Rediscovering the stories of
Self-Liberating people

A database of fugitives from American Slavery

About the Project

Sketch portraying a fugitive climbing into a tree to escape a bloodhound.

Freedom on the Move is a database of fugitives from North American slavery.

With the advent of newspapers in the American colonies, enslavers posted “runaway ads” to try to locate fugitives. Additionally, jailers posted ads describing people they had apprehended in search of the enslavers who claimed the fugitives as property.

We are compiling thousands of stories of resistance that have never been accessible in one place.

Created to control the movement of enslaved people, the ads ultimately preserved the details of individual lives--their personality, appearance, and life story. Taken collectively, the ads constitute a detailed, concise, and rare source of information about the experiences of enslaved people.

Ad featuring an escaped slave owned by Thomas Jefferson.
Man with a bindle stick.

Research driven by you.

After initial curation, the ads become available for crowdsourcing. The crowdsourcing process populates a full-text transcription and additional searchable metadata within the database.

A database full of possibilities.

Freedom on the Move will serve as research aid, a pedagogical tool, and a resource for genealogists. Scholars, students, and citizen historians will be able to use the data produced from the ads in new and creative ways.

Woman with a bindle stick

Made for Everyone


Use our advanced search to navigate the database & find the data you need. Then export the results to JSON / CSV and use with your tool of choice.


Establish a deeper connection to the period through the lens of those seeking freedom. The history contained within the advertisements is living.

Citizen Historian

Explore the stories captured in the advertisements. Contribute your time to help transcribe. Search the database to see if any blanks can be filled in your ancestry.

Selected Testimonials

Frequently Asked Questions

When will the database become available?

We are hoping to have an early preview to share in Late Fall / Early Winter 2018 with a full launch shortly after.

Is FOTM a good fit for my class?

We certainly believe so! We have had several instructors share our beta version with their students and they deemed it a success.

Is the software open source?

Our current plan is to release most of our software under an Open Source License. You can see what we've released thus far on our Github page.

How can I help?

Crowdsourcing & sharing the project.

Can I contribute new ads?

Certainly! Please contact us.

Question not here?

Please contact us.

A joint effort by Several Institutions

Cornell University
Cornell University Department of History
Cornell University Library
University of Alabama
The University of New Orleans
University of Kentucky

Our Team

Edward E. Baptist

Project PI
Department of History
Cornell University

Mary Niall Mitchell

Joseph Tregle Professor in Early American History
Ethel & Herman L. Midlo Chair in New Orleans Studies
Department of History
University of New Orleans

Joshua Rothman

Professor of History & Department Chair
Former Director of Summersell Center
Department of History
University of Alabama

Vanessa M. Holden

Assistant Professor
African American and Africana Studies
Department of History
University of Kentucky

William C. Block

Cornell University

Janet Heslop

IT Director
Cornell University

Elena Goloborodko

Project Manager
Cornell University

Brandon T. Kowalski

Lead Software Engineer
Cornell University

Chris Perez

Software Developer
Cornell University

Michelle Paolillo

Digital Scholarship and Preservation
Cornell University Library
Cornell University

Jasmine Burns

Visual Resources Metadata Librarian
Cornell University Library
Cornell University

Mindy Marie Jarrett

Student Research / Social Media Manager
University of New Orleans

Maria Alejandra Orduz Avella

Student Research / Intern
Universidad de los Andes

Made possible by Generous Grant Funding

National Endowment for the Humanities
National Historical Publications & Records Commission

Get In Touch

If you have any questions please contact us & be sure to follow us on Twitter!

Contact Us @fotmproject