Multicultural America
Fall 2004

English Composition

Slave advertisement in the Baltimore Sun newspaper.  The advertisement is dated September 17, 1852 and it shows a typical ad for a runaway slave.  The ad describes the slave in detail and states the reward being offered.

Baltimore Sun
Runaway Slave Ad dated 17 Sept 1852

Multimedia Assignment 1 - Fugitive Slave Advertisements

For your first multimedia project, you will be asked to present, examine, and interpret two runaway slave notices placed in Virginia newspapers in the 18th century. 


One of the lasting and dark legacies of colonial America was the institution of slavery.  Imagine, if you possibly can, that you were a slave holder in the early 18th century, and you discovered that your valuable property is missing.  Thousands of slaves fled the South, risking their lives, to find freedom in the North.  While some managed to escape, whether by their own ingenuity, the help of sympathetic people, or luck, many others were captured and returned to their owners.  If you were an 18th century white Virginian, you would have been accustomed to reading notices from slave holders seeking the capture and return of their property.  For your first web page, consider the following:


You can browse the ads by decade or click on “View All.”  You will also find ads for runaway servants, since many people came to America bound in servitude to colonial citizens.  For this project, however, concentrate on the runaway slave ads and find two that you would like to present on your web page. Although the notices are short, they contain a wealth of information about the missing slave, the owner, and attitudes toward slavery. 




First, title your webpage.  Try to think of something that will catch the attention of your reader.  Feel free to be creative in your presentation of the information. Consider your classmates your audience, that is, someone intelligent and curious, who is not already familiar with the material, and who appreciates clear, direct prose. Your job is both to inform your viewer and to offer an interpretation in a clear and interesting way.


Second, your reader would appreciate some background information.  You can read more about slavery in colonial America in Digital History at


or use your best search techniques to find another authoritative website.  Set up some historical context in a short introduction.  This does not need to be long, but always keep your reader in mind.  Remember, you’re a teacher here as well as a learner, so your presentation should flow logically.


Next, compose a short paragraph for each of the ads in which you describe the contents of the ad.  Think about the questions you could answer by looking at the ad.  Each of the ads will give you something different.  Here are some possibilities:


1.      Personal characteristics -- What does the slave look like? Is the slave male or female? How old is he/she? What was he/she wearing?  Did the slave take additional clothing?  What can the clothing tell us? Does the fugitive speak English?  If so, how well? Any identifying features?  Scars?   Any details about name or personality?  Does the slave have an African or English (or a classical or Spanish or Portuguese) name? Does the slave have a last name?  Is the slave married?  Any children?  Does the ad tell you the slave’s occupation?

2.      Details about the escape -- Did the slave escape alone or with a group?  Did the slave receive any outside help?  How did the slave escape (e.g., on foot, by boat)? When did the slave run away?  How long has the slave been missing?  Does the ad suggest why the slave escaped?  Did the slave take anything in the course of the escape? Is the slave armed?

3.      The advertisement – How long was the period between the slave’s escape and the publication of the ad?  Did you find the ad difficult to read?  How is the language in the ad different from ours? 


Then, conclude your page with a short paragraph in which you interpret your information.  What conclusions can you draw about the attitudes toward slavery in the 18th century?  Do the ads tell you anything about how the owner views the slave?  How the reader of the ad might view slavery? Do you think the owner was very knowledgeable about the slave? 


      Citing Electronic Sources



Project due – September 25