: The Fugitive Slave Problem to 1850

Don E. Fehrenbacher and Ward M. McAfee

in The Slaveholding Republic

Published in print December 2002 | ISBN: 9780195158052
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199849475 | DOI:
: The Fugitive Slave Problem to 1850

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Runaways were a common feature of late colonial society, and from Virginia northward, especially, they included white persons as well as black. George Washington, who had a relatively small number of white servants on his plantation, was more often bothered by the flight of a slave or truancy of a slave. Colonial laws dealing with runaway servants and slaves dated back to the 17th century. Some responsibility for enforcement rested with sheriffs, magistrates, and other public officers, but more often than not, recovery depended largely on the initiative of the owner. Men like Washington, acting for themselves or through intermediaries, and usually took their own steps to locate a fugitive and compel his return to servitude. In doing so, they were presumably exercising a common-law right of “recaption”, which, as defined by Sir William Blackstone, permitted private action to recover property wrongfully taken.

Keywords: runaways; George Washington; slaves; servants; fugitive; William Blackstone; recaption

Chapter.  11289 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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