Almost every runaway ad reads like an adventure novel. Previously anonymous slaves suddenly appeared in print as people with names, looks, personal histories, skills, character traits, and modes of dress. A brief paragraph told more about everyday life than a book full of laws. Slaveholders serve as witnesses despite themselves, providing insights into the realities of black life in slavery.

Escaping from slavery permanently was nearly impossible, but a skilled person, changing his or her name, might find an employer eager for workers.

Examine this runaway ad taken from a New York newspaper.
In 1664, the English seized New Amsterdam and integrated it into their own imperial economy of sugar and slaves. Trading in food, wood, and animals with the British West Indies enriched the city's merchants. Slave numbers grew after 1700 as merchants, farmers, and artisans relied more and more on their labor. By the 1740s, 20% of New York's inhabitants were slaves and two out of every five households had at least one. Repressive laws were written to control them but the enslaved conspired, rebelled, and ran away relentlessly.
Visit a Merchant's House
The Closing Vise: New York's Slave Laws
Wyncoop's London and the 1741 Revolt