“Runaway Slave” notices: a closer look

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It doesn’t take much digging into American history to run across slavery, racism, oppression, cruelty, and terror. It’s everywhere. It’s in the first U.S. census in 1790. Enslaved people being property, the cruelty of dividing families just like livestock or household items is ubiquitous in hundreds of thousands of probate records. Hunting for ancestors in old cemeteries? There’s a white section and a slave section or Black section. Separate and unequal in death as in life. Look to the law? Slave and Black codes are everywhere, the North, too. And, of course, racism and discrimination are enshrined in the law books.

Just a few minutes of browsing old newspapers reveals racist attitudes, imagined “Negro dialect,” alleged humor in stereotypical cartoons and jokes, and biased reporting (and not all that long ago either). Black people are almost always identified by their race in crime reports, obituaries, and news stories. Most of the time, race has nothing to do with the actual story itself, but everything to do with how its reported and how the alleged perpetrator is punished.

And then there are “runaway slave” notices. They’re everywhere, too. Let’s look a little deeper at one of these. This one is from the Randolph Record, from Randolph County, Illinois, dated 11 March 1846.

•The “clip art” depiction at the left top was common. In a page of print (often small in earlier newspapers), that graphic alerted the reader that the story or ad was about a runaway slave. Not only was this interesting news, but an opportunity to perhaps garner a reward.

•Even though Frank had a last name — one he was given or gave himself — it was never used by white people. And Frank knew well not to share his surname with his captors or with the Sheriff. Using only a given name (given by people not your parents) was another way to try to dehumanize an enslaved person. He or she had only a first name to white people.

•Frank is a “Negro Boy,” even though he would be of legal age in white society (21 or 22). You could be 100 years old and you were still a “boy.”

•Frank’s age is uncertain. A slave’s exact date of birth was of no interest or benefit to Frank’s former “owner.” Irrelevant. Another way to demean and dehumanize: Your birth has no significance. Nothing to celebrate.

•But the most disturbing part of this ad (and many, many like it) is its physical description: Frank was “considerably scarred with the whip.” Imagine how many whippings Frank had to have had to be “considerably scarred” by the age of 21 or 22. He would have been whipped as a youngster, repeatedly, over time. Reading runaway slave notices is an education in cruelty. So many describe scars, missing digits, branding, a missing ear, damaged limbs, and the results of other punishments meted out by slave owners. Or rough abuse in mines, factories, construction projects, logging, farming, and on and on. Often, both: scars and wounds from punishment and inhumane work.

•And the law — the sheriff — had to be complicit in returning the enslaved person to his former “owner.” Imagine Frank waiting in a jail cell for the person who “considerably scarred [him] with the whip” to come and get him. Frank knew he was in for, at a minimum, another whipping and perhaps much worse, maybe branding or amputation.

•The notice or ad leaves open the possibility that Frank might be a free man: “The owner, if any, of said Negro, will come forward….” But that is boilerplate copy. Frank’s scarred body tells us that he was enslaved.

•And then there’s geography and so-called “free states.” Frank himself says he is from Evansville, Indiana, a free state, and the ads are being run in free state Illinois. Illinois’ laws were notorious at the time for allowing slavery to exist in a supposedly free state. Loopholes plus the proverbial wink and a nod.

•But is there anything positive amidst all the cruel terror manifested in this ad? Yes! There is something that ennobles all “runaway slave” notices: the act of escape itself. Far from being passive and having no agency, enslaved persons ran away every chance they could. Against strong odds. Geography, time, the law, weather, and a complicit citizenry were stacked against them. But still they did whatever they could to be free. That’s the real message of these notices. They are profiles in courage. Frank must have been incredibly brave. I hope he made it his next try.

Administrator’s record, estate of John Ragland, deceased; Benjamin Ragland, administrator, Washington County, Illinois, 1846

Administrator’s Notice.

On the first Monday of May next, I will attend before the Probate Justice of the peace of Washington county, in Nashville, for the purpose of adjusting all claims against the estate of John Ragland, senior, late of said county, deceased; when and where all claimants are requested to present their demands for adjustment.

Benjamin Ragland, Adm’r, Jan. 24, 1846

Source: “Randolph County Record,” Sparta, Randolph County, Illinois, 11 March 1846 [Administrators’ notices were published multiple times, thus the Jan. 24th date above.]

Drury Logan and Sarah Ann Lyons Logan’s children: a bit more information

In the “Register of Baptisms in Unity R.P. [Reformed Presbyterian] Church,” we find Sarah Elizabeth Logan, daughter of Sarah A. Logan, baptized 9 May 1853.

James Harvey Logan, son of Drury and “Sara” A. Logan, was baptized 24 October 1853.

In addition to learning the dates of baptism and to which church Sarah Ann belonged at the time, this is the first record we’ve found of the children’s middle names.

James H. Logan died 13 March 1855. He was 1 year, 1 month, and 2 days old.

