African American News and Genealogy

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Disappearing Acts: African American magicians seek to tell their story

by Kate CooperNovember 24, 2005 In the early 20th century, there was a legendary man whose name was synonymous with magic. He was Harry Houdini, who was known internationally for his escape prowess and acts of illusion. But what is little known, is that he learned some of his more famous feats from other magicians who had difficulty practicing the trade because of their race. There have not been many articles, discussions or accounts about these magicians and their history in America. Walter King, an African American magician known as "The Spellbinder" who grew up in Chicago and currently runs his magic business out of Oak Park, said that even today many people are surprised at meeting a magician of color. "A lot of people say 'we've never seen a Black magician before'," King said. He is a full-time illusionist magician, who performs large-scale stage tricks including levitation. King founded an organization called the Brotherhood of American Minority Magicians (BAMM). He says the group's goal is to bring together magicians of color to share ideas and experiences. Currently, there are eight members, all from Chicago. While there are national brotherhoods of magicians, there are few minority organizations. King said his group has people coming from all over the country to talk to them and learn new tricks. The African American magician presence in Chicago is also small, King said. According to King, he is one of the few African American full-time illusionist magicians in the Midwest. "There was very little documented," said Jim Magus, a Georgia magician whose book "Magical Heroes: The Lives and Legends of Great African American Magicians" is one of the few history books about African American magicians. Magus, who became interested in the topic in college, is currently working on a second book on African American magicians. Historians credit Richard Potter as not only being the first African American magician, but perhaps the first American born magician. Born to a slave mother and her owner in Massachusetts in 1783, Potter was taught the trade by a Scottish magician. He was able to create a large following by strategic advertising and an exciting show. Legend has it that Potter was even able to perform in the South while slavery was still in existence. King, who became familiar with Potter's work, got his start in theater, and has used his background to influence his stage presence, using music and dance to complement the tricks. He has also developed two special shows for schools. He performs an African American magician history show as well as a magic show promoting drug awareness for schools. During his history show, King performs magic tricks from classic African American magicians, and teaches the students about the history of black magicians. The show has become an attraction for many schools, and some even use it as part of their Black history month curriculum. Magus said historically, many Black magicians were accepted by other magicians. In 1926, an African American magician was invited to perform at the International Brotherhood of Magicians yearly convention. Magus said at the time "it didn't seem that controversial." "They've been very open," Magus said. "I've never seen racism in magic." King said he agreed. "I haven't really experienced any's the promoters and the producers," he said. King said he has always been received well by other magicians and by the crowds, but has had promoters and agents who are uncomfortable with his race. He recalled a corporate sponsor booking him for a performance in Chicago after hearing about his act. When he met the promoter, King said the promoter was worried the act wouldn't be well received by a white audience. According to King, the promoter told him "I didn't tell [the sponsor] you were Black." King eventually performed and got a standing ovation from the crowd. The racism he has experienced, he said, only makes him want to work harder. "It just fuels the fire," he said. "We're just going to have to break through ourselves. We know there's a market for it." Five years ago, Ted Lee, a mortician and magician in White Plains, New York, began researching past and current Black magicians for a calendar he later produced. "I reflected back on the many magicians whom I've met, over the years," Lee wrote. "I've always noticed the small percentage of Black magicians." Lee's first calendar was so popular he produced a second one in 2004. The calendars feature stories about the history of African American magicians as well as news about new magicians. After he received an overwhelming response to his first book, Magus said he will continue his research. "It's a history you won't find in any book," Magus said. "A lot of it wasn't written down." Kate Cooper is a reporter for the Medill News Service.

