The Internal Enemy

In June 1814 on Maryland’s Patuxent River, four young men escaped from the Sotterley Plantation of John Rousby Plater. The master especially valued Peregrine Young, “a most valuable [house] servant” appraised at $700, and Ignatius Seale, “a black smith” assessed at $800. A month later, all four returned to Plater’s plantation, bearing arms and wearing the red jackets of Colonial Marines. They guided a raid that liberated forty-four more slaves: nine men, twelve women, and twenty-three children. They included eight Youngs, nine Seales, and three Woods, who must have been related to the pioneers. Spotting the initial runaways in uniforms, Plater rebuked the British captain: “It is improper sir, to take slaves; and to put arms in their hands is more so.” The captain pointedly replied, “Who began the war?”

. . . How many slaves escaped from the shores of the Chesapeake during the War of 1812? Historians usually rely on the “definitive list” compiled by the postwar commission established to compensate masters. That list records 3 from the District of Columbia, 714 from Maryland, and 1,721 from Virginia, for a total of 2,438. The Chesapeake region accounted for two-thirds (2,438 of the 3,580 total) of the wartime runaways as determined by the claims commission, with Georgia generated the next largest number of runaways: 7833. The balance *319) fled in smaller numbers from Louisiana, Delaware, South Carolina, and the territories of Mississippi and Alabama.

The 3,580 total for the United States understates the true number of runaways, particularly in the Chesapeake, because the commission required claimants to submit complex documentation formally notarized by county magistrates.

The Internal Enemy by Alan Taylor

theinternal enemy




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