Lot 99 of 420:
1827 Wanted in Philadelphia: Fugitive slave or kidnapped free Black?  

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Lot closed - Sold For (Includes Buyers Premium):$480
$800 - $1,200

Wanted in Philadelphia: Fugitive slave or kidnapped free Black?

Roe, David

Haddonfield, New Jersey




Autograph Letter Signed. June 18, 1827. To Philadelphia Mayor J.[oseph] Watson. 1pg. plus stampless address leaf:

“In compliance to your request I address to you a description of the coloured man George Williams, as given me by John Fish who lived at R.W. Ogden’s simultaneously - …about 5 feet 101/2 inches in height, remarkably straight and a proportionally stout make, regularly turned features, and elegant teeth, can dress well, and is known by Charles Collins…at Brownings Ferry, lower side Market St. – no doubt a generous reward will be bestowed for his apprehension…”

Written by a wealthy New Jersey farmer and merchant to the Quaker Mayor of Philadelphia. this unusually detailed description of a wanted Black man raises many questions:  Was Williams actually a free man who may have been abducted? (Watson’s papers at the Pennsylvania Historical Society contain many letters about Philadelphia free Blacks who were kidnapped to be sold into slavery in the Deep South). If not, if he was a fugitive slave, who was his owner and why was Roe acting as intermediary? Adding to the mystery is an possibly-related advertisement placed that same month in a North Carolina newspaper by the Jailer of Raleigh about an imprisoned negro who “says his name is George Williams, that he was born and raised in Barbadoes, parents live there and he is free”, though he was suspected of being a slave who “belongs to some person at the South”. 

Lot Amendments

Very good.

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