Lot 224

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Finest Slave Reward Poster, He Used Underground RR, Then Ret'd to Free His Family

SLAVERY. Broadside, 1p, 7.75" x 12", Baltimore, September 7, 1857. Flattened folds, dampstaining, foxing, minor paper loss at left and bottom edges, right corner tears. A tremendous display piece, neatly mounted and Extremely Rare.

Printed in multiple display fonts, the broadside reads, in part, "$500 Reward / Ran away, or decoyed from the subscriber, living near Beltsville, Prince George’s County, Md., / on Saturday, September 5th, 1857...If taken seperate [sic], and a proportional reward for either of the others, if taken seperate, in any case they must be secured so I may get them again."

Adam Smith rescued his family from slavery with the help of the Underground Railroad, thereby earning a permanent place in the annals of American freedom. He first appeared in the historical record on March 4, 1854, when Isaac Birch committed 27-year-old Adam to the Washington, DC slave jail as a runaway slave. Ten days later, he was released to Isaac Scaggs, suggesting that he had been sold to the Maryland slaveholder, “a real country ruffian” who “will sell a slave as quick as any other slave-holder.”

Three years later, on August 22, 1857, Adam ran away from the Scaggs farm. He and two other men escaped to Philadelphia via the Underground Railroad with the assistance of William Still. In his classic, The Underground Railroad (1872), Still reprinted the Baltimore Sun notice describing Adam and his escape. Still wrote, "The story which Adam related concerning his master and his reasons for escaping ran thus: ‘My master was a very easy man, but would work you hard and never allow you any chance night or day; he was a farmer, about fifty, stout, full face, a real country ruffian; member of no church, a great drinker and gambler; will sell a slave as quick as any other slave-holder. He had a great deal of cash but did not rank high in society. His wife was very severe; hated a colored man to have any comfort in the world. They had eight adult and nine young slaves.’ Adam left because he ‘didn’t like the treatment.’ Twice he had been placed on the auction-block..." 

What Still didn't know was that Adam Smith then returned to the Scaggs farm two weeks later to free his family. In this reward poster, Scaggs reports the September 5th disappearance of five slaves: Maria (age 30-35), Dall (age 13), Lem (age 11, with “a scar on the side of his breast, caused by a burn”), Bill (age 8, “generally called ‘Shug’”), and Ben (age 2). Scaggs adds a $300 reward for Adam, “about 30 years of age, 5 feet 4 or 5 inches high, stoutly built...He ran away on Saturday the 22d of August, and I think has returned and induced his Wife and Children off. I will give $500 reward for them, no matter where taken..."

Two months later, on November 8th, Scaggs paid for another Baltimore Sun advertisement offering a reward for all six, suggesting that they had permanently gained their freedom. Still noted Adam’s intention to seek safety in Canada and become a British citizen.

RARE. We have not seen or heard of another runaway reward poster in the market with a direct link to a documented Underground Railroad escape. This dramatic relic of the Underground Railroad is testimony to the thirst for freedom and to the strength of the African American family, even in slavery. It graphically represents the powerful forces arrayed against American slaves and their brave resistance to them.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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Bid Increments
From: To: Increments:
$0 $99 $10
$100 $299 $20
$300 $499 $25
$500 $999 $50
$1,000 $1,999 $100
$2,000 $2,999 $200
$3,000 $4,999 $250
$5,000 $9,999 $500
$10,000 $19,999 $1,000
$20,000 $49,999 $2,500
$50,000 + $5,000