My Experience at the BHS

Visiting the Brooklyn Historical Society was a complete new experience for me because ive never went to a place where real primary sources were archived throughout the years and be able to use in research. its like a time machine and being able to peer into the past and see some of the past and how it was. it has also changed how i can do research and use primary sources to back up my thesis, or support an argument, or enhance a research paper. it has also changed how i view and read the book beloved and any other piece of literature that is in that time period and about slavery such as the “runaway slave profile” by Franklin/Schwninger it gave some examples and descriptions on how the slave owners put slave ads on newspapers and how they described them,whether they were dark skin, mulatto, etc and any other unique features that could identify the person in the ad. Even though they gave descriptions and how they did it and what the ads looked like it does not compare to actually physically seeing and and reading it for yourself what the ads looked like and what they contained. for example the caricature of a slave next to the ad to signify that it was a slave ad. many different things ive learned and experienced. it has changed how i look at primary sources and where to find them. i hope to return to the BHS in the future and take advantage of the primary sources


Group 5 (Damaris, Crystal, Curt, and Yoshiko)- BHS Runaway Slave Ads

On our recent trip to the Brooklyn Historical Society, we saw two clippings of wanted runaway slave advertisements, with the end goal being that we had to compare the two advertisements to the events in Toni Morrison’s Beloved. They were both roughly 2.5 x 3 in size. The clippings themselves had been faded with time, but still legible overall. Our group specifically looked at two newspaper clippings in which rewards were posted in search of runaway slaves.

According to the chapter “Profile of a Runaway”, the type of slave most likely to attempt escape were male field-hands in their late teens/early twenties, and these two runaway’s fit the standard description. These newspaper ads, most likely written and funded by the slave owners, had the language and the tone of an open ad for any lost object, the reward being twenty/twenty five dollars. They consisted of short paragraphs that described the workers’ location, looks and their skills. The clothes they wore while making their escape played a particularly important role, especially if the slave did not bring a change of clothing. In these advertisements, they were described as wearing homespun vests, suits, trousers, and hats. The location was also a standout feature, as it confirms the existence of slavery close to home (in this case, Queens County/Great Neck, Long Island).

The skills and appearance of the runaway slaves played a significant role to the ad; these things determined the “worth” of the slave concerning the reward price. This mirrors the information the “Runaway Slave Profile” text, which speaks to how, the lighter complexion, the “better” a slave may have been treated and may have been “worth”. One of the ads describes a slave’s complexion as “yellow”, and according to the statements made in the “Runaway Slave Profile,” it is no coincidence that the ad featured this description.

In applying this to Beloved, Sethe and Paul D were both runaway’s when they escaped Sweet Home and headed north for Ohio. To this end, they had to walk across a path that ran through a mountainous forest and river. Beforehand, Sethe had been raped and beaten. She was pregnant throughout her escape, and went into labor before she’d reached her destination. Paul D, on the other hand, ran to avoid being sold of to another plantation. As such, their circumstances were far more severe than the slaves in the wanted ad—at least, from what we know.