Edward H. Tunstall, Detroit: Tuskegee Airman was charitable at heart

Doug Guthrie / The Detroit News, November 22, 2005

The war ended before Edward H. Tunstall got a chance to fly the famous red-tailed P-51 Mustangs of the Tuskegee Airmen in combat. He was among the last of the groundbreaking Tuskegee Airmen trained in 1945 to fly the Army Air Corps’ high-performance fighters. They were The unit had been the first African-Americans trained as Air Corps pilots, and many of them served with distinction in the skies over Europe. The war ended before Mr. Tunstall’s class could be shipped overseas. “He could go on and on about it, his experiences in the air. He loved that airplane (the P-51),” said his wife, Marlena Tunstall. “There are very, very, few from that group left and a number of them are ill. Their ranks are dwindling.” Mr. Tunstall died Friday, Nov. 11, 2005, from liver cancer in Sinai GraceHospital. He was 82. had been diagnosed with the disease only three weeks earlier. He was 82. Born and raised in Detroit, he graduated in 1941 from NorthwesternHigh School. He returned to college in Detroit after leaving the military. He earned a degree in accounting in 1950 from Detroit Institute of Technology and joined the Internal Revenue Service in 1951. He worked for 27 years as a revenue officer and in the criminal investigations division. After a brief retirement, he was talked into a second career as an investigator for the Federal Defender’s Office. He retired again in 1997. “He was known for his compassion. He got the job done, but he didn’t scare people to death,” his wife said. “There were a lot of people who remembered him for that. He could have slammed the book on them, but found ways for them to do the right things for the government and themselves too.” Mr. Tunstall served 14 years as treasurer of the Detroit Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen. He was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and a life member of the NAACP. He was an avid golfer, too, often using the sport to raise money for charity. He and his golf partners, former Tuskegee Airmen Richard Macon, Lou Johnson and Richard Jennings, raised thousands of dollars for charity every year playing in various tournaments. They last played together in May at the annual Multiple Sclerosis Longest Day tournament. “I think he only did 17 holes and everybody could see that something was wrong,” his wife said. “His death came so quickly that we were caught off guard,” she said. “He’d been a fighter all his life and he just didn’t have the chance to fight this.” Survivors include his wife of 41 years, Marlena; two daughters, Michele Tunstall and Nichol Smiley; three grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and a sister. Services were held Friday Nov. 18, 2005in OakGroveAMEChurch, Detroit, with burial in WoodlawnCemetery, Detroit.

