[Blackstudies-l] Runaway notices tell slavery story in New York state

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Sun Oct 2 10:40:53 EDT 2016

Democrat and Chronicle

10/02/2016 - Page A21

Runaway notices tell slavery story Book of old ads shows experience in NY



ALBANY - They were field hands, cooks, musicians and blacksmiths. Some were
"well made," others lame. A few showed ritual tribal scarring from their
native Africa, others bore scars inflicted by their masters. All of them —
some 600-plus men and women — were black slaves who bolted for freedom in
upstate New York in the 1700s and early 1800s.

The details of their escapes are included in a new book by two upstate
historians who examine slavery in the Hudson Valley through a century of
newspaper notices seeking the return of runaway slaves.

Susan Stessin-Cohn, of New Paltz, and Ashley Hurlburt-Biagini, of Salisbury
Mills, spent years scouring archives for In Defiance, recently published by
Albany-based Black Dome Press. Their soft-cover book contains reprints and
transcriptions of more than 550 newspaper notices published between 1735
and 1831, four years after slavery was abolished in New York state.

Most of the notices were published in papers printed in a 10-county region
from Albany to Westchester County. Many contain vivid physical descriptions
of the 607 runaways documented in the book, a fraction of the untold number
of enslaved blacks in New York who sought freedom through escape. The
information offers a unique glimpse into the lives of the Northern slaves
who worked the valley’s farms and toiled in its homesteads, the authors

"There’s so few stories about enslaved people (in the North)," said
Stessin-Cohn, historian for

See SLAVERY, Page *3! 0A*

This photo shows a 1768 posting by Philip Schuyler in Albany, that is
published in In Defiance, a book that examines slavery in New York’s Hudson
Valley through a century of newspaper notices seeking the return of runaway




Continued from Page 21A

the town of New Paltz, 75 miles north of New York City. "Each little notice
is like a vignette, it’s a story on someone’s life. It puts a face on this
whole human experience."

While a handful of the larger New York estates had dozens of slaves working
on them during the Colonial and antebellum periods, the typical upstate
slaveholder owned one to five slaves, Stessin-Cohn said. While that meant
Hudson Valley slaves tended to possess a variety of skills, it also left
them more isolated from one another compared to blacks forced to work on
Southern plantations, she said.

Slavery in the North could be even harsher "because they were so alone and
they were under their enslaver’s watch constantly," Stessin- Cohn said.

The runaway notices served as the era’s allpoints bulletin, a way to get
word of escaped slaves to the general population through local publications.

A typical notice started with the words "Run Away" or the amount of the
award offered, followed by a description that included a slave’s name, age,
height and skin complexion, along with any noticeable features such as
scars or a peculiar gait. What the slave was wearing and carrying at the
time of escape also would be noted, along with their work and other skills,
especially musicianship. A published notice for a slave named Mingo, who
ran away from his master in Westchester in 1767, read: "He plays tolerably
well upon the Fiddle, and has taken one with him." Unlike slave sale
notices that tended! to tout an individual’s attributes, the runaway
notices were ! blunt in their descriptions of a slave’s foibles, such as a
taste for strong drink or being overly talkative.

"You get a much more honest picture of the people, and there’s no other
source for that kind information, especially in the North," Stessin-Cohn
said. Most notices mentioned a runaway’s language skills, which for many
slaves included speaking English as well as Dutch, an indication of the
heavy cultural influence the Dutch had in eastern New York well into the
19th century. "It’s kind of shedding light on situations we knew nothing
about before," Stessin-Cohn said.

Historians Susan Stessin-Cohn, left, and Ashley Hurlburt-Biagini published
In Defiance, a book that examines slavery in New York’s Hudson Valley
through a century of newspaper notices seeking the return of runaway slaves.


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