Nacogdoches conference includes Texas Runaway Slave Project

Apr 30, 2014

Stephen F. Austin State University will showcase faculty research, scholarship and artistry Thursday at its daylong Bright Ideas Conference. More than 90 poster presentations will be on display, including the Texas Runaway Slave Project.

Kyle Ainsworth, special collections librarian at SFA’s East Texas Research Center, has combed through Texas newspapers compiling hundreds of advertisements and announcements about runaway slaves between the 1830s and 1860s. The project is in a searchable database.

Many ads not only give a detailed physical description of the slave, but include the clothing they wore and personality traits. The text of these advertisements could help genealogists trace African American histories, according to Ainsworth.

“So much of slavery was breaking down their humanity. In a very ironic way, these runaway slave advertisements give them back some of that humanity because the owners want their property back so badly that they want to give a very good description,” Ainsworth said.

A number of states have compiled these runaway slave databases. In 2012, Ainsworth took up the Texas effort while in graduate school.

Ainsworth recently received a grant from the Dallas-based Summerlee Foundation to hire six SFA students who will help him expand the Texas Runaway Slave Project this summer. Ainsworth says Texas is an interesting study on runaway slaves due to the interstate slave trade. Slave owners in Louisiana would often post notices in Texas newspapers.

“They think, well, I bought this person in New Orleans or I bought this person in Shreveport, and I separated their family there. So, I think he’s heading back in that direction because he’s looking for the rest of his family, or, she’s looking for the rest of her family,” Ainsworth said.

The biennial Bright Ideas Conference is set for May 1 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom of SFA's Baker Patillo Student Center. It’s free and open to the public.

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