Sarah E. Logan married Robert Given or Givens. She was born 27 August 1845 “at Marissa,” St. Clair County, Illinois. She died in Weldon, DeWitt County, Illinois, 9 or 10 August 1913.

What makes these baptisms more poignant is that three other children of Drury and Sarah Ann Lyons Logan had already died: Jane A. Logan died 11 December 1851, 9 years and 3 months old. Robert Logan and Joseph Logan died days apart in 1852. The four Logan siblings lie buried in a row in Old Salem Cemetery in Washington County, Illinois.

In a “List of Members Recorded Into Unity Reformed Presbyterian Church,” Sarah A. Logan became a member 20 April 1853.

Source for “Register of Baptisms in Unity R.P. Church” and “List of Members Recorded Into Unity Reformed Presbyterian Church”: “Old” Bethel Reformed Presbyterian Church 1820…. Eden / Sparta, Illinois, compiled by Jane Boyd, Randolph County [Illinois] Genealogical Society.



Ragland v. Ragland lawsuit, either Washington or Perry County, Illinois, 1872

This abstract from a Sparta, Randolph County, Illinois newspaper about a Ragland v. Ragland lawsuit contains helpful genealogical information. Washington County, Illinois, is mentioned but some of the Raglands lived in Perry County, Illinois (close to the Perry-Washington County boundary in both cases.) It wasn’t clear from the clipping in which county the lawsuit was filed.

Benjamin Ragland and Nancy, his wife, John Ragland and Patsy, his wife, Elijah Harris and Patsy, his wife, Allen Williams and Catherine, his wife, William Rainey and Harriett, his wife, Hawkins Ragland and Lucinda, his wife, Samuel S. Maxwell and Serilla, his wife, heirs of John Ragland, late of Washington County, deceased.


Moses Jackson, in right of his wife, Nancy, deceased [Jackson children all named], Rebecca Ragland, wife of Joseph T. Ragland, deceased, Briant West and Ruth, his wife, Elizabeth W. Ragland, John Ff. Maxwell and Emily Frances, his wife, Wm. F. Maxwell and Catherine, his wife, George W. Ragland, Zachariah B. Ragland, John L. Ragland, and Hawkins Ragland, heirs of Joseph T. Ragland, deceased.

The Logans and Raglands are connected this way: Nancy Dodson, daughter of Dillingham Dodson and Mahala Logan Dodson, married Benjamin Ragland in Allen County, Kentucky. Mahala Logan was the daughter of Joseph Logan and Anna “Annie” Bias Logan and the sister of Zachariah Logan.

Nancy Dodson Ragland and Benjamin Ragland had a son named Dillingham Ragland. He married Ruth A. Maxwell in Washington County, Illinois. Their son, Benjamin Ragland, mentioned above, was born in Washington County, IL.

Source: “Abstracts from Sparta, Illinois Newspapers,” Branching Out from St. Clair County, Illinois, Volumes 22-24, Marissa Historical and Genealogical Society, Marissa, St. Clair County, Illinois, 1994

Obituary: George B. McClellan Chorpenning, Washington County, Illinois, 1861-1919

George B. McClellan Chorpenning married Cora Belle Logan, daughter of Reuben Logan and Anna “Annie” Guthrie Logan. George Chorpenning is buried at Oak Grove Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Pilot Knob Township, Washington County, Illinois. There is no extant grave marker, although there was one, according to Elsie Campbell Giacomo, who attended George Chorpenning’s funeral and visited the cemetery.

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Tombstone: Robert Beggs, spouse of Frances Adeline Logan Beggs, Cherokee County, Kansas, 1830-1893

Robert Beggs was born in 1830 in Randolph County, Illinois. He served as a private in Co. I, 49th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, U.S (Union), during the Civil War. His brothers, Archibald and Absolom Beggs, also served during the war. Absolom Beggs died of a gunshot wound while a prisoner of war in Huntsville, Alabama.

Robert Beggs married Frances A. Logan, daughter of William Logan and Matilda Thackston or Thaxton Logan, 2 March 1854 in Washington County, Illinois. Frances Adeline Beggs died in 1870 in Cherokee County, Kansas. Robert Beggs died 30 December 1893 in Cherokee County. He is buried in Fairview Cemetery, Melrose, Cherokee County, KS.

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Researched and photograph furnished by Patrick Logan

Birth certificate: Robert Elliot Logan, Tilden, Randolph County, Illinois, 1910

Robert “Bob” Elliot Logan, son of Lemuel “Lem” S. Logan and Margaret E. Elliot Logan, was born 8 January 1910 in Tilden, Randolph County, Illinois.

Bob Logan married Elizabeth “Ellie” J. Ringhofer 29 August 1933.  Bob died 8 June 1982 in Owatonna, Steele County, Minnesota. Ellie Ringhofer Logan died 16 January 2010 in Owatonna. Bob and Ellie are buried at Sacred Heart Cemetery, Owatonna, Minnesota.

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Furnished by JoAnn Logan Hartle