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Fugitive Slaves and Spaces of Freedom in North America$
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Damian Alan Pargas

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780813056036

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813056036.001.0001

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Illegal but Tolerated

Illegal but Tolerated

Slave Refugees in Richmond, Virginia, 1800–1860

(p.137) 6 Illegal but Tolerated
Fugitive Slaves and Spaces of Freedom in North America

Viola Franziska Müller

University Press of Florida

As antebellum Virginia became the main point of departure for the domestic slave trade and enslaved people increasingly ran the risk of being sold and deported to the Deep South, the free black population of Richmond, Virginia, was substantially augmented by an influx of fugitive slaves from the surrounding countryside who attempted to escape slavery by illegally passing themselves off as free. At the same time, the city became an important industrial site, stimulating an incessant demand for factory workers (both men and women) and domestic servants in the households of the growing white merchant class, thereby significantly expanding employment opportunities for black residents. These developments provided opportunities for slave refugees to hide amongst the free black population, pass for free, and find work in the booming labor markets of the city. Following up on the previous chapter, this chapter zooms in on a specific case study and focuses on the residential and economic integration of slave refugees in the Antebellum South, the interdependence of free blacks and fugitive slaves, and the intermingling of the lower classes within the bustling urban environment of Virginia’s capital city. Drawing from police registers, runaway slave ads, and court documents—all of which reveal illuminating details about the lives of runaway slaves and their interactions with the free black population—it reveals how fugitive slaves navigated an informal freedom in ways similar to the migration experiences of today’s illegal immigrants.

Keywords:   Richmond, Virginia, Antebellum South, Free blacks, Fugitive slaves

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