About the Virginia Runaways Project

      The Virginia Runaways Project is a digital database of runaway and captured slave and servant advertisements from 18th-century Virginia newspapers. When a slave or servant ran away, masters often placed remarkably detailed advertisements for their return. Sheriffs and other county officials also often advertised the capture of runaways or suspected runaways. This project offers full transcripts and images of all runaway and captured ads for slaves, servants, and deserters placed in Virginia newspapers from 1736 to 1790.

       Newspapers surveyed for ads include all extant issues of the various editions of the Williamsburg Virginia Gazette, listed here by publisher:

      In addition to the Williamsburg newspapers, other Virginia newspapers from 1774 to 1790 surveyed for advertisements include the following:       There are also advertisements from Maryland newspapers that describe Virginia runaways and captives:        In 1984, many of the Virginia runaway slave ads were reprinted (along with slave ads for the other southern colonies) in a four-volume compilation edited by Lathan Algerna Windley, a history professor at Morgan State University. Windley's accomplishment in gathering up and publishing the ads was enormous, and scholars since have made extensive use of his compilations, but this project seeks significantly to go beyond Windley's volumes.

      Windley's volumes included only ads for runaway slaves; this database includes runaway and captured ads for slaves, servants, military deserters and runaway sailors. This database contains the complete transcription of every ad; Windley cut out portions of advertisements that did not deal directly with runaway African-Americans. If a runaway slave of African descent traveled with a white servant or servants, for example, descriptions of the servants were not included in the published version. By including runaway servant ads as well as those for slaves, this database offers a unique look at the lower orders in eighteenth-century Virginia.

      In addition, Windley's works did not include ads for captured runaways. Sheriffs and other county officials frequently advertised captured runaways being held in the county jail or the public prison in Williamsburg. There is also a small number of captured ads for suspected runaways taken up by private individuals. The inclusion of all captured ads allows for cross-referencing of individuals listed in runaway ads who were later captured, and provides additional descriptions of runaways.

      Windley's volumes were not indexed, and although he included appendices listing runaways described in more than one ad, he died before he could fully cross-reference the ads. This database includes a search function in which every word in every ad is searchable. The search can also be constrained to names of runaways or subscribers, thus users interested in a specific owner or name of a runaway can simply enter the term with the proper constraint and all ads containing that name will be selected.

       In addition, Windley's four-volume set did not include ads which listed runaways a second time or ads for the same runaway in a different edition of the Virginia Gazette: he simply noted the date and edition of the newspaper, the name of the runaway, and the subscriber's name. This dataset includes the full text of all advertisements, including ads for the same runaway in different editions of the Gazette. There are often subtle differences in the descriptions which can provide additional information about the individuals listed. Individuals listed in the ads are cross-referenced so that by clicking on the runaway's name, users can access a window with all ads listing that particular person.

       This database therefore significantly expands Windley's pioneering work by making available a large number of advertisements that are not included in his volumes. Each ad here also contains a bibliographic note of the volume and page if published in Windley and the phrase "not in Windley," if not found in Windley's volumes.'

        In addition to the database itself, a searchable compilation of the ads that can be browsed or searched, this web site contains other material intended to help the user understand the context of slavery and servitude in eighteenth-century Virginia:

        Help with the database contains information designed to help with searches and highlights several sample ads.

        Supporting material contains links to other relevant primary material dealing with slavery and servitude, including newspaper accounts, court records, planters' records, literature, and a visual tour of the reconstructed slave quarter at Carter's Grove.

        The reference page offers links to information about slavery and the law, currency matters, cloth and clothing, and maps. This will eventually contain a variety of secondary essays about slavery and servitude in eighteenth-century Virginia.

        The bibliography provides a list of relevant books.

        The credit page acknowledges those who have helped with the project.