Final Project Proposal: Charting Runaway Slave Prices based on Location

An ad for a runaway slave in North Caroline (1810).

An ad for a runaway slave in North Carolina (1810).

With regards to my final project, I am preliminarily proposing analyzing the relationship between runaway slave price, and geographic location relative to miles away from Washington, DC. I will look at newspapers published in a year in between 1850 and 1860, as chronicling multiple years might be too ambitious in practice. I selected the year 1850 as it is after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act, which mandated that bounty hunters and civilians could legally seek and capture runaway slaves anywhere in the United States and return them to their master. I stopped in 1860 at the outbreak of the Civil War.

When examining this period and preceding decades essentially dating back to the time of the arrival of Columbus in the Americas, slavery had been ubiquitous in United States society, especially the South. Evidence of runaway slaves is almost as old slavery itself, so the need for owners to find innovative ways to capture their fugitive slaves took an innovative turn as the United States approached independence. In the eighteenth century and into the Antebellum period, it became increasingly common for slave masters to publish and publicize ads for their missing slaves with rewards for their capture. So therefore, many newspapers, magazines and alternative forms of media were not only filled, but headlined with ads for rewards.

I will focus on newspapers to the south of the Mason-Dixon Line, first navigating my way through larger periodicals, and working my way down to papers with lesser circulation. I will use databases available at American University to conduct my research, as there are several that carry digitialized preservations of newspapers that seem to be fairly accessible. I would also like to discuss with preservationists at the library other ways that these papers have been preserved, possibly in a physical format that I might potentially be able to explore.

I would like to make a website to showcase an interactive map, as well as to highlight some of the newspaper ads themselves. In the interactive map, I would like to show the locations of the various newspapers, and the average price of the slave over the course of the given year. I would consider utilizing Omeka to host the website, and would really like to pursue installing and creating an interactive map, because I think that would be a really cool, valuable way to showcase my findings I would have to receive further instruction as I am not sure of the complexity of not only its creation, but also inputting such extensive, complex detail on to it. In addition to the map, I will likely publish posts on my findings as I progress through my study. If the scope of the project does indeed appear to be too wide, I would consider using this blog as a launching point for the project. My proposal is still relatively preliminary, and I am definitely open to any type of suggestions that readers might have. As I mentioned in my previous post, I am a novice, and one of the most expeditious ways to bolster my online presence is through feedback from knowledgable readers like yourselves.

3 thoughts on “Final Project Proposal: Charting Runaway Slave Prices based on Location

  1. Interesting idea. I do think you will need to scale back on it. My suggestion is that you consider using History Pin. What you are suggesting is slightly different than what it is designed for, but you could create a large CSV file with a collection of ads and relevant metadat that would then be mapped spatially. Google maps may also allow you do upload csv files too — another alternative. You can see if Omeka allows for embeds of maps. Search to see what tools are available. In the meantime, you should narrow your search to one newspaper. And you can select one or even month depending on how many ads there are. You will need to create an image file for each ad and a clear naming structure for naming the images. Then you will build a CSV file with all the metadata that can be bulk uploaded with the images. One field will contain the file name for the images, and one will have to contain the location coordinates. Then you will need to figure out what other relevant fields you need to do an interesting analysis (reward, text, age, gender, etc.).

  2. Hi Adam, what a cool project! I really like the idea of building an interactive map. Would it be possible to create an interactive map by using a similar platform to walking tour software? I am no expert in the digital software needed, but I love the idea of an interactive map because an audience could benefit from the visualization. If nothing else, creating a website, blogging, and making data charts to visualize runaway slave prices could really add a layer of interpretation to an already interesting historical subject.

  3. Adam,

    This sounds like a great project. It has the potential for a lot of interesting insights. This would make the project much bigger than could fit in one semester class, but it would also be interesting to track other characteristics, like age, description, gender, etc., in the ads. I’m sure there are a number of scholars who would find a database of this information and a big data analysis of it fascinating.

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