Friday, November 18, 2005

William B. Bryant, 1911-2005: Pioneering D.C. Judge Beat Racial Odds With Wisdom

By Yvonne Shinhoster LambWashington Post Staff WriterTuesday, November 15, 2005; Page A01 Senior U.S. District Judge William B. Bryant, whose love for the law and the Constitution became hallmarks of his long career as a groundbreaking lawyer, the first black federal prosecutor and later the first black chief judge of Washington's federal court, died Sunday night at his home in Washington. He was 94 and frail, said his daughter, who gave no exact cause of death. Bryant achieved a remarkable legacy, overcoming years of segregation in the legal profession with a steady focus on the facts and the law. To him, the law and the court system offered the best hope for people to be treated fairly. He held to his belief, grounded in his work as a lawyer during the racially torn 1950s and 1960s, that the court system could administer justice. In one case early in his career as a lawyer, he won a landmark decision before the U.S. Supreme Court on defendants' rights, arguing that a person must be brought promptly before a judicial officer for a hearing of the charges. He also oversaw one of the longest-running cases in the court's history, involving overcrowded and inhumane conditions at the D.C. jail. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said District residents admired Bryant as a Washingtonian who spent his life overcoming racial odds to represent residents with such excellence that the bar and the legal establishment itself had to admit him. "In Judge Bryant's closed, segregated Washington, a black lawyer could not achieve what he did by the protests we are used to today," she said. "He was left on his own with only his excellent, disciplined mind, his understanding of the meaning of justice, his determination to succeed and his zeal for public service." He was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on July 12, 1965, by President Lyndon B. Johnson. He served as chief judge from 1977 to 1981, and was believed to be the first black chief judge of any federal District Court. He assumed senior status in 1982 and continued to hear cases until a few days before his death. Thomas F. Hogan, the current chief judge of the District Court, called Bryant "the soul of the court." He "sought to achieve equal justice, always careful to preserve the dignity of those who appeared before him," Hogan said. In a legal career that stretched nearly 60 years, Bryant handled numerous prominent cases as both a lawyer and a judge. As a defense attorney, he was considered one of the city's best and often was assigned to represent indigent defendants in important cases. One of these was in the 1950s. Andrew Roosevelt Mallory, 19, had confessed to rape after 7 1/2 hours of interrogation in a police station. After Mallory was convicted and sent to death row, Bryant pursued the case to the Supreme Court. In 1957, the court overturned Mallory's conviction, ruling that any confession obtained by police during an unnecessary delay between arrest and arraignment could not be admitted as evidence. On the bench, Bryant had a notable impact on the affairs of the District while overseeing the 25-year-old case brought on behalf of inmates of the D.C. jail, who said its conditions were overcrowded, inhumane and filthy. At one point, so frustrated with officials' repeated delays in meeting deadlines for improvements and with their inaccurate assertions, Bryant took the unusual step of requiring them to make reports under oath. In chastising the officials, he once said he had listened to their promises to make changes "since the Big Dipper was a thimble." Lawyer William Schultz, who clerked for Bryant in the 1970s, when the D.C. jail case occurred, recalled a surprise visit that the judge made to the jail to see the conditions for himself. As Bryant walked through the jail, "you could sense the respect from the prisoners," Schultz said. William Benson Bryant was born Sept. 18, 1911, in rural Wetumpka, Ala., the only child of a railroad porter and a housewife. Just after his first birthday, his grandfather was forced to flee a lynch mob, and the family found safety on Benning Road in Northeast Washington. Bryant had lived in the District ever since. He came of age in the segregated D.C. school system, graduating from Dunbar High School. He worked as a night elevator operator while attending Howard University and studying political science under Ralph Bunche, then head of the department. He graduated from Howard in 1932 and from its law school, first in his class, in 1939. During law school, he became fascinated with law professor Charles Houston's teachings that astute lawyers fortified with the Constitution could bring an end to school segregation and unjust convictions of innocent black men. In 1939 and 1940, he was Bunche's chief research assistant for a study of the black person in America, which became part of Gunnar Myrdal's treatise, "An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy." Bunche was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his landmark study on U.S. race relations. Bryant served in the Army from 1943 until 1947, entering as a first lieutenant and serving in Europe. He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. When he left the military and entered private practice in 1948, the doors of most law firms -- and the District of Columbia Bar Association -- remained closed to blacks. He once said he had no special desire to pursue civil rights work in his law practice. "I guess I just got frustrated by the slow process of chipping away at discrimination," he said. "Besides, a lot of other lawyers were already on their way in that field. Maybe I came along 10 years too late or 10 years too early." His reputation as a criminal defense attorney took him to the U.S. attorney's office in 1951, making him the first black prosecutor in federal court here. But even there, he was not allowed to use the D.C. Bar Association's law library. So he researched his cases with the help of a black court employee who opened the library to him after closing time. He returned to private practice in 1954 as a partner in the powerhouse black law firm of Houston, Bryant & Gardner. He was also an adjunct professor at Howard and taught trial advocacy on Saturday mornings for more than 20 years. He was a member of the DePriest 15 Club and played golf with the Pro Duffers in Washington. His wife of 60 years, Astaire Bryant, died in 1997. Survivors include two children, William "Chip" Bryant and Astaire A. Bryant, both of Washington; a niece, Beatrice Jones, who was like a daughter to him; two grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter. Two years ago, his fellow judges unanimously requested that the new annex to the District's federal courthouse be named for him. On Friday, President Bush signed the bill to do that.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Stop on black history trail is razed

