Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, USA, förrymda slavar, 1850–1860 [webbaserad databas]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2022.

Fugitive Slave Case Files, 1850 - 1860. NAID: 279005. Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685 - 2009, Record Group 21. The National Archives at Philadelphia, PA

 Pennsylvania, USA, förrymda slavar, 1850–1860

Den här samlingen innehåller domstolsakter från Pennsylvania enligt 1850 års lag om förrymda slavar (Fugitive Slave Act). Handlingarna gäller för åren mellan 1850 och 1860. När en slav sökte friheten genom att rymma, kunde slavägaren vända sig till domstolen och hävda ägandeskap till slaven.

About the Pennsylvania, U.S., Fugitive Slave Case Files, 1850–1860

General collection information

This collection contains court documents filed in Pennslyvania under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The court cases occurred between 1850 and 1860. When an enslaved person sought freedom by escaping captivity, the slave owner could petition the court to argue legal ownership of the enslaved person.

Slave owners filed petitions, affidavits, copies of wills, and testimonies in an effort to claim that the escaped person was a fugitive and their legal property. The documents contain information about the enslaved person’s escape and the court appearances of the slave owner.

Using this collection

These records may include the following information:

  • First and last names of the enslaved person
  • Aliases of the enslaved person
  • Age of the enslaved person
  • First and last names of the slave owner
  • Residence of the slave owner
  • Date the enslaved person sought their freedom
  • Date of the court filing
  • This collection includes digital copies of text records that are arranged in numerical order by case number. The titles of the digital copies may include the name of the person filing the court documents, the name of the escaped enslaved person, or both names. You will need to scroll through the records to find the name you're looking for.

    Knowing the age of the enslaved person and the date they escaped may provide an estimated date of birth for the enslaved person. Knowing the residence of the slave owner may lead to other documents about their estate and provide the location where the enslaved person was held captive.

    Collection in context

    The records were created by the U.S. Circuit Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. They are high quality primary sources because they were produced at the time of the court cases and have not been edited. The original documents are held in the National Archives in Philadelphia.

    The first Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1793 and it was revised as part of the Compromise of 1850. The bargain proposed that year by Kentucky Senator Henry Clay was to allow California to be admitted as a state without slavery while the Fugitive Slave Act was revised to make it easier for slave owners to file a claim of legal ownership.

    The Act committed the federal government to provide assistance to slave owners who were searching for escaped enslaved people who had crossed into northern states. Anyone who helped enslaved people who were seeking their freedom or federal marshals who refused to enforce the law were subject to a $1,000 fine, which equals more than $32,000 in today's currency.

    If the escaped person was captured, they weren't allowed to testify on their own behalf or have a jury trial. Corruption entered the system because court commissioners received $10 if a slave owner won the case and only $5 if the enslaved person won. The special court commissioners heard the cases of 343 escaped enslaved people between 1850 and 1860, and 332 of the cases were decided in favor of the slave owner.


    CPI Inflation Calculator. "Value of $1,000 from 1855 to 2022." Accessed February 18, 2022. https://www.in2013dollars.com/us/inflation/1855?amount=1000.

    National Archives. "Fugitive Slave Case Files, 1850-1860." Accessed February 18, 2022. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/279005.

    Paul, Catherine A. "Fugitive Slave Act of 1850." Virginia Commonwealth University, Social Welfare History Project. Accessed February 18, 2022. https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/federal/fugitive-slave-act-of-1850/.

    Public Broadcasting Service. "The Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act." Accessed February 18, 2022. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2951.html.

    University of Southern California. "Research Guides: Evaluating Primary Sources." Accessed February 18, 2022. https://libguides.usc.edu/primarysources/evaluate.