The University of Glasgow’s Runaway Slaves in Eighteenth-Century Britain project has created a searchable database of over 800 newspaper advertisements placed by masters and owners seeking the capture and return of enslaved people who had escaped. Most of the runaways were of African descent, although some were from the Indian sub-continent and some were Indigenous Americans.
The database, which was launched this week, is fully searchable according to a wide range of criteria and includes full transcriptions and (where possible) reproductions of the advertisements. The Runaway Slaves project website also contains a wealth of background and interpretative material which will be helpful to anyone making use of the database.
As the project team note, the purpose of the database is not to replicate the objectification of enslaved people who were brought to eighteenth-century Britain as the enslaved property of white British men and women. Rather, the project team hopes that the advertisements will allow readers to explore and understand the people identified in the advertisements as historical subjects in their own right – as individuals who challenged their status and condition. The project team’s aim is that readers can use the database to uncover the individual stories of runaways, whose lives are “hidden within a few lines of faded newspaper print.” For a brilliant example of just how such lives can be unfurled from runaway advertisements, see Marisa Fuentes’ book, Dispossessed Lives (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).
Click here to go to the Runaway Slaves in Eighteenth-Century Britain Database.
Episode 199 of The Outlander Podcast is an interview with the cast and production team for 1745. I wrote about this film in an earlier post. That post also has links to the work of a team of historians at the University of Glasgow investigating runaway slaves in Scotland. The podcast interview is well worth a listen. The story in the film is fascinating, and as the writers mention, there is so much research yet to be done. I think it’s brilliant that this invisible history is being brought to the big screen.
Click here for a link to the Podcast
The short film 1745 An Untold Story of Slavery had its first screening last week in Edinburgh for cast, crew and supporters, and soon they are off to Cannes. The film highlights a forgotten part of Scotland’s history: while Scotland was fighting for its national freedom in that fateful year, its economy was in large part founded on the booming colonial slave trade. While the majority of slavery happened elsewhere – off-stage, across the Atlantic – there were African slaves here, kept as trophies and pets in the houses of their rich merchant masters. 1745 was inspired by advertisements that writer, Morayo Akandé, discovered for runaway slaves, placed in Scottish newspapers of the time.
Check out the beautiful website and trailer for the film here and follow updates on the Facebook page here.
For more on the historical background on runaway slaves in Britain – it’s well worth checking out the University of Glasgow/Leverhulme Trust’s project page for Runaway Slaves in Britain: Bondage, Freedom and Race in the Eighteenth Century. The project is ongoing and you can follow progress via their blog here.