August 11, 1761 – George Washington Offers a Reward for His Runaway Slaves

According to historian Ron Chernow in Washington: A Life, George Washington had forty-seven runaway slaves over the years, and pursued them with zeal. Chernow notes that many slaves who fled were favorites of the Washingtons, and the couple felt betrayed by their escapes.

On this day in history, George Washington placed an advertisement in the “Maryland Gazette” (an Annapolis paper) pertaining to four runaway slaves and offering a reward for their return. It was printed on August 20th.

George Washington by Gilbert Stuart

George Washington by Gilbert Stuart

Chernow observes that Washington usually – but not always – forgave runaways without reprisals. On at least three occasions, however, he sold recalcitrant slaves to hard labor in the Caribbean, receiving in exchange for molasses, rum, limes and tamarinds.

You can see from the language of the advertisement, reprinted below, that Washington was fairly well acquainted with his slaves:

Peros[?], 35 or 40 Years of Age, a well-set Fellow, of about 5 feet 8 Inches high, yellowish Complexion, with a very full round Face, and full black Beard, his Speech is something slow and broken, but not in so great a Degree as to render him remarkable. He had on when he went away, a dark colour’d Cloth Coat, a white Linen Waist-coat, white Breeches and white Stockings.

Jack, 30 Years (or thereabouts) old, a slim, black, well made Fellow, of near 6 Feet high, a small Face, with Cuts down each Cheek, being his Country Marks, his Feet are large (or long) for he requires a great Shoe: The Cloathing he went off in cannot be well ascertained, but it is thought in his common working Dress, such as Cotton Waistcoat (of which he had a new One) and Breeches, and Osnabrig Shirt.

Neptune, aged 25 or 30, well set, and of about 5 Feet 8 or 9 Inches high, thin jaw’d, his Teeth stragling and fil’d sharp, his Back, if rightly remember’d, has many small Marks or Dots running from both Shoulders down to his Waistband, and his Head was close shaved: Had on a Cotton Waistcoat, black or dark colour’d Breeches, and an Osnabrig Shirt.

Cupid, 23 or 25 Years old, a black well made Fellow, 5 Feet 8 or 9 Inches high, round and full faced, with broad Teeth before, the Skin of his Face is coarse, and inclined to be pimpley, he has no other distinguishable Mark that can be recollected: he carried with him his common working Cloaths, and an old Osnabrig Coat made Frockwise.

The two last of these Negroes were bought from an African Ship in August 1759, and talk very broken and unintelligible English. the second one, Jack, is Countryman to those, and speaks pretty good English, having been several Years in the Country. The other Peros [?], speaks much better than either, indeed has little of his Country Dialect left, and is esteemed a sensible judicious Negro.

As they went off without the least Suspicion, Provocation, or Difference with any Body, or the least angry Word or Abuse from their Overseers, ’tis supposed they will hardly lurk about in the Neighborhood, but steer some direct Course (which cannot even be guessed at) in Hopes of an Escape. Or, perhaps, as the Negro Peros [?] has lived many Years about Williamsburg, and King William County, and Jack in Middlesex, they may possibly bend their Course to one of those Places.

Whoever apprehends the said Negroes, so that the Subscriber may readily get them, shall have, if taken up in this County, Forty Shillings Reward, beside what the Law allows; and if at any greater Distance, or out of the Colony, a proportionable Recompence paid them, by
George Washington

N.B. If they should be taken separately, the Reward will be proportioned.”

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