- The method of close-reading runaway slave advertisements between 1835 and 1865 allows for an exploration of whether patterns of listed locations differ between the states, specifically in relationship to how Texas trends might differ. Various newspapers from Mississippi, Texas, and Arkansas provide the data set for this analysis. Trends are most easily analyzed by individual state, followed by a conversation and comparison of these overall trends between the states.
- Given the three states compared in this research, Mississippi is the most similar to other Southern slave-holding states, in that it was well-established and not a borderland state. From 1835 to 1860, Mississippi newspapers included a high proportion of jailer's notices (as opposed to runaway slave advertisements). In fact, newspapers such as the Port Gibson Correspondent would sometimes post advertisements listing all captured runaways held in the jails of each county, along with a short description of each individual (MS_18350801_Port-Gibson-Correspondent_18350801). Although some slaves indicated hometowns in other states, the majority of slaves in these advertisements claimed to be from Mississippi. From these patterns of advertisement in relationship to other states, Mississippi provides a barometer of “normalcy” that allows comparison of differences in Arkansas and Texas.
- Spanning the years 1835 to 1865, the pattern of Arkansas's runaway slave ads shifted with its relative position to other states. A territory until it reached statehood in 1836, Arkansas was the borderland of the United States for the earlier years between 1835 and 1865. Many jailer notices in Arkansas advertise captured slaves originally from more eastern states, indicating that Arkansas was a popular destination or point on the route to freedom. In addition, many slaveowners from more eastern states listed advertisements for their runaways in Arkansas, indicating that they considered Arkansas as a likely location for their runaways. With the passage of time, these trends shifted. The number of runaways from Arkansas increased, probably due to a rise in population. The number of jailer's notices that advertised slaves who claimed to be from other states also increased, however, suggesting that Arkansas still served as a way station for slaves on their journeys to Texas or Mexico.
- Texas, the focus of this research, offers data from the Texas Telegraph and the Texas Gazette. William Dean Carrigan, in his article “Slavery on the frontier: the peculiar institution in central Texas” sets Texas up as “a world torn in three directions by four different cultures.” The Native American tribes and the Mexican border both helped to define Texas as a borderland. How this exhibited itself through the runaways, however, is still contested. Campbell states that runaways tended to head toward either Mexico (for freedom) or toward the east (to rejoin relatives that they had been separated from) but does not indicate which was more prevalent. The data set indicates that Texas ads are overwhelmingly Texas-centric, as opposed to those in Arkansas and Mississippi, which include a more diverse interaction with states outside of themselves. Native American assistance is referenced at times, as in the case of a runaway “thought [to be] in Texas with Wild Cat, the Seminole chief” ( TX_18501221_Gazette_67531-metapth80961-m1-7-6078.5-1168.5). More frequently, however, Mexico is indicated as a projected location for runaways. Given its proximity and the lack of a fugitive slave law, these patterns are not surprising, but the corroboration of them by runaway slave advertisement data provides additional support for the historical expectations.
- Although westward movement seemed to be generally assumed among slaveowners, a handful considered family ties stronger, such as Martin Miller of Fayetteville, Texas, who advertised for his slave in the Arkansas Gazette: “Said Negro was brought from Georgia, and is probably making his way back to that State” (AR_18360909_Arkansas-Gazette_18360727). In addition, despite the projection of locations onto their runaways, slaveowners acknowledged that these assumptions were just that – merely assumptions. An 1836 ad from the Arkansas Gazette states “I have dreamed, with both eyes open, that he went toward the Spanish county; but as dreams are like some would be thought honest men―quite uncertain―he may have gone some other directions.” Although most fugitive slave advertisements were slightly less flowery in their language, the inaccuracies of projected direction were subtly acknowledged in the advertisements.
- The extensive size of the data set results in certain implications based on the time-consuming and labor-intensive nature of the manual labor of close reading. When analyzing the data by the human eye, pre-conceived assumptions come into play, and unexpected results are less likely to be found if present. Without digital tools to sift through the information and help identify patterns, the presence of human bias in evaluating the advertisement trends would be more noticeable. Focusing on multiple elements or the connections between them is also more difficult for a human observer. For example, perhaps there exists a correlation between the amount of the reward and the projected location of the slave or distance between the locations of the advertisement and the owner. Without the extremely labor-intensive process of creating a spreadsheet, this evidence is difficult to analyze. Specific locations (cities and plantations) fall to the generalization and recognizability of states and counties. With over 1000 advertisements in the Mississippi corpora alone, analysis and trends are very difficult to find in a short period of time.
- Based on these observations, the borderland status of states does change the location trends present in runaway slave advertisements. The advantages of digital tools, however, will help us analyze these conclusions to evaluate the correlation between digital tools and close-reading, as well as possibly reveal unexpected patterns in the data set.
a guest Apr 14th, 2014 128 Never
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