Preservationists outraged; city says owner lacked permit By Cristina Silva, Globe Staff November 10, 2005 Hidden off a small alley on Beacon Hill, the red brick, Federal-style home was once owned by John P. Coburn, a prominent black businessman, an outspoken abolitionist, and the founder of the nation's first all-black military company. It was believed to have been a way station on the Underground Railroad for slaves seeking freedom, and today it's on the Black Heritage Trail for tourists in search of Boston's early African-American history. But the new owner has knocked most of it down, and historic preservation groups are outraged. City officials said yesterday that the owner, a local real estate agent, did not obtain the proper permits before demolishing most of the two-story house in mid-October and they have stopped construction at the Phillips Street site until further notice. Preservationists said that it's too late, that the house, built in the early 1800s, can never be restored. ''We fear it's pretty much lost to us," said James Igoe, president of Preservation MASS, which recently included the house on its list of the 10 most endangered historic sites in the state. ''We were just very surprised that in a neighborhood like Beacon Hill, where you matter-of-factly think everything is protected, it just isn't. If nothing else, there has to be a lesson learned that things like this shouldn't be happening." Eric Stevens said yesterday that when he bought the house last year for about $500,000, it was beyond repair, with an unsteady foundation and crumbling walls. ''A 4-year-old could have pushed it over," Stevens said. ''The building was an eyesore and unsafe, and I'm putting a million dollars into it to make it beautiful." Stevens applied for a permit to renovate the house in early 2004. According to city documents, he received permission to ''construct new partitioning, stairway, kitchen, bathrooms, and roof deck." James W. Hunt III -- head of Boston's Environment Department, which oversees the Boston Landmarks Commission -- said Stevens never told officials he intended to tear the house down. ''The initial project that was permitted would have at least retained most of the original structure," Hunt said. ''He was just building up initially. That's what he sought approval for, not to take down." Yesterday, the remains of the house consisted of a thin outline of bricks and a green door of rotting wood. Stevens said he had intended to restore the house based on its original architecture before the city ordered him to stop construction. ''I'm willing to do whatever the neighborhood wants," he said. ''But we can't rebuild it until we take it down." The Coburn house is one of 14 structures in the nearly 2-mile walk through downtown Boston that makes up the heritage trail. The house, however, is not an official historic landmark and does not fall under the protection of the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission, because it is not on a main street. According to a 1955 state law, the city can protect only projects visible from a public road. Coburn, who was born about 1811 in Massachusetts and died in 1873, worked with abolitionist groups such as the Boston Vigilance Committee and cofounded the Massasoit Guards, an all-black military company, said Beth Bower, university archivist at Suffolk University and a scholar of African-American history. ''This is a great loss for Boston," Bower said. ''There are not that many homes left in Boston from that era, especially if you are talking about homes that represent how the African-American community lived." Beverly Morgan-Welch -- executive director of the Museum of Afro-American History, which oversees the Black Heritage Trail -- said it will continue to recognize the Coburn house, even though it is no longer intact. ''It is so significant to be able to walk on the Black Heritage Trail and point out real places, not just what was once there," she said. ''I can't even tell you how deeply saddened we are by all of this." © Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

140-plus years of history remembered

Published Wednesday November 9 2005 By SANDRA WALSHThe Beaufort Gazette Penn School was the first school in the South for freed slaves, and more than 140 years later Penn Center is still going strong as a site where people can learn and grow. Thousands of people are expected to come together at the 23rd annual Penn Center Heritage Days Celebration set to start Thursday and last throughout the weekend on St. Helena Island. "We are celebrating ... our history of coming to America -- our culture," said Gardenia Simmons-White, a Penn School alumnus and commander of the Penn Center's York W. Bailey Museum. "In our culture we have basket weavers, indigo dye makers, artists, sculptors -- all unique to the Gullah culture. We want to keep that alive." In addition to ongoing demonstrations featuring Gullah traditions at the Gullah Roots Village on Penn Center grounds -- where people can witness basketry, storytelling, net making, hair braiding and more -- celebration highlights also include a traditional fish fry from 6 p.m. to midnight Friday on Penn Center grounds; a parade from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.; and a live performance from Beaufort's Ron Daise at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Darrah Hall at Penn Center. There also will be a variety of live music and dancing presentations throughout the festival as well as vendors selling food and arts and crafts. Ervena Faulkner, co-manager of the Bailey Museum, said the celebration is a true experience of a culture that has its roots on St. Helena Island. "Jacksonville, N.C., to Jacksonville, Fla., has been designated as the Gullah-Geechee corridor," Faulkner said. And, she said, the corridor includes St. Helena Island, where a lot of history took place. The 400-year-old Gullah-Geechee tradition first landed on the Sea Islands when West African slaves were brought to the area to work on plantations. Today, the culture is a mixture of West African, American Indian and European backgrounds. Emory Campbell, former executive director of Penn Center, said interest in the Heritage Days Celebration has grown tremendously over the years from a few hundred attendees to more than 10,000. Campbell said this year's celebration will mark the public launch of the newly completed Gullah translation of the New Testament. The public launching will take place at noon Saturday at the center stage on Penn Center grounds. "It's an exciting thing to see years and years of work come to fruition," Campbell said. Copyright 2005 The Beaufort Gazette • May not be republished in any form without the express written permission of the publisher.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Former tax preparer faces prison, fine for slavery scam

