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‘Said Boy’
Runaway Apprentice Jacob Murphy Illustrates the Falling values of Runaways from the 1790s through 1830s

Mirror of the Times and General Advertiser – Wilmington, Delaware, May 25, 1805,

Jacob Murphey


Ran away on Thursday last the 16th inst., an apprentice to the stone cutting business, named Jacob Murphey, about 15 years of age, fair complexion, dark hair, had on a grey round over Jacket & green tow trowsers, Whoever returns said boy to me shall have the above reward.


Brandywine Mills, May 18, 1805


1. Before American independence, runaway whites brought 4-5 dollars. 20 years later, in 1804, just as the last generation of trafficked whites out of Europe were newly bond, the price had dropped to 2-3 dollars. By 1812, the price would drop to 12 cents and by the 1830s 5 cents! Why was the return value of white slaves so much lower and at the very time one would expect their lack of importation to raise their value? The answer is debt slavery, with youths such as William Garrison exchanged for a parent’s debt or sold, such as Andrew Johnson, by a widow unable to provide for a man’s surviving child. However, the largest factor was that fugitive slave laws increasingly demanded that free, uninterested citizens must act as slave state deputies and return runaways, even at the penalty of treason. 2. The 1793 fugitive slave act did not pertain only to chattel of African descent, but also to any mixed-race or white servant, slave, apprentice, redemptioner, convict or transport. A white bystander to the 1851 Christiana Riot was charged with treason for not siding with slave catchers.

[Submitted to by Mary Kay Krogman]

Stillbirth of a Nation: Caucasian Slavery in Plantation America: Part One

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