On 5 February 1853, E.D. Hall, sheriff of New Hanover County, North Carolina, placed an ad in the Wilmington Daily Journal. His office had “taken up and committed” to jail a runaway enslaved man named Wiley. Wiley, who was about 24 years old, told the sheriff he belonged to a woman named Cynthia A. Ellis and had been leased to a Dr. Dortch of Stantonsburg. As was customary, Hall’s ad served notice for Ellis to make arrangements (including paying fees) to take him or he would be sold at auction.
Three and a half years later, Wilson’s Southern Sentinel newspaper printed this ad:
Southern Sentinel, 17 October 1856.
Was 30 year-old Willie the same man as Wiley? The name were often pronounced the same way in that era, and it seems so. Having apparently been returned to Wilson County, Willie had run away again in February 1856. The ad is rich with detail. Willie was a “bright mulatto” (this generally meant white-looking, or nearly so); he wore his hair in long plaits; he was a cooper (a builder of staved wooden vessels like barrels and buckets) by trade; he had a wife in Georgetown District, South Carolina (sold away from Wilson County? or met while he was a runaway?); and he refused to look slaveholders in the eye. He was thought to be hiding near the farms of William Ellis or his son Jonathan Ellis near Stantonsburg, as he had relatives in the area.
A month later, Willie was still missing.
Southern Sentinel, 15 November 1856.
Images courtesy of the N.C. Runaway Slave Advertisements project, which “makes available some 2400 advertisements that appeared in North Carolina newspapers between 1751 and 1840. A collaboration between The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T), the project builds on the work of Freddie L. Parker (Stealing a Little Freedom: Advertisements for Slave Runaways in North Carolina, 1791-1840) and Lathan Windley (Runaway Slave Advertisements)and presents digital images of the advertisements alongside full-text transcripts and additional metadata to facilitate search and discovery.”