By Kate Brennan, Florida Today A former Brevard County tax preparer facing 26 counts of federal fraud for bilking the IRS out of $624,000 in a slave restitution refund scam has agreed to pay it all back, along with $250,000 in fines, in a plea bargain that could put her behind bars for five years. It's up to a judge to accept or reject the agreement. Marguerite Young Smith, a former Rockledge High School teacher who owned Quick Tax on Merritt Island, admitted Monday in a plea agreement that she claimed a fraudulent slavery deduction for several of her black clients -- as much as $86,000 in one case -- and inflated the refund amounts for many others. By admitting guilt, the government dropped all but one of the charges, sparing Smith a possible 125 more years in prison. Her trial was set to begin Tuesday. The settlement saved Smith and the federal government time and money, said Norm Meadows, a special agent for the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation. "I don't believe she's getting away with a whole lot," he said. "She's being prosecuted criminally. She's going to pay her debt back to society. And she's still going to spend a significant amount of time in prison." A date has not been set for Smith's sentencing hearing. If the judge accepts the plea agreement, Smith will be responsible for paying back the government any of the fraudulently claimed refund money, approximately $624,000. Most of Smith's clients had no idea she was inflating their returns or that the slavery restitution credit was illegal, according to court documents. But if Smith had not been prosecuted, it would have been their responsibility to pay back the government. Smith's case should be a warning to all tax preparers and taxpayers alike, Meadows said. "It's a community service message on the government's part to be careful on who you get to do your tax returns and a message to fraudulent prepares that the government is going to pursue you if you do something wrong," he said. The slavery restitution scam has been around for more than a decade, according to the IRS. Its origins trace back to Gen. William T. Sherman's Special Field Order 15 at the end of the Civil War. The order, which gave rise to the famous "40 acres and a mule" phrase, was to have granted land between South Carolina and Florida to freed slaves but was invalidated months later by President Andrew Jackson. In 2001, the IRS received more than 80,000 such claims, mostly in the South, totaling more than $2.7 billion in false slavery reparation refunds. Smith was indicted in February by a federal grand jury in Orlando for claims filed between 1998 and 2002. The IRS gathered some of its evidence using audio recorders during several undercover visits to Smith's Merritt Island business, according to court records. Smith's attorney Robert Berry said his client agreed to the settlement because it was "reasonable" and it "could have been worse." Still, it's not easy on Smith, who he said suffers from some health issues. "She's depressed about the situation she finds herself in. It's tough on her," he said. "She's in her mid-60s and she's going to prison." Smith already served time in prison in 1993 after a jury found her guilty of fraud. Berry said Smith does "not presently" have the money to pay back the government on behalf of her former clients. But, for other reasons, he hopes the judge accepts the plea agreement. "She's got a good family supporting her through this," Berry said. "We're just grateful to the government for making a reasonable offer that gives her the time to get out (of prison) and have time left with her family." Contact Brennan at 242-3722 or

UNC details past slavery ties

By Natalie Gott, Associated Press Writer November 2, 2005 CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --In the early decades of the University of North Carolina, servants kindled fires in students' rooms and cut wood to fuel stoves. The 216-year-old school, which takes pride in being the nation's oldest public university, is now airing a shameful side of its past -- those servants were slaves. The university is using records and photographs that archivists have uncovered to present a fuller story of the school's beginnings. "This university was built by slaves and free blacks," said Chancellor James Moeser. "We need to be candid about that, acknowledge their contributions." The University of North Carolina, chartered in 1789, is among several universities, banks and financial firms that have tried to set the record straight on their historical ties to the slave trade. North Carolina archivists were researching the university's first 100 years when they found records that confirmed slaves helped construct campus buildings. Other records showed that both faculty and university board members owned slaves. Some of that research is on display in "Slavery and the Making of the University: Celebrating Our Unsung Heroes, Bond and Free." The on-campus exhibit includes photographs, letters and documents such as bills of sale for slaves. In one letter, the wife of the school's first law professor wrote her husband that university President David Lowry Swain wanted to hire "Harry" for work. She pledged she would "hire Harry out whenever I can." The exhibit is among several recent efforts by the university to acknowledge its past links to slavery. It offers a class on the history of blacks at the school, and a monument honoring the slaves and free blacks who helped build the school was installed in May. Other universities that have shed light on their historical ties to slavery include the University of Alabama, where the faculty senate last year apologized to the descendants of slaves who were owned by faculty members or who worked on campus in the years before the Civil War. The school also erected a marker near the graves of two slaves on campus. A committee at Brown University in Rhode Island is examining the school's past ties to the slave trade and recommending whether and how the college should take responsibility. A report on the findings is due by the end of the fall semester. "We clearly do live in a society that has a persistent pattern of racial disparity and I think most people would agree that that has something to do with our history," said James Campbell, a history professor at Brown and the chairman of the committee. "If you care about that pattern of disparity, then it seems to me one of the things that is incumbent on you is to try to find out how we got here," Campbell said Just how many schools have ties to the slave trade remains unknown, since so much information has been concealed, said Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree. But he believes those found to have had links to slavery should pay reparations. Some banks and financial services firms have made donations after conducting investigations into their own past ties to slavery. Often the research in those case was prompted by local governments demanding an accounting. Charlotte-based Wachovia Corp. committed an undisclosed sum to support black history education in June, a few days after announcing that two of its predecessor banks owned slaves. Also this year, New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co. gave $5 million to support college scholarships for black students in Louisiana, where two of its predecessor banks received thousands of slaves as collateral. The researchers examining the University of North Carolina's past say they hope the new exhibit in just the beginning of a renewed effort to create a more complete understanding of the school's early years. "I think it is important that we do this since we are the oldest university," said Susan Ballinger, assistant university archivist. "The chancellor has said over and over again that it's critical for the university to be honest about its past. He wants our history told fully, warts and all." ------ On the Net: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: © Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

