On this dayFeb 11, 1826

White North Carolina Man Offers Reward for Capture of Enslaved Black Man Who “Escaped” to Visit His Wife

On February 11, 1826, a white man named Alfred Moore of Hertford, North Carolina, offered a $20 reward to any white person who captured “Joe,” an enslaved Black man, and returned him or “secured [him] in the jail so that I can get to him.” Mr. Moore, an enslaver, did not believe that Joe intended to flee bondage; he wrote in the reward poster that the Black man was “probably lurking” in Pasquotank County, where his wife was enslaved.

The institution of slavery sought to reduce enslaved Black men, women, and children to commodities, denying their humanity and familial status as children, siblings, spouses, or even parents. Black families were regularly separated at the whim of an enslaver or auctioneer, never to see each other again. This was one of the most traumatizing features of enslavement. Most enslaved people were sold without a single other family member; it is estimated that more than half of all enslaved people held in the Upper South were separated from a parent or child through sale, and a third of all marriages between enslaved people were destroyed by human trafficking. Press accounts have documented the heartbreaking stories of enslaved mothers who jumped from buildings and enslaved fathers who slit their throats rather than be separated from their families.

Enslaved people frequently suffered extreme physical violence as punishment for or warning against transgressions like running away, visiting a spouse, or trying to prevent the sale of their relatives. These basic human instincts resulted in torturous whippings or extreme punishments. White men and women justified this cruelty by claiming Black people did not have emotional ties to each other. However, for years after the 1865 passage of the Thirteenth Amendment ended chattel slavery in the U.S., Black people throughout the country placed ads in church bulletins and local newspapers seeking help reconnecting with parents, children, spouses, and friends from whom they’d been separated by sale during enslavement—some of whom they had not seen in decades.

The historical record does not reveal whether this Black man, identified only as “Joe” in the reward poster, was ever captured and returned to Alfred Moore, reunited with his wife, or able to reach freedom. Nearly 40 years before the end of the Civil War, he was one of countless Black people enslaved in the U.S. who dared to love and to seek freedom, in a time when the laws of this nation denied Black people even those basic rights of humanity.

Learn more about the forced separation of enslaved people and the horrific conditions of slavery in America that lasted for over two centuries.

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