May 07, 2020 - Sale 2534

Sale 2534 - Lot 21

Price Realized: $ 37,500
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 7,000 - $ 10,000
(SLAVERY AND ABOLITION.) Burnett, C.A. $250 Reward! Ranaway from the Subscriber, 3 Negro Girls. Letterpress broadside, 11 3/4 x 9 1/2 inches; manuscript notes in text, foxing, worn at horizontal fold, laid down and stabilized on archival tissue; docketed on verso. Baltimore, MD: Murphy's General Printing Establishment, 15 March 1848

Additional Details

This runaway broadside is unusual for several reasons. The fugitives were three young women who fled together as a family. Also, the announcement is annotated with several manuscript corrections to help identify the sisters. The reward is offered for "Maria Johnson, aged about 25 years, Susan Johnson, aged about 20 years, both full faces, thick set, and rather dark mulattoes. Susan has a defect in one arm, which causes her to use it somewhat awkwardly. Harriet is about 13 years old, small and much darker complexion than the others. All are sisters, and at the time they ran off, were serving as house-servants." After printing, Burnett apparently requested several edits to make the three sisters easier to spot. The changes were added in manuscript, noting that Maria "is darker than a mulatto"; Susan "is a light mulatto" with a "scar on her left elbow"; and Harriet "is short but heavy . . . and is left-handed." Although the sisters fled from a house in the District of Columbia, the broadside was printed in Baltimore--a logical destination as the next city northward. Burnett employed an agent in Baltimore and offered the same reward if they were delivered to Georgetown or Baltimore.
The owner Charles Alexander Burnett (1769-1849) of Georgetown, DC had been the leading silversmith of the Capitol region for many years; he had created pieces for George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and numerous congressmen. The 1840 census shows him with 2 slaves in his household, both females aged 10 to 23, which would fit Maria and Susan Johnson. Burnett was nearly 80 years old and likely retired at the time of posting this broadside, and would die the following year. The docketing on verso reads "1848 C.A. Burnett vs. 3 girls," suggesting that perhaps the sisters were captured and the broadside was used in a court case. If the sisters were indeed captured, they must have been sold almost immediately. The 1850 slave schedule of the census shows Burnett's widow Alethea with two slaves, neither matching the Johnson sisters in age.