Thursday, April 3, 2014

Discovering the 81 Freedom Fighters, Part 1

On March 25, 2014, I purchased a monthly subscription to, and began searching and transcribing Richmond Virginia newspapers for runaway slave advertisements.  Perusing the newspapers from the Civil War period has been quite enlightening and one of the ads which caught my attention contained a long list of names.  Upon reading the ad, I saw that it contained not only the names of runaway slaves, but also the name and locations of their slave masters.  I felt it was my genealogy duty to not ignore this list, but to transcribe and analyze it although none of these men are my ancestors as far as I know. 

I began this new project by modifying the digital image using a drawing tool in Paint program to underline the names of the men in red.  This enabled me to more easily read and transcribe the names from this newspaper advertisement.

August 27, 1864 Slave Ad
Richmond Dispatch Newspaper, August 27, 1864, Page 1.

Further Research of Contents of Advertisement
In addition to transcribing and analyzing the advertisement, I have also been researching the mine explosion and other names, events, and places mentioned.  On Sunday afternoon, March 30, 2014, I sent the digital image to fellow genealogist Angela Walton-Raji and we spent some time on the phone discussing this gold mine of an ad and researching online clues to further research information which we gleaned from the ad. In less than an hour, Angela and I used various online databases to get answers to some of the research questions we had about the men, places, and events mentioned in this advertisement.  As a result of our afternoon collaborate session, Angela and I agreed to be a blogging “tag-team” to share our findings about this case.

Data Analysis (What’s in a Name?)
And so, I will begin this endeavor with sharing some of the results of my data analysis of this advertisement in which I used Microsoft Excel to create a table with the names of the 81 soldiers, their slave owners, and the locations of the slave owners.  
The first topic I want to address is the names of the 81 soldiers listed in this August 27, 1864 newspaper advertisement.  Two of the men named in the ad included a first and last name.  All of enslaved men except for “William Bowser, slave of William Peckham of Eastern Shore” were listed with only a first name.  The second person listed with both a first and last name was Henry Lynch, a free negro.  It was customary for free persons of color to be listed in records with both a first and last name and slaves listed either as a number or by first name only.  So why was William Bowser the only runaway slave listed with both names?  Did he say both names when he was asked by Confederates?  Did the other slaves only say their first name when they were questioned?  Surely when these men enlisted into the military, they used a first and last name.  Even if they had never really used a last name before, they may have arbitrarily chosen one at the time of their military enlistment.

First Names of Soldiers
There were 40 different first names used by the captured soldiers and several of them had the same first name.  Fourteen of the 81 men had the first name “John.”  A total of 54 men had the same first names as others captured in this group.

Samuel (Sam)

duplicate names of soldiers

Inquiring Minds Gotta Research Further

Search of the Civil War Soldier/Sailor database by the first name of one of the 81 soldiers with an uncommon first name in this advertisement indicated that this man did have a last name.  Further online genealogy database research resulted in additional records on this soldier as well as gave us another alias (first and last name) he was known by.  Our biggest research question was the fate of these soldiers after their capture.  Angela and I hit the genealogy record jackpot when we discovered an online record which gave us information as to this uncommon named soldier’s fate after his capture in 1864.  Although this finding is only for this one individual, the record gives us numerous clues to hopefully find out the fate of the other 80 Negro soldiers.  Stay tuned. 

Update:  April 7, 2014 Read follow up post to this story by genealogist and blogger, Angela Walton-Raji, "On the Trail of Yarmouth Cartwright", 


  1. Wow! Enjoyed this article with steps for analyzing the runaways. Looking forward to Part 2.

  2. Interesting! Great find! Definitely want to read more about your findings.

  3. If you get the full names and regiments through the CWSSS, has all the USCT Compiled Service Records up there - I think it's free this month.