, shall receive the above reward, and reasonable charges if brought home, paid by MICHAEL EGE. August 26, 1789."

The Pennsylvania Gazette, January 7, 1795.
"Eight Dollars Reward. RAN AWAY from the subscriber, living in Paxton township, Dauphin county, about 6 miles from Harrisburg, on Friday, the 19th instant, a Negro BOY, named SAM, 17 years of age, 5 feet 9 or 10 inches high, well made, has very large feet, large featured, and thick lips, much pitted with the small-pox; had on when he went away, a brown coloured hunting-shirt, under jacket with strings to it, and trowsers of the same, a pair of coarse tow trowsers, and a linen shirt. It is probable he will change his name and clothes. Whoever takes up said Negro, and secures him in any jail, so that his master may get him again, shall have the above reward, and reasonable charges. BENJAMIN DUNCAN December 26, 1794."

The Pennsylvania Gazette, May 6, 1795.
"WAS committed to the goal of Chester county, some time ago, a Negro Man, who calls himself Sam. Roach, acknowledges to be a slave to Benjamin Duncan, of Dauphin county, near Harrisburgh. His Master is hereby desired to come, pay charges and take him away, in four weeks from the date hereof, otherwise he will be discharged, on paying his fees. THOMAS TAYLOR, Goaler. April 30, 1795."

Advertisement for a captured fugitive slave, 1796.

The United States Gazette, May 13, 1796.
"Whereas a certain negro man, who calls himself HARRY, was committed to the jail of Dauphin county, in Pennsylvania, on teh 30th of April last, on suspicion of being a runaway slave; he is about 5 feet 10 or 11 inches high, his face very remarkable on account of having a very large wart on his right cheek, near the ear, and one on his neck, near the throat. His face much contracted by teh small pox, especially about the nose. He says he formerly belonged to one Henry Snowden, of Elkridge, in Maryland, who died about 7 years ago in Philadelphia. The proper owner of said negro, if any, are desired to come, pay costs, and take him away, otherwise he will be sold to pay costs. JOHN M'CHESNEY, Jailor. May 7, 1796."

The Philadelphia Inquirer, 21 September 1797.
"30 Dollars Reward.
RAN away on Saturday last, two indented Servants, Gifford Dally, a mulatto boy, about 17 years of age, a slim light built active fellow, can read and write, five feet seven or eight inches high, has a heavy countenance; had on a fustian coatee and trowsers, a high crowned hat, fine shoes &c.

Allan Hellons, a black man, about 24 years of age, five feet seven or eight inches high, a thick set clumsy fellow, particularly about the breech; had on a sailor's blue jacket lined with swanskin, dark striped vest, fustian trowsers, high crowned hat, coarse shoes, &c. each of them had several shirts and several other cloathes with them. Thirty Dollars will be paid for the runaways or 15 dollars for each, and reasonable charges, on delivering them at No. 54, North Third-street.

The black fellow is about a year from Lewis Town, in the County of Sussex, state of Delaware, and has taken the boy with him. July 31."

The Farmer's Instructor, and Harrisburgh Courant, Wednesday May 28, 1800.
"Fifty Dollars Reward. Runaway Slave from Frederick Co. Md.----near Frederick Town on night of Tuesday 22nd inst. Negro man 32 yrs named 'Mid' but calls himself Middleton Garret. It is supposed some free person has Taken him off. Leroy Hughes, Fred. County, Md., April 24, 1800."

Pennsylvania Republican, Tuesday, February 16, 1816.
"Fifteen Dollars Reward.
A MULATTO girl named RUTH, belonging to the estate of William Frazer, of Londonderry township, Dauphin County, deceased, having procured a pass in order to hunt another master, went to Middletown, stopped at Mr. M'Cord's, innkeeper, staid there some weeks, and after the death of Mr. Frazer, being sent for, it appears she had gone away from said M'Cord's about two weeks ago. There is no doubt but she has her indenture, and will endeavor to prove she is free. She is a stout girl, and is some what reel-footed; took her clothes with her.
Whoever takes up said mulatto and returns her to William Hamilton, administrator of said estate, or secures her in the jail of this county, shall have the above reward and other reasonable expenses paid, by
William Hamilton, Admr
Feb 6, 1816
N.B. Possibly she has gone into York county."

Harrisburg Republican, April 28, 1820.
"One Cent Reward.
Ran away from the subscriber, living in Swatara township, Dauphin county, a black indented servant boy, named WILLIAM JONES, about seventeen years of age, stout made, has no particular mark. The above reward, but no expenses, will be given to any person who may return said boy to B. Jordan. April 14, 1820."

Most of these advertisements can also be seen on the pages of the "Enslavement in Pennsylvania" section of Afrolumens.

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