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Hunting down runaway slaves: The cruel ads of Andrew Jackson and ‘the master class’

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Hunting down runaway slaves: The cruel ads of Andrew Jackson and ‘the master class’

This story has been updated to reflect President Trump’s speculation that Andrew Jackson could have prevented the Civil War.

“Stop the Runaway,” Andrew Jackson urged in an ad placed in the Tennessee Gazette in October 1804. The future president gave a detailed description: A “Mulatto Man Slave, about thirty years old, six feet and an inch high, stout made and active, talks sensible, stoops in his walk, and has a remarkable large foot, broad across the root of the toes — will pass for a free man.…”

Jackson, who would become the country’s seventh commander in chief in 1829, promised anyone who captured this “Mulatto Man Slave” a reward of $50, plus “reasonable” expenses paid.

Jackson added a line that some historians find particularly cruel.

It offered “ten dollars extra, for every hundred lashes any person will give him, to the amount of three hundred.”

The ad was signed, “ANDREW JACKSON, Near Nashville, State of Tennessee.”

[Trump called Andrew Jackson ‘a swashbuckler.’ The Cherokees called him ‘Indian killer.’]

Jackson, whose face is on the $20 bill and to whom President Trump paid homage in March, owned about 150 enslaved people at The Hermitage, his estate near Nashville, when he died in 1845, according to records. On Monday, President Trump created a furor when he suggested in an interview with the Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito that Jackson could have prevented the Civil War.

Jackson’s slave ad is one of thousands being catalogued by the history department at Cornell University, which launched “The Freedom on the Move” project to digitize and preserve runaway slave ads and make them more accessible to the public.

“Our goal is to ultimately collect all the runaway ads that have survived,” said Edward E. Baptist, a Cornell history professor who is collaborating on the project with Joshua D. Rothman, at the University of Alabama, and Molly Mitchell, at the University of New Orleans.

Baptist said the ads provide rich insights into history.

“They are these little windows,” Baptist said. “I call them the tweets of the master class. The purpose is to alert the surveillance system that was the entire body of white people in the South to help this individual recover this human property.”

An ad seeking Isaac, which ran in the New Orleans Daily Picayune on Jan. 15, 1851. (New Orleans Daily Picayune/Freedom on the Move)