St. Louis Library posts Slave Compensation Claims

What was a Slave Compensation Claim? During the Civil War, two acts of Congress—one passed in 1864 (13 Stat. 11) and one in 1866 (14 Stat. 321)—allowed loyal slave owners whose slaves enlisted or were drafted into the U.S. military to file a claim against the Federal government for loss of the slave’s services. The law allowed for up to $300 compensation for slaves who enlisted, and up $100 for slaves who were drafted. Although a third act of Congress passed in 1867 (15 Stat. 29) suspended the claims process, paperwork created by this claims process has survived. Filing a Claim The slave owner filing a slave compensation claim had to prove his or her loyalty to the federal government legal ownership of the slave Importance of Enlistment for Border-State Slaves The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 freed the slaves in the states which were in rebellion, but in border-states which were loyal to the Union—slavery continued to be legal. The law authorizing the formation of the USCT stated that no man was to fight as a slave, so for slaves in the border-states, enlistment meant freedom. If owners would not give permission to enlist, then slaves had to run away in order to join the army. In some cases, flight from slavery led to enlistment in the state where the slave resided, but other times it led to enlistment in a neighboring state. If a slave’s former owner found out where and when he joined—and the owner was loyal to the Union—then he or she could file a slave compensation claim. Information IncludedA slave compensation claim provides information about the soldier/former slave as well as his former owner. The quantity and quality of information varies based on the amount of information submitted by the former slave owner.

Runaway Slave Records Presented To Balch

Nov 03, 2005 -- For years, Bronwen Souders has been passionately intrigued by the history of Waterford, the 1733 village near where she and her husband, John Souders, live. Together, they have written several books on the history of the town’s Quaker settlers and its Civil War-era inhabitants. A dual path for Bronwen Souders has been exploring the history of the town’s black population, which, on the eve of the Civil War, was among the most populous free black settlements in the commonwealth. Recently, the Souders presented the Thomas Balch Library for Genealogy and History in Leesburg a valuable gift: a bound collection of all the records of runaway slaves found in the pages of the 19th century publication, The Genius of Liberty, published by S.B.T. Caldwell for the years 1817 to 1843. The Souders presented the results of their research to the library on behalf of the Black History Committee of The Friends of the Thomas Balch Library. An anonymous donor funded the research. This week, Bronwen Souders said the value of the gift reflects, in part, the fact that the published set of advertisements is apparently one of only a few complete collections in the country. During a two-year period, the researchers located the almost 200 advertisements placed in the newspaper by irate slave owners or jailers, scanning each individually, indexing them by date and compiling them into one document. The collection also contains a summary of information on each individual, including where the slave originated, the date of the advertisement, where and when jailed and notes on the owners. The Souders became involved in the project when they were taking notes from issues of The Genius of Liberty, to find information on Waterford they couldn’t find elsewhere. They were given access to the bound books of the publication by a private owner. The Balch Library, the county’s most comprehensive repository of genealogical and historical records, only has about the first six years or so of that publication, according to Bronwen Souders. They used a portable scanner to copy particularly interesting articles and advertisements. Then Bronwen came upon the slave advertisements. First, she started to copy just the Waterford-area runaways, but soon realized she had to do it for the entire county because of the significance of the information for slave descendants and researchers alike. “The records indicate there was an underground railroad funneling from the south through Loudoun,” Souders said. Of the almost 200 slaves recorded, more than a quarter were recaptured. Some went south to join up with other family members. Souders also has access to a privately owned jailer's notebook of the period, which has given her a great deal of information about slaves who ran away, but who presumably were not considered valuable enough by their owners to go to the expense of placing an advertisement. For example, Souders noted there were 5,000 slaves in Loudoun and, over the 25-year period researched, only 200 ads were placed. The sheriff received a 10 cents-per-mile remuneration for capturing a runaway, and rewards in differing amounts, anywhere from $20 to $50 or more, were offered. The out-of-state reward was much higher than for those recaptured in Virginia—$10 in county, $20 in state and more if taken out of state. One advertisement offered $150 for three runaways. The ads included the names of a fair number of women and children. One notice, “A Crop of Runaways,” related to the entire slave population of a Mr. Marshall, ranging in age from infant to 60. Marshall offered a reward of $400. The entire group of 24 slaves was recaptured. The idea of humans chasing down another human being and individuals being considered as “commodities” are chilling reminders of the period, although the ads are fascinating from a historical point of view. Ozburn Rustin, who was cited in a May 30, 1829, advertisement, escaped from Washington, DC. He was described as a servant boy who escaped on May 24, being “About 17 years old, a dark mulatto, tall and slender, a little knock-kneed with a fullness in the middle of the upper lip. I think some of his upper teeth have been separated with a file and some of his back teeth plugged with gold.” A childhood scald on his hand was also noted as were his long arms and “swinging, awkward walk.” Given that excruciating detail of description, it’s a wonder he managed to escape. The ad for William Lee, published Aug. 31, 1819, goes into a lengthy description of him, where he had been before—in at least three counties—and the names of several Loudoun owners for whom Lee had worked. Ironically, they included George D. Smith, who owned the Souders’ present farm. The ad also gave a likely escape route that Lee would use. Information as to where the runaways might be headed was also provided in some ads. In September 1822, brothers “Len and George” were described as having probably procured free papers and to be heading for Philadelphia or Pennsylvania to trade with Quakers and to be using “their plain language and dress.” “They were very specific,” Souders said, adding descriptions also included the clothes the slaves were wearing or had taken with them and their profession. “Knowing the type of work they were in, that’s where they would look,” she said. Slaves working on neighboring plantations, such as present-day Rockland, Raspberry Plain and Selma on Rt. 15 north of Leesburg, had the advantage of being able to plan their escapes together. All three estates were near the Potomac River, which in September 1822 would have had low enough water at certain spots to permit crossing into Maryland and passage into Pennsylvania. Souders said the records show the slaves had “dreadful injuries,” noting burns, scars, scabs, even pieces of missing anatomy. Souders said she and her husband were moved by the “persistence and courage” of the slaves. Recapture could mean instant death, being severely punished or sold south. “But they kept running away,” she said. Three quarters of the slaves mentioned were from Loudoun, although a sizable amount were born in Louisiana. Wrenching as some of the material is, it gives a modern-day researcher an “eyewitness account of the living conditions of many of these men, women and children, and thus a belated opportunity to honor their courage in seeking freedom many years later,” Souders said. Once escaped, slaves might be connected with family members who had already escaped. Some, after the end of the Civil War, resettled in their old locations. A future step in the research, according to Souders, will be to research what happened to Loudoun slaves in their new lives and to link their histories with those of family members who stayed behind. Thomas Balch Librarian Alexandra Gressett said she was delighted with the gift. “It documents a period of time in African-American history that’s hard [to document] in terms of people’s family,” she said. The committee was excited to be able to do the project because it gives a point of reference and automatic access for comparative research. “It’s a tremendous research tool,” Gressett said. For more information on the collection, go to and link to black history, then to runaway slave history.