Thursday, March 25, 2010

Some Kind of Trowers (Pennsylvania Gazette, 12-1-1784)

You will, I'm sure, forgive the poor quality of this image, particularly when its content is so remarkable. Pennsylvania abolished slavery in 1780 (although this ruling only applied to newborns), but its neighbors in Maryland maintained the system through the Civil War. And so in 1784, a "well fet fellow... of a good black color" who called himself Nol ran away from the farm of his master, the ironically-named Freeborn Brown. As was common in most runaway slave advertisements, Brown spent considerable time describing the physical appearance of Nol. He even noted a small scar which crossed one of Nol's eyebrows. "I think his right eye brow," he remarked hesitantly. Heaven forbid someone catch the wrong runaway based on a misremembered eyebrow. Nol was wearing a brown coat with bright metal buttons when he ran away, along with a white waistcoat and shirt. Oh, and, noted Brown, "some kind of trowsers."

If nothing else, Brown's ad is exceedingly optimistic. The eyebrow note had helped him reclaim Nol once before. In a small postscript, he explains that Nol may be travelling with a "yellowish" sailor. And just to help anyone who might be able to catch Nol, Brown narrows down where these two men might be going. Probably Pennsylvania. Or New Jersey. Or maybe New York. Or any part of New England.

Considering the incompetence of his master, it is unlikely that Nol ever returned to the farm fields of Maryland. But for that damn eyebrow scar, he would have been gone long before.

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