On November 4, 1854, two Greene County enslavers used this handbill to advertise for the return of two freedom seekers, who had set out together from their farms 12 miles west of Springfield, Missouri. Archa, 21, and John, 28, were most likely on their way west to the newly-opened Kansas Territory. The handbill is detailed, describing the men’s physical appearances, talents, and personalities. The greater the distance the men were captured from Springfield the bigger the reward. There was an additional $500 award offered for the capture and conviction of the “white man,” who purportedly provided the men with “free papers” and possibly aided their escape. Later, the original reward amount was crossed out and doubled by hand, suggesting that Archa and John were still on the run. It is unknown if the men successfully achieved their freedom.
This intriguing document reveals much about the experience of slavery for enslaved Missourians in mid-1850s Western Missouri. It was common for enslaved people in regions dominated by small-scale slavery to forge social connections with others in their neighborhoods. Although they lived on different properties, it appears that Archa and John knew one another well enough to strike out for freedom together. The handbill also reveals the anxieties felt by white Missourians as a political controversy over the status of slavery erupted in 1854 in Kansas Territory. Enslaved Missourians astutely understood that the increasingly violent conflict presented opportunities for them and even though the odds of success were long, an increasing number sought freedom in Kansas. Most enslaved people made their own decisions to flee; nonetheless, many white Missourians believed that their “faithful slaves” had been lured away by abolitionist “slave stealers” instead.
Subject: African Americans; Slavery
Contributing Institution: Greene County Archives and Records Center
Copy Request: Contact the Greene County Archives and Records Center at:"(417)-868-4021, 1126 Boonville St., Springfield, MO 65802 http://www.greenecountymo.org/archives/
Rights: Permission is granted for duplication of the materials from the Greene County Archives and Records Center with no restrictions." Materials may be quoted with proper citation.