Runaway slaves were always a serious problem. They were very valuable.
During an 1859 auction in Georgia a healthy "prime" male slave aged 22, a trained cotton field hand, had sold for $1,260 [$39,000 today]. By contrast an 11 year old girl at that same auction only cost $300 [$9,300].
Our Southern newspapers routinely ran ads both by slave masters offering rewards for returning runaways and ones by jailers seeking the owners of caught fugitive slaves. Eye catching vignettes were used to call attention to those ads. Two such drawings are in my illustration.
The one on the left is for a male slave and the one on the right is for a female slave.
Below is yet another way we used to prevent slaves escaping.
The September 25, 1909, "The Cairo Bulletin" wrote, "One of our citizens has in his possession Vol. 4, No. 50, of the Columbus, Ky., Weekly Crescent, a newspaper published by L. G. Faxon, in 1861 in that city. This copy of the paper is dated Wednesday, February 6, 1861 ...." What followed in that article was a mixture of summaries and quotes from Faxon's newspaper.
Faxon wrote, "To prevent the escape of slaves [by going aboard a train at Columbus], the following regulations have been adopted and will be rigidly enforced. Tickets for negroes must, in all cases, be purchased by the owner, or his known authorized agent, and the negro shown to the conductor before entering the cars. Tickets for negroes going northward will only be sold to the owner or his authorized agent when personally known to the station agent. Strangers making application for tickets for negroes, will be required to give bond equal to twice the value of the negro, with known approved security, to protect the company against loss."
In the months between Abraham Lincoln's election in November 1860 and his inauguration in March 1861, seven Southern slave states had seceded. Some in the Jackson Purchase wanted to immediately join them. "The Cairo Bulletin" article added, "The news columns of the Crescent contain lengthy reports of mass meetings held at various points in Western Kentucky, protesting against coercion of the south. At a meeting held at New Retreat Seminary [a school] in Graves County, it was resolved, that if their demands were not complied with by the 4th of March, 1861 [Lincoln's inauguration day], they would recommend that each of the fifteen Southern states withdraw from the Union. A speaker at Mayfield said the Union had already been dissolved by the withdrawal of six sovereign states, and he would hang any traitor who would fight with the North against the South ...."
Faxon also wrote, "We neglected to mention in our last [issue] that some cowardly miscreant slipped up in the night and cut the halyards of the secession flag, letting the flag down. Such an act is worthy only of a cowardly wretch .... If he is known, he had better be watched: he will be guilty of house burning next." Well, that last was certainly typical of Faxon's notorious writing style.
Editor's Note: The story of slavery is one that should be taught and understood twelve months a year - not just during February, Black History Month. Thank you to historian John Kelly Ross for